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Resetting the lens on higher education

Education, for a young person, comes at an extremely complicated time in life. Students may come from vastly different backgrounds into an institution.
Last Updated : 12 August 2023, 20:33 IST
Last Updated : 12 August 2023, 20:33 IST

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Indian higher education often gets mixed bag press coverage. I have worked in the spheres of private sector education and media. I have peeves over how education gets presented in the ‘mainstream’, online and social media. How do diverse media set the popular perception on higher education? I will stick to what I have observed in the English language press in India.

Here’s a sundry list on the angles through which one reads about higher education or ‘consumes’ education-related ‘content’: when students do well or poorly in competitive exams; when institutions charge high fees and there’s pressure sometimes from state governments to reduce them; when public universities don’t tenure track deserving faculty for years (even decades); when syllabi get changed arbitrarily; when education accrediting bodies get mired in controversies; when the digital divide exposes the true conditions in accessing education; when students discriminated against take drastic action; when rankings bodies assess the quality of Indian colleges; when private education institutions purvey you their ‘products’ through print and video ads; when the same institutions display their swanky sheeny campuses.

Yes, many of these depictions over one slice of the education sector are on point: the media does and must report on these matters. Yet, these features convey a picture of higher education only from the ends of its rainbowed spectrum. Many colours in the middle of that arc get lost. Our mainstream and social media shun the mundane but germane realities of everyday education. Like the human aspect of learning, teaching, and life in educational establishments. Or that education is life-changing, life-long and continuous. Education screams out for diversification of coverage, which we see from some online independent media. The life of any student in any Indian university, whether good, bad or mediocre, demands more expansive engagement in our media than it currently does.

There’s another side, too. Bullying, harassment, and mental health are now matters people increasingly talk about in the educational ethos, due to the churn caused by online and social media. These were long needed. Still, as a reader or viewer, the overwhelming view of education I get is in a mechanical, competitive and commercial sense. Like, the common query from parents and students: ‘If I study this, what is my future?’ It’s a key question, but life, as we know, is more complex than that. Education is not always linear. One may not feel its value immediately, but sometimes only years later.

Education, for a young person, comes at an extremely complicated time in life. Students may come from vastly different backgrounds into an institution. They might have stepped out of home for the first time; they might have migrated from faraway states, or countries even. This wealth of human and social experience needs to be addressed and harnessed. How does our media address these layered truths? Student-run newspapers in well-known universities in the West elicit this youthful vivacity with splendour and humour.

Our media go to great lengths to cover the minutiae of politics, cricket, Bollywood. Why can’t they dedicate patient attention to education? A small step is to apportion space to learners and educators and the interesting happenings and challenges inside the education sector in a granular manner more regularly. Legacy media of record in the West, like The New York Times or The Guardian treat education as a serious beat, as it’s a vexed issue in the societies they dialogue with. Our media has got to do better, given how vexatious education is here. Education is portrayed to us in monochrome. The rainbows of teaching and learning ought to be eased in front of our eyes.

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Published 12 August 2023, 20:33 IST

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