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Friday, June 27, 2014

Neoliberal education, and its likely future

The Statesman of Calcutta recently carried a deeply disturbing essay written by a former professor at Gokhale Institute, Pune (one of those few places left where they still apparently try to teach economics proper rather than just another branch of applied mathematics, designed to train one more brand of technician rather than thinkers). It is about which way ‘education’ has been going all over the world. Click on this and then this.

It is a dense essay: it will need focused ploughing through. Don’t read it when you are busy and distracted.

Those who have been reading this blog all these years cannot fail to note how many of the writer’s ideas resonate with mine, as articulated in all the essays clubbed under the label ‘education’.

Someday those essays of mine might come out together in the shape of a book. Maharatna’s article is the sort that I would like to use as part of my references. Hence I have ‘bookmarked’ it here, to be looked up maybe many years later.


Subhanjan Sengupta said...

Highly crucial words by the Professor and there are several elements of blatant truth in the article which need to be unmasked time and again through different mediums. The tragedy of this is that there is a tiny fraction of this human populace who will, first, be qualified enough to find out such a link, second, read it to depth, and third, try to bring some change at least at their own end.

The most impressive portion of the article was the changing perception of people towards ‘education’; which is more towards ‘edu-care’ now. Being a part of this hugely privatised academic industry, I cannot help but agree to him. Indeed it is ‘edu-care’, where in we need to generate more and more ‘pass-outs’. Believe me when I say that majority of these universities (public and private) alike are in some sort of a pressure to let students pass their exams and get their degrees easily. Even parents too want the same. Now this may seem highly dismal (which it is); however, there is an argument that when the institutes/universities have not revamped their age old syllabuses, why not let the child get the degree, go out, and learn by slogging in the market. Now that is not a bad argument either.

I think what we need is a total restructuring of the system. I may sound quite primitive if I say that Socrates’s Elenchos; the process of learning through meaningful dialogue and questioning each other healthily, should see a comeback. I have a student base in my classes who are intellectually handicapped, crippled in terms of thinking power, but start showing traits of development when I follow ‘dialectical’ method of teaching and evolving in one’s thought processes.

There is a lot of truth when the professor says ‘faculty promotion is made increasingly contingent on periodic teacher-evaluation by students.’ And he also goes on to say that ‘No wonder students, as rational ‘clients’ of edu-care, feel that they are best served by those teachers who are most lenient in terms of awarding them good grades and marks. This could inject an in-built tendency among the faculty to keep students in good humour by awarding a mark that is well above what is actually deserved.’ Well that is true, but the truth of that depends much on the teacher him/herself. It is indeed true that faculty promotions depend on feedback. But how about this: I know someone who gives low internals to students (and make it clear to everyone at the beginning of every semester); but still he gets quite good grades/feedback from students. Why?

The reason is the establishing of a connection with students and also his efforts to deliver his best in his classes. After all we all are humans and feel gratified when we realise there is someone who is devotedly doing something for our own good. Therefore I sincerely believe that a teacher can be loved a lot by students even though he/she may not be giving high marks. Education is not just about grades, but it is an experience. And it depends much on the model a teacher chooses to follow in his/her classes – marks churning session or a session of interactive learning.

Having said all that, 99% of what the professor said is utter truth.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thank you for responding, Subhanjan. Notice that nobody else has.

There was an incident at Presidency last year, when many of the girls had trooped to a professor to request a reduction in the exam syllabus, and they raised a furore about his 'gender-biased' scolding when he refused to. Only this morning my daughter was telling me it's the same situation in her school: they haven't studied anything till the last week, and now they want the syllabus to be curtailed for their convenience. I have said this a thousand times: most 'higher' education (meaning everything above class 8) has become a farce, and the sooner we take the bull by the horns at the national level the better for all concerned.

Being much older in teaching than you are, I am, naturally, much less optimistic. As for students getting degrees easily (but at great financial cost to their parents) only to slog it out (usually at a very low level) in the job market, is it a very good idea, really? Keep thinking.

What is primitive about Socrates? That most PhDs and MBAs cannot speak coherently about him for five minutes does not make him 'primitive', does it?

Read Maharatna's essay again as and when you can. I think there are several other, and very important things, he has said that you haven't noticed at first reading. You can sell education like any other commodity only upto a point without ruining it completely. I have had to draw the line rather sternly for myself: else I'd have been a rich man by now.