Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Role of Teachers and Institutions in responding to the cause of higher education

Prof Man Mohan Singh, an economist turned politician and the prime minister of India while addressing the audience at the University of Mumbai on the occasion of its 150th anniversary mentioned -
‘Our university system is, in many parts, in a state of disrepair...almost two-third of our universities and 90 per cent of our colleges are rated as below average on quality parameters... I am concerned that in many states university appointments, including that of vice-chancellors, have been politicised and have become subject to caste and communal considerations, there are complaints of favouritism and corruption…We should free university appointments from unnecessary interventions on the part of governments and must promote autonomy and accountability. I urge states to pay greater attention to this aspect. After all, a dysfunctional education system can only produce dysfunctional future citizens!’ 
It is in these contexts that we need to have a re-look into the role of individuals (teachers and administrators) and institutions in responding to the cause of higher education in India. Individuals play important role in shaping the institutions. For universities and colleges individuals in the form of teachers, administrators, and policy makers design and decide on various aspects of management and practice of higher education at their respective institutions. We are witnessing a huge transformation in the institutions of higher learning from different perspectives. The dominance of market forces is affecting the sector so much so that the primary objective of education is getting shifted from gaining knowledge and becoming good citizen to getting good jobs with good salary packages. In the wake of the academic reforms proposed by UGC it is necessary that we try understand the spirit and develop a culture of trust, system of transparency, attitude of adaptability, sense of responsibility and mutuality to live upto the expectations of all its stakeholders. 

Teaching is much nobler a profession as compared to many other vocations taken up for sustenance and survival. The changing environment has influenced this to a greater extent and for many of its negative perception by society, no one but we teachers ourselves are responsible to a larger extent. We make system that is viewed by outsiders as corrupt, biased and baseless. The environment where a leader is becoming dealer, a teacher is viewed as a cheater; one needs to get into introspection and find out the reason with fair amount of rationality. 

The ultimate goal of human life is considered to be leading a satisfied and happy life. In Shakespearean way if I say, it would be - Some of us are born teachers, some learnt teaching and on some teaching is thrust upon. Whatever be the case I assume that we all like it and we all share one concern, we all are enjoying our choice or otherwise and we are all willing to learn from each other and to contribute for the noble cause of education through our able teaching, research and community service efforts. We celebrate accomplishments and achievements. As a human being, as individuals it provides us lot of positive energy and we do get involved in our work with more vigor and more concentration and set new targets. It gets further better when such an achievement is shared with friends and colleagues. The sound of the word Congratulations everybody likes, it does make our face smile. Can we develop ourselves in such a way that we start enjoying, sharing and complementing our friends and colleagues. This may not require a formal institutional system or support but it would certainly develop us and make our life more satisfying and happy. Interestingly we are surrounded by many Mutual Appreciation Societies, we do see many of such societies all around us in all walks of life, in all systems, professions, industry and institutions which have one purpose and that is to meet personal ends. We need to be little careful about it.

Life is interesting, life is really very interesting and while searching out a reason that why is life interesting, I get convinced about a reason, a basic reason, it is interesting because we all are different. Just imagine how it would have been had we all been same, same in gender, same in color, same in choices and habits, same in all spheres. I feel it must have really been very boring. Human psychology, with some minor exceptions, is same all across, we like, we dislike, we appreciate, we instigate, we make friends, we make enemies, we get motivated by money, sometime by a pat on our back, we lure, we get lured, we feel shy, and we get shied away. People are people so the very nature remains same and at times the child in us drives us so much that we play games that kids enjoy, we play hide and seek. Anyway I get back to the presumption that life is interesting because we all are different. So we need to learn how to enjoy this difference and I feel the best way to enjoy the difference is to respect this difference. Let us learn how to respect this difference. The better we deal with this difference, the better becomes our life. The difference in us benchmarks respective expectations and guides us on how to respect such a difference. Another reason why life is interesting is that it is full of uncertainties. Uncertainties pose challenges and as individuals we have our own way of dealing with these challenges. Distinct actions by different individuals make life interesting. 

Only bad knows the importance of good and they coexist in every system. We get night after day and day after night and both of them have their importance. Honesty is important because there is dishonesty. Pain and pleasure coexist. There is no problem which does not have a solution and there is no solution which is absolute. We get what we deserve, so if we expect good, we need to do good in order to claim what we really deserve. In an ideal situation, the guilty gets punished and the innocent is liberated. But if the system patronizes the guilty, the degree and depth of atrocities and anarchism dominate. The balloon keeps expanding its size. The ‘fews’ only are confided, consulted and kept ignoring fully what Lou Holtz had said – ‘It is a fine thing to have ability, but the ability to discover ability in others is the true test’. It is in this context that individuals need to raise their voice when they see people taking bias decisions and exploiting the underprivileged. While raising questions it is better if the solutions are offered so that it becomes easier for the decision makers to fasten their actions. Individuals should have proactive approach towards resolving the issues of conflict with a high degree of loyalty and commitment towards the institution. As teachers are the builders of tomorrow, their responsibilities are much beyond just teaching in the classroom. Their role in planning and execution is equally important as they are involved in the process of designing the programs and conducting the courses. 

Teachers do not just impart knowledge to students but their behavior helps shape the destiny of the nation through its reflection in the deeds of the students. Many a times it is said that a teacher never gets old as he/she is always in the company of the young ones. A teacher ignites the young minds and develops them so that they can have their own opinions on issues and concerns with an ability to express themselves with a high sense of sincerity and positivity. In this context, a teacher has to always be able to understand the young minds, he/she has to update and upgrade himself in order to respond to the needs of students at different times. A strong culture of learning has to get evolved with all individuals, specially involved in educational institutions, otherwise what Toffler wrote ‘the illiterate of the 21st century would not be those who haven’t gone to school, but they will be those who have stopped learning, unlearning and relearning’ would prove to be correct.

Now let us move to the role of institutions for ensuring better quality of education and developing a culture of trust, cooperation and commitment to the cause of education. The institutions have to prioritize more on developing mental infrastructure than the physical infrastructure. A system needs to be built which is based on the principles of transparency, mutuality and cooperation. Institutions have to recognize and respect the difference in the individuals through its honest intentions and behavior. The priorities have to be set more on nurturing and nourishing the talent available for institution building and involved in community development. Most of the problems of great institutions are solved through informal channels, which are more understood by the stakeholders. 

The culture of inclusivity rather than exclusivity would certainly make institutions more transparent, participatory and responsive. Transparency is such a strong weapon in the side of the institutions and its leader that allows others to show their faith and to support such institutions. By being transparent institutions and its leaders do not require to think any excuse or they can avoid pretending behavior, which in many ways goes in the favor of the institution. A principle of Humanitarianism needs to be followed by the universities in order to deal with the social welfare and reaffirming its role for the development of great culture of togetherness. Many times I have heard people comparing one university with other university for very many reasons which do not exist at these places in same quality, quantity and quantum. Every institution has its pluses and minuses, the approach has to be to capitalize on the pluses and to minimize the effects of the minuses. I get reminded of what Mr Bhupesh Gupta mentioned in the parliament while the discussion on the JNU Bill was going on in the year 1965. I quote: 
‘Mr Chairman, let us not have Cambridge and Oxfords and Princetons and Harvards here; let us create universities and colleges that our people need, that our development needs, for the remaking of our material and cultural being.’
Our approach has to be of integration and interdependence. The institutions have to encourage team-spirit, developing sense of loyalty towards institutions rather than individuals. We cannot afford to have sybaritic sensibilities in the times of austerity and ignore trumped up platitudes. Institutional support for the honest causes of the individuals, who belong, must be provided, encouraged and sustained so that the individuals put their 100% in the interest of the organization through their loyalty, care and commitment. No one likes to be micromanaged more so for the institutions involved in the education sector. As Harry Paul puts it…without a climate of mutual trust, no employee is going to give you their best efforts – they will only give you what they have to in order to keep their jobs. (which is not just enough) So, if you want your employees to get excited about working hard on your behalf; back off and support them. Show them that you have faith in their abilities and let them know that you are on their side. The, get out of their way and allow them to make you look good as their leader.

Institutions need to believe that Conflict is not always bad; there are very many organizations where conflict is encouraged. However a caution has to be taken so that the conflict does not become dysfunctional. Conflict is a positive thing so far it is functional and such a conflict needs to be encouraged and respected with open arms and a system of having Right-Fights has to be nurtured. I read somewhere "I am more afraid of an army of one thousand sheeps led by a lion than an army of one thousand lions led by a sheep..." It is the individuals who make the institutions however it is the leader who makes all the difference.

Albert Einstein said: Education is something which remains with you after you forget everything you learnt from the books. Hence it is more important what as teachers we do outside the classrooms than what we do in the classrooms. It is we who make system so if we are sensitized to the issues and our sensibilities are kept alive for the honest cause of education, we can draw lot of courage to assert our positions in whatever best way we choose to decide. Lets all work together to do the institution proud and let the institution reciprocate this same gesture by providing all kinds of moral support. After all we all want to lead a happy life. 
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