Sunday, February 15, 2004

Educating teachers
Jaswant Singh

Fifty Years of Higher Education in India: The Role of the University Grants Commission
by Amrik Singh. Sage Publications, New Delhi, Pages 250, Rs 560.

THE University Grants Commission was set up in 1953 as a statutory body to determine the standards of teaching and research in universities, regulate the establishment of new universities or the expansion of the existing ones and allocate grants to the universities. It celebrated 2003 as the golden jubilee year of its establishment. This book by a well-known educationist and writer on educational matters coincides with the jubilee celebrations but is in no way a history of the UGC, nor a eulogy. Addressed to the teachers, it is a critical assessment of the UGCís performance intended, in the words of the author, "to prod the community of teachers and analyse things for them so that they in turn begin to take interest in what has been happening to them." He suggests certain corrections in the path the UGC has taken over the past 50 years so that this apex body does not deviate from its assigned course.

For this purpose he has selected some articles he had written on the subject in different journals at different times and some pieces he has written specially for this book. He has kept the focus on procedures for ensuring high standards of teaching and internal administration of the universities and takes a close look at the dimensions and direction of higher education.

In the process he provides a perspective to educational thinkers and decision makers responsible for building a national system of education. He suggests amending the UGC Act to give some teeth to this body, including power to derecognise certain degrees in certain circumstances, giving it more statutory powers and making more funds available to it.

He pleads for expanding the role of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council and extending the process of accreditation to a larger number of institutions. He favours the establishment of more autonomous colleges and the introduction of a new mode of testing in the universities and colleges, beginning at the Masterís level and gradually going down to the undergraduate level.

To achieve this, he emphasises that it is important to obtain the cooperation of the academics so that the academic apparatus at the state level is strengthened, with the Centre taking an active part in it.

He advocates the American system of the assessment of teachers by students, accepting that any talk of such a process would invite strong criticism, even ridicule.

In a system that makes the teacher believe that there is nothing to learn from the students, and the student never entertains the thought that he has something to teach the teacher, he calls this reversal of roles an "exciting experience" that should be a part of the teaching-learning process. He believes that it will isolate the professional non-performers when student verdicts are repeated term after term, year after year.

About the position of the teachers, he maintains that the teachersí sincerity to their work is no longer an academic question. Their ways of functioning have made public opinion hostile to them.

The teachers, he says, have to do some rethinking on this and they have to educate themselves on educational matters better than they have done so far. The devious ways being followed today neither do credit to the teaching profession nor are likely to prove productive in the long run, he warns.

The book reflects the extensive experience of the author in the field of education and his views deserve respect because of the thought he has given to them.