Upgrading Engineering Education in India: New Role for the Professional Teacher – I - by Raju Swamy: May 10, 2009
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) 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 an environment of growth as against that of uncertainty or stagnation. Academic institutions have by and large escaped judgment by these standards as compared to Government and industry, and consequently teachers have lived in a relatively “free” world. • Can academic institutional growth take place in isolation from the growth and development of teachers? Or can teachers isolate themselves from responsibility and accountability for the success of academic excellence and growth? Can a “safe” job motivate performance? Are excellent teachers sufficiently “backed up” by institutional managements through 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 demanding younger generation? Is institutional research attracting industry by keeping ahead of prevalent industry norms and thereby providing a direction for development of technology and innovation?
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These questions arise, striking at strong fundamental beliefs in the infallibility of teachers and institutions of learning. This report is an attempt at exploring some of the questions raised above. It is based on a study conducted for over two years at an above average, reputed privately owned (Government-aided) engineering institution in the country.. The management of the institution exhibited both courage and foresight in having this study 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. His mission was to impart knowledge to those that could absorb them without expecting anything in return. And the good student was ever indebted to the Guru. 1
2 Somewhere along the line, the ancient selftaught “Guru” disappeared and in course of time has emerged the “professional” vocation of a teacher ----- a professional who expects to be paid adequately for his work and also expects by and large to work within a 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, the teaching profession is left to float relatively fee under the garb of “academic freedom”. “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 the best 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 in the pursuit of knowledge. Today, academic freedom has for the enmasse of teachers meant an environment free of responsibility for which they could be held accountable. To move forward in the direction of accountability, of commitment to the vocation of teaching, what is expected of a teacher today, in particular of teachers in technologically sophisticated institutions like 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 questionnaire answered on their understanding of the culture of their institution and finally interviewed more than 100 students at random. What the Teachers had to say: Some of the observations arising from the above are reported below for the purpose of finally having the “New” Role of the Teacher defined by teachers themselves after brain-storming on these observations: • There was noticeably little resistance to the idea of introducing from within a change 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 differed vastly - 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 the onus 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 than teaching 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 selection criteria.
3 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 a feeling was expressed many times that HODs and Senior Teachers should take more 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 is also “safe” and not developmental - “peaceful’ co-existence is the rule on most matters: • Consciousness of management of a department’s resources in terms of cost/benefit or cost effectiveness appears to be absent even among HODs and Senor Teachers. Demands for additional facilities or manpower are made with a ritualistic, mechanical approach - and invariably the “institution” is held responsible for not giving 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 a balanced 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 teachers of 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 a few 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 do not have the independence to go ahead. This could be a “chicken or egg” story. In many departments. HODs neither encourage initiative nor delegate responsibility. In fact there appears to be undue concern for maintaining distance as reinforcement to heirarchial positions. This works both ways: extreme “humbleness” upwards and undue superiority downwards, finally creating unproductive but ‘safe” relationships within the departments. It was difficult to come across an environment of ‘challenge’ in departments, with clear objectives towards which teachers progressed as a team. And yet even as a routine it was apparent that each department had 3
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4 plenty to work on around which objectives for achievement could be planned. Obviously, all departments will have enough and more of “routine” work - but are the “routines” shared and delegated for optimum results? What about “nonroutine” activity that can progressively upgrade a department over time in keeping with national and international trends in teaching, research and consultancy? These questions need to be looked at for finally determining a practical, workable rolepersonality of at least a “reasonably acceptable” teacher. For example, a teacher today may have to be: • • • • Academically well-trained with a sound knowledge base. A good communicator to impart knowledge effectively. Good at interacting with students and colleagues. Innovative to move with the times not only in terms of updating of routine knowledge, but also in terms of acquiring value-added generative knowledge through research, consultancy, and interaction with the relevant environment. Innovative also in terms of teaching techniques. A leader and motivator to bring out the best in students and of junior teachers, research scholars, and other teaching and non-teaching staff who may form part of his administrative responsibility.
The role of a teacher is obviously a demanding one, possibly next only to the role of parents. But at the post-adolescent stage of student life, the role of a teacher may even be the more important role in relation to the parental role. Today the teacher is a “professional’ with terms and conditions of work within specified or unspecified boundaries. For a “professional” teacher to play his optimum desired role, he also needs to be supported through institutional direction, motivation, and recognition. Issues regarding improvement in institution management and improvement in the performance of teachers, particularly in engineering colleges, are now subjects of national debate. However, having personal experience of the deliberations that go on, and keeping in mind the complexities involved at the national level, progress is likely to be very slow. On the other hand, an autonomous, viable, socially-purposeful, far-seeing institution of higher learning can voluntarily initiate and act on an Organization Development plan that will enrich the role of professional teachers with consequent positive impact on Research and Consultancy. And, without doubt, this could unleash a self-generative growth mechanism for the institution in all its aspects.
5 Raju Swamy Principal Consultant & Advisor to Entrepreneurs & Family Business PROMAG Consultancy Services Apt. 206 Brigade Rathna 42 Ranga Rao Road Shankarapuram Bangalore - 560004 INDIA Tel. +91-80-26676298/ Cell: 9845271498 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Promoting Management Action for Growth . since 1985