Growing cracks in the system

Last Updated 20 February 2019, 19:00 IST

Most of the policy documents on higher education speak volumes about the macro trends and the strategies to deal with them to achieve specific goals in higher education. Though data-driven, this approach is top-down, aiming at providing systemic solutions to issues within a limited framework, preempting the absolute adherence of teachers.

Conversely, at the institutional levels, surveillance and control are the priorities of policymakers. But, seldom have those considered the grassroot realities that the teachers face in their workplace.

It is important to capture holistically the vital micro-level issues that teachers, researchers and academic administrators of higher education face in their routine, which time and again miss the notice of policy makers and strategists.

Teaching profession and allied work are not bound by time and space. Many teachers would prepare for teaching, research and update themselves well beyond the routine working hours and spaces of universities or colleges.

On the other hand, in any university or college, one can find researchers with a load of publications, yet not intellectually influential among his own colleagues and students, and teachers surviving for years under the pretext of obedience to authority and uncritical compliance to the system. In both the cases, passion and commitment to the profession are missing.

One cannot deny that teaching demands creativity. Oriented in this way, teachers muster creative skills at all levels. Though, it is a virtuous quality, not devoid of drawbacks if used imprudently in academic administration. Positions, such as director, dean and controller of exams in colleges and universities, provide a prospective teacher with an opportunity to experiment with his or her creative ideas with the fellow teachers and students.

Often, teachers have to oblige as a passive audience to such ‘innovations’ of administrators. This often leads to the suppression of budding talents.

Another concern is competition among teachers to hold administrative positions. Some develop a strong attachment to their position.

This corrupts them through promoting position-dependent identity. Such administrators, in the long run, would forget that their primary identity is that of a teacher.

The temptation to hold multiple administrative positions is another manifestation of this trend. It makes one feel superior and privileged in the system, thereby depriving other stakeholders of developing their sense of ownership of the system. However, one cannot transcend time and limitations of human potential. Thus, it also results in the exploitation of others’ work for their benefit and sustenance in the given position, using administrative powers and privileges. Nevertheless, it also indicates the vacuum of talented personnel in a college.

Acknowledging diverse viewpoints is essential for a healthy academic system. In this regard, one vital indicator of a good administrator is the configuration of his or her team members.

The way forward

The problem of today’s education administrative system is that it is controlled by a few privileged administrators, though teachers at the grassroots level are supposed to be the main stakeholders.

Besides, administrators are ineffective in promoting mutual dialogue, free of hierarchical shackles, between themselves and teachers. Moreover, a multitude of rules, regulations and micro-level management by the administrators has made teachers bereft of their independent spaces and comfort zones to develop a sense of ownership to the system.

It is a time that both the teachers and academic administrators realise the importance of their collaborative role for the betterment of the system. Especially, teachers have to express their viewpoints without fear, in appropriate forums, aiming at the benefit of the system, so as not to feel guilty of self-treachery later.

It is also important to balance the different stakeholders’ sense of ownership of the system. Power dynamics would give an edge to the administrators over the teachers in this regard.

A system must be in place at the institutional level to prevent one’s power from taking benefit from another’s intellectual liberty and modes of articulation. Let us work together for a system which would improvise on the present one, considering the above aspects, for a better-balanced system tomorrow.

(Published 20 February 2019, 18:59 IST)

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