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Upgrading Engineering Education in India - New Role for the Professional Teacher - Raju Swamy - May 10, 2009

Upgrading Engineering Education in India - New Role for the Professional Teacher - Raju Swamy - May 10, 2009

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Published by Raju Swamy
What are the reasons for the fall in academic standards in institutes of higher learning, of a majority of engineering colleges in particular? Here is an attempt at exploring some of the questions raised. Though the original version was first published in ‘The Hindu’ of November 06, 1990, the issues raised continue to be alive in 2009.
What are the reasons for the fall in academic standards in institutes of higher learning, of a majority of engineering colleges in particular? Here is an attempt at exploring some of the questions raised. Though the original version was first published in ‘The Hindu’ of November 06, 1990, the issues raised continue to be alive in 2009.

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Published by: Raju Swamy on May 10, 2009
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Upgrading Engineering Education in India: New Role for theProfessional Teacher – I - by Raju Swamy: May 10, 2009(
What are the reasons for the fall in academic standards in institutes of higher learning, of a majority of engineering colleges in particular? Here is an attempt atexploring some of the questions raised. Though the original version was firstpublished in ‘The Hindu’ of November 06, 1990, the issues raised continue to bealive in 2009)
Most organizational constraints in every type of organization - government, industry, or academic - are man-made. Typical man-made constraints arise out of the culture of organizations, primarily related to the extent of clarity of objectives, concern for results,optimal utilization of resources, recognition of good work, and promotion of anenvironment of growth as against that of uncertainty or stagnation.
Academicinstitutions have by and large escaped judgment by these standards ascompared to Government and industry, and consequently teachers have lived ina relatively “free” world.
Can academic institutional growth take place in isolation from the growth anddevelopment of teachers? Or can teachers isolate themselves fromresponsibility and accountability for the success of academic excellence andgrowth? Can a “safe” job motivate performance?
Are excellent teachers sufficiently “backed up” by institutional managementsthrough infrastructure facilities and recognition?
What is the role of the principal? The Heads of Departments?
Are institution standards moving in line with a brighter and more demandingyounger generation?
Is institutional research attracting industry by keeping ahead of prevalentindustry norms and thereby providing a direction for development of technology and innovation?
 These questions arise, striking at strong fundamental beliefs in theinfallibility of teachers and institutions of learning.
 
This report is an attempt at exploring some of the questions raised above. It isbased on a study conducted for over two years at an above average, reputedprivately owned (Government-aided) engineering institution in the country.. Themanagement of the institution exhibited both courage and foresight in having thisstudy undertaken.
From our ancient systems of learning, the teacher or ‘Guru’ emerged as a selfless,dedicated, learned individual with simple living and high thinking as a way of life. Hismission was to impart knowledge to those that could absorb them without expectinganything in return. And the good student was ever indebted to the Guru.
 
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Somewhere along the line, the ancient selftaught “Guru” disappeared and in course of time has emerged the “professional” vocation of a teacher ----- a professional whoexpects to be paid adequately for his work and also expects by and large to work withina set of boundaries particularly suitable for the vocation.
The contradiction in the professional teachers role has arisen with the fact that,while all other paid vocations are periodically “accounted” for performance, theteaching profession is left to float relatively fee under the garb of “academicfreedom”.
“Academic Freedom” in its original shape meant providing a teacher an environment of free thought and expression to enable his creative brain to flower to its fullest so that thebest of his acquired or created knowledge could be imparted. This is assuming, of course, that by and large a teacher spent more of his/her time in thoughts and deeds inthe pursuit of knowledge.Today, academic freedom has for the enmasse of teachers meant an environment freeof responsibility for which they could be held accountable. To move forward in thedirection of accountability, of commitment to the vocation of teaching, what is expectedof a teacher today, in particular of teachers in technologically sophisticated institutionslike leading engineering colleges?
As part of the methodology of this study, this writer met individual teachers,teachers in groups in formal meetings, got a specially developed questionnaireanswered on their understanding of the culture of their institution and finallyinterviewed more than 100 students at random.What the Teachers had to say:
Some of the observations arising from the above arereported below for the purpose of finally having the “New” Role of the Teacher definedby teachers themselves after brain-storming on these observations:
There was noticeably little resistance to the idea of introducing from within achange of culture in a phased manner into the institution to make it relatively“objective-oriented”.
However, each person’s interpretation of what such a change meant differedvastly - like many saw it either as a fault-finding mechanism to be careful of or that it had something to do with what the institution would do for them with theonus being totally on the institution. This was true even of many senior teachers.
 
Many teachers did not see the point that their role was anything other thanteaching per se.
Many logically saw teaching as a primary task but did not see the relevance of research and consultancy as effective supports to teaching.
 
Most saw the constraints on teaching performance as
 
Too many students in a class.
Quality of most students below average because of doubtful selectioncriteria.
 
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The Students’ Views:
 
The Students’ survey revealed a marked feeling about the “poor” abilities of “junior” lecturers--- in terms of knowledge and communication.
The Students’ attitude towards HODs and Senior Teachers was positive but afeeling was expressed many times that HODs and Senior Teachers should takemore interest in the students and in the over-all quality education imparted,collectively and by individual teachers.
Interaction within departments between HODs and Senior Teachers and others isalso “safe” and not developmental - “peaceful’ co-existence is the rule on mostmatters:
Consciousness of management of a department’s resources in terms of cost/benefit or cost effectiveness appears to be absent even among HODs andSenor Teachers.
Demands for additional facilities or manpower are made with a ritualistic,mechanical approach - and invariably the “institution” is held responsible for notgiving adequate facilities.
Tthere is definitely an absence of “management” culture among HODs whether resource management or manpower management.
There is tremendous scope for improving the leadership role of the Principal and Heads of the Departments that would activate the involvement of the brighter teachers in the modernization and expansion of existing departments to enable abalanced approach to the three important academic outputs ---- Teaching,Research, and Consultancy.
Emphasis on Research and Consultancy is sporadic ------ not “objective” or “plan”based.
However, in terms of the background and qualifications of a majority of teachersof all levels, the potential for spearheading these activities is high but the “drive”is weak.
Most of the dynamism appears to be confined to the Principal’s office, possibly afew new departments. This is strange considering that the HODs are senior enough and qualified enough to push their Departments forward.
Observations were made that the institution is highly centralized and HODs donot have the independence to go ahead. This could be a “chicken or egg” story.
In many departments. HODs neither encourage initiative nor delegateresponsibility.
In fact there appears to be undue concern for maintaining distance asreinforcement to heirarchial positions. This works both ways: extreme“humbleness” upwards and undue superiority downwards, finally creatingunproductive but ‘safe” relationships within the departments.
 
It was difficult to come across an environment of ‘challenge’ indepartments, with clear objectives towards which teachers progressed as ateam. And yet even as a routine it was apparent that each department had

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