Interviews |

Students should read political ideologies and then debate

G’nY. As a premier institute of guidance in research and learning in education, what are your views on rote learning as opposed to qualitative analysis?

Prof N.V. Varghese : Rote learning is almost disappearing. The way in which students are assessed today is changing, especially in a technology based context, rote learning has no place. I believe that in a technology mediated education system, classroom discussion holds more significance. Rote learning may, however, be seen in the context of school education.

 G’nY. Despite Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009, we see a disparity between educational degrees and actual learning. Why is that?

Prof N.V. Varghese : There are several layers. Firstly, in the RTE the focus is to bring students to school and retain them. It speaks less about learning achievements or learning outcomes. Secondly, one needs to make a distinction between schooling and learning. When fewer educational institutions existed, opportunities for learning were limited. But, today although the number of educational institutions have increased, learning is less widespread. Overall, yes, the skills are getting reduced. Even UNESCO identifies this gap as a global learning crisis.

G’nY. With the recent leakage of board examination papers, what are your views on alternative ways of conducting examinations—and whether board examinations are an imperative stepping stone for
higher education?

Prof N.V. Varghese : Leakage of examination papers is a reflection of administrative inefficiency. So, this is a mistake and people should be identified and punished who are responsible for the mistake. But that does not question the credibility of the examination. This should be treated as an aberration and the government should take measures to make sure that such things should not happen in the future. Alternately, perhaps the weightage given to board examinations can be reduced. University semester system has year long assessment where no question of life and death arises. But,we cannot do away with the examinations because there needs to be a way to compare the students coming out of schools.

G’nY. Is there any mechanism by which professors’ teaching hours and quality of teaching is monitored or evaluated?

Prof N.V. Varghese : The question should instead be on how much the learning hours of the students are. So, we should not make an assessment based on teaching hours. A teacher in a university setup delivers an essential argument of a chapter or a lesson and leaves—the students are asked to read the chapter and compliment through the library books or digital facilities available. It is not the teaching time, but the quality of teaching that is important. So, focus should be on learning time and learning levels. But it is altogether a different story at the school level. School has a set syllabus and a set time for teachers. So, the time teachers are investing in teaching and how are they teaching makes a lot of difference.

 G’nY. The University Grants Commission (UGC) recently granted full autonomy to 60 institutions including five central and 21 state universities, which maintained high standards. Will this help them achieve greater heights in research?

Prof N.V. Varghese : Universities in India by definition are autonomous entities. Even the first commission on education in India in 1948—the Radhakrishnan Commission was on higher education. In 1964 Kothari Commission also reiterated the need for university autonomy. Therefore, autonomy is an integral part of higher education system in India. Now coming to graded autonomy, those institutions that have more than 3.5 grade in National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) are provided the graded autonomy. You can see that the good universities in India have received high scores in NAAC assessment. These institutions are more autonomous and are research oriented. India needs more research in the universities. All high scoring universities such as Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore; Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi; Hyderabad University and many such institutions focus on research. We need to support and deepen research in universities. Research needs autonomy as well as liberal funding. If we look into our past decades autonomy was always accompanied by public funding in the 1950-60s when India had only public universities. In my view all institutions not only need academic and intellectual autonomy but also financial support to undertake research.

G’nY. What are your views on privatising higher education?

Prof N.V. Varghese : The private colleges that existed during the post-independence period were nationalised and converted into public institutions. In the 1970s, the aided sector developed which followed the rules and regulations similar to public institutions. Then we saw the emergence of self-financing courses and self-financing institutions called capitation fee colleges especially in the area of technical and professional education. The southern states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and the western state of Maharashtra, took the lead in establishing capitation fee colleges. Thus, started a period of unaided private sector in higher education. During this time private universities were not legally permitted—only private colleges that were affiliated to public universities were allowed. The Private Universities Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 1995, but since it was not passed during the term of the Lok Sabha, it lapsed. Following this, state governments enacted their own laws that would enable the establishment of private universities—the Chhattisgarh Private Universities Act of 2002 is one example. A number of private universities were established in Chhattisgarh. In 2004, Professor Yashpal Singh, former Chairman of UGC filed a petition in the court saying these universities had been established by the state government paying no regard to the availability of any infrastructure, teaching facility or financial resources. The Supreme Court order declared many of these private universities to be closed. Unlike in the school system, where a private school is preferred to a government school, the students seek admissions in a good public institution like IITs and IIMs in higher education sector. However, to get into a prestigious public higher education institution, a student needs to have a good private schooling background. This is the change that we are seeing in higher education.

G’nY. JRF and SRF holders should have a mandate whereby they can be compulsorily directed to teach at primary/secondary level in rural schools. What are your views?

Prof N.V. Varghese : I do not agree with this idea. If anyone has availed fellowship then they should undertake research and complete it on time. Students whose prime forte is research will rarely opt to be a primary or secondary school teacher. They start mostly as lecturers or as researchers. So, in order to improve rural education, university as an institution should be linked to the schools. We should enhance the academic level of the teachers teaching at the primary and secondary level.

G’nY. Skill is directly proportional to employability. While formulating and designing courses, are any directives kept in mind?

Prof N.V. Varghese : There is a lot of talk of linking higher education to skills and employability. Companies need a varied set of skills in students. Teachers at the universities are not equipped to teach all those skills—neither is it desirable. Teachers should, however, definitely work on enhancing the levels of interaction and deepen the theoretical understanding of the students. Companies on the other hand have a profit orientation and should include training cost to upgrade the job-specific skills of the recruits. The education system should be oriented to provide good quality education that can help improve and further enhance generic skill sets. Moreover, job-specific skills are an ever changing component. Some estimates show that 40-50 per cent of jobs that exist today will not exist 20 years hence. So, the argument that the university should impart job specific skills is not possible and hence wrongly grounded.

G’nY. Is it possible or even desirable to keep university students away from the politics?

Prof N.V. Varghese : I do not think we are going to serve any purpose by keeping students away from politics. We should orient students to higher levels of political discourse and introduce them to political debates. Lack of proper understanding leads to wrong politics in the campus. Students should be encouraged to read political ideologies and then debate.

 

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