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Focus cannot only be on institutions of excellence

Sudakshana Kundu |

Knowledge is becoming superficial too. The semester system has a large role to play. It only eats into learning time by squeezing in another month-long semester examination. What is suitable for campus-based learning where all the facilities are available twenty-four hours, is not conducive to institutes whose hours of instruction are limited to several hours a day.

Admitted, that such limited hours of instruction are unacceptable for modern teaching and learning programmes, but can we wish away the ground realities? The institutes that mould majority of the student community of India have limitations in infrastructure.

Many buildings offer training in shifts and that is allowed as per the rules and regulations of the current system. Most of the colleges do not have centralised campus for teachers, staff and students. Under such a situation, the institutes have no alternative but to limit their hours of instruction.

Many students have to commute long distances daily. This leaves little time to study. Unless more time is allowed to learn a subject, to both reading and putting such knowledge to test by constant practice, it gets very difficult to assimilate what is taught. It is increasingly so, as there is a tendency to frame the semesterbased syllabus by cramming everything that should be taught in a whole year.

A case in point is the recently published syllabus of under-graduate studies in general subjects as per the Choice Based Credit Systems (CBCS). Not only the contents are unmanageable in a single semester, they are impracticable, as some of the infrastructure needed for some of the Science subjects, is too ambitious.

No ordinary college with limited financial resources will be able to afford laboratories with such state-of-theart equipment, worth crores of rupees. What is possible for a premier institute with abundant funds is not possible for colleges with limited physical and human infrastructure. Naturally, such common syllabi will only daunt these institutes.

Funds, if available, may provide physical infrastructure. But it will need a consorted effort over a very long time to train the faculty and staff members to learn to handle such modern equipment and pass on their training effectively to the students.

Further, most academic institutes have a dearth of teaching staff, for many obvious reasons. Therefore, it often becomes difficult to spare teachers for training programmes, especially if they are held during academic sessions, without hampering the teaching-learning process. The technical staff also needs training, not only to handle new instruments, but also to maintain them. All this takes holistic planning. Till such time, it is impossible to do justice to the new curricula.

It is also debatable that all the new elements introduced in the new curriculum will actually make any difference to the employability, given the present job prospects. There should first be a survey of the job market, with its projection for the next decade, in order to revise a curriculum. The need must dictate the nature of training to be imparted. India is now part of the global village.

Hence, the Human Resource Development Ministry must prepare a realistic roadmap for the future to plan the training of the youth. The need of today may saturate in future or change, rendering many unemployed. The information should percolate to all levels so that the younger generations may have a clearer perspective, which is sorely lacking today. All follow the much- trodden path which has reached a dead end.

Newer institutes must come up to impart training in areas that may prove useful for the future. There should also be scope for upgradation of skills to meet the changing scenario. Only a person with good fundamental knowledge can quickly adapt himself/herself to the changing times.

It is a positive step that on-line courses are being developed to fill the gap between curriculum and practical applications. This may, somewhat, address the deficiency in the number of trained teachers. But such courses can only act as supplements and not alternatives to institution-based learning.

They may help the teachers to update themselves. But there is no alternative to first hand practical experience. Unfortunately, providing internship to each and every student will be impossible given the present industrial scenario of our country.

The examination system needs revamping too. Presently, there is little test of hands-on skills and no test of the proficiency of the mind to solve the problems of real life, based on the knowledge gained. It does not aim to judge one’s ability to express his/her thoughts clearly. The major lessons of life remain unlearned.

The proposal to introduce a uniform examination to test the competence of fresh graduates may be useful provided it does not make the examination system of universities redundant and dilute their importance. The effort of standardisation through multiple examination processes only leads to greater dependence on examination-based rote learning and rush for coaching classes.

The Governments, both central and state, provide funds to the aided Universities and Institutions. Therefore, they definitely have the right to monitor whether the tax payers’ money is being utilized for the purpose it is granted.

The Governments may also come up with schemes to promote study and research. But there should be more participation of the academic community, not only from the premier Institutes but also from the second-tier institutes, in such decision making. In order to promote excellence funds are being diverted to the Centres of Excellence, thus depriving majority of the second- tier institutes, where most of the youth of our nation take admission.

An Institute of Excellence with world-wide reputation has already earned the competence to attract funding from non-government agencies and industries, for carrying out innovative research. They have the much-needed experience in patenting and generating Intellectual Property Rights. But non-premier institutes that have not earned such a name must be assisted to flourish too. Then only the benefits will percolate to the masses.

Unfortunately, there has been serious curtailment of research funding and scholarships for non-premier institutes. The faculty members carry out research by guiding research scholars. Maturing of a faculty member into an effective teacher depends largely on his/her research experience coupled with teaching.

This is already acknowledged as much emphasis is given to research output of academic institutions. Many innovative ideas will never see the light of day if government funding to these institutes dries up. Research will inevitably suffer. If India has to emerge as an innovative nation with many patentable ideas, research funding for scholarships and infrastructure development should have greater provision in the Union budget.

If we compare our educational budget with that of China, the reason for the difference between their research output and ours becomes apparent. This selective attitude of the HRD Ministry cripples our higher education system by impoverishing majority of the so called second-tier universities on one hand and kills the initiative of the premier ones, on the other, by easier access to funds, in spite of the fact that they can attract funding by sheer dint of their merit. Healthy competition promotes growth and healthy competition should be promoted wherever possible by helping the deserving, whether or not they are premier.

The HRD ministry should try to improve upon the existing system by plugging holes and addressing deficiencies. Any effort that tends to destabilise it completely must be avoided. After all, education, like health, is a very important pillar for nation building. If the pillar is not strong enough, the entire structure will crumble. As an academician, I am afraid of any drastic change that will fell the large banyan of education at one blow.

The writer is a retired Professor of Computer Science, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad University of Technology, West Bengal.