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Sriram Balasubramanian
Thursday , January 12, 2012 at 15 : 49

Higher Education in India: Learning beyond the exams


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The debate on higher education has always existed in this country. In most cases, it has been on the peripherals with the academics venting their frustrations at the system. Now, after the PM's acceptance on the need to improve R and D, the vibes on positive development on the academic front is higher once more. In this debate, there are calls for various policies but a deeper question also needs to be addressed. It's the question of the respect and recognition for the people who teach and the culture of learning beyond the exams.

The craving for research and innovations is not something that is going to come with a magic wand. Sure enough, an additional investment would surely help the cause of research but there lies a more fundamental issue with regards to the educational system in our country. The educational system in our country, post colonial rule, in my opinion has still not matured as much as the developed countries. In its core essence, the intent in our system is very good and strong but the implementation and the evolution has stagnated over a significant period of time. At the heart of this stagnation, is a lack of culture of learning beyond the exams.

Education, in its present context, for anyone remotely associated with academics is by and large a mundane aspect for the masses. There is indeed quality education but people studying for the sake of learning are very little in number. Academics has become a path for reaching the bigger goal of employment and everything is streamlined towards that goal. For example, take any above average kid who is in a non IIT engineering college across the country. The majority of people (not all of them) below the 75 percentile category do not study for the sake of the subject Their motivation is somehow to clear the exams by regurgitating since they don't seem to be learning much from the classrooms. This causes a scenario wherein they don't go through the curve of learning but through the curve of memorizing. In the mad rush to prepare for exams, their potential to be creative is diminished. This ensures that people are less inclined to move towards the research stream since they don't go through the beauty of learning. One more reason for this, besides the exam mania, is also the teaching aspect which demotivates them from their research pursuits.

Teachers in India face an extremely tough job. The fact is they are underpaid, they are not given their due and some of them are even looked down upon by society. As such, there is a scenario where by and large, the teachers are not competent and they are in the profession by default; not because they like teaching. (This seems to be the case with young people coming to teaching). These young teachers are themselves a confused lot and they are brought up with the memorizing mentality, so how do you expect them to inculcate the "learning" experience in the upcoming generation? I don't blame them either since they are not competent enough. How do you expect to get competent people if you don't pay them enough? This is where the money factor plays a significant part.

Investment should not be restricted to facility building but it should trickle down to the teacher level at the grassroots and to the professors in the universities. The academic scholars in our society are more often than not rotting in the back pages of the newspapers unlike the fashionista who adorn the main news with their tweets. Are academic scholars given their due anywhere in society? Besides, the rare Padma award here and there, have we genuinely heard of any public recognition for the academics? Leave alone that, how many people know 2012 is Sri Ramunaja year? This is also due to the messy state of affairs in the priorities of the society with regards to education and academics. Anything bordering on the line of intellectual is considered too tired for our mind, not because we are not capable of it, just because we cant be bothered to show respect for it. The least bit the educators would require is more recognition than their current state of affairs.

Quality research comes not just from monetary investment but from a very deep rooted culture of learning within the system. This sense of learning within the system comes from the academics/teachers at the basic university/schooling level who are the cornerstone of this process. The quality of academics can only be sustained when there is an attempt to pacify their needs both monetarily and give them the recognition that is due. This would serve to address the root cause of our backwardness in quality research in comparison to global standards.

A culture of learning needs to be imbibed through the system in addition to the monetary investment; that's when world class researchers and sustained research would be produced.

(The author can be reached on his Facebook page)


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More about Sriram Balasubramanian

Sriram Balasubramanian is a Journalist, voracious reader, avid Blogger, social enthusiast and a believer in excellence not mediocrity. With an inherent passion towards journalism and writing, he believes in playing the "Straight Drive" all the time. Besides this, he has a MS in Engineering Management and has played Chess for Singapore.

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