Sometime back I read an article in 'Prabhat Khabar' discussing the pathetic condition of colleges and universities in Jharkhand/Bihar. The topic was in fact covered in a series of 5 to 6 articles and were authored by a professor from IIT, Madras.He, who had been a product of schools and colleges in Bihar knew what he was talking about. He laments that the colleges in the region are just shadows of what they were when he was a student. He is ofcourse right.The college that my husband studied was one of the best in the state and students who were his batch mates have made it to prestigious universities abroad in times when parents hardly aspired to send their children abroad and most were happy to see them graduate in local colleges and take up jobs in and around the town where they were raised.
Truth is bitter and I found it difficult to swallow it. After all I am being paid by the tax payer's money and hope to draw a decent pension on retirement. But I needed to do some introspection and acknowledge how far and how much was I responsible for the situation and defend myself if possible. It really didn't require a professor from far off Chennai to tell us to our face that the functioning of colleges in our part of India is bad. It may be worse elsewhere but I am not accountable for all colleges and universities. I just want to find out through my analysis if there is still some hope and scope for our system to improve.
Anyone can come to our college at around 2.30 PM in the afternoon and find the campus deserted except for a handful of students who are either waiting for their company buses to ferry them back home or attending practical classes. The time table indicates that the college functions till 4.00 PM. Where have all the students gone one may wonder. They are either busy attending tuition classes/coaching classes or buying little trinklets at the local market a stone's throw away from the college. Teachers have to remain in college till 4 in the evening since they are being paid. Students pay a pittance as college fee. Their parents pay at least 10 times more as tuition fees in tutorials and coaching centres and one does not have to be a genius to understand where their priorities lie. Our Principal tried locking the gate one day. The press came, student union leaders came, there were frantic phone calls being made to the Principal. The students shouted slogans from within and the brothers joined them from outside. On the very day 2 programmes to celebrate the Science Month were going on and the students wanted to be let out rather than sit through these lectures. Not a single parent seemed to have questioned his/her ward. The general feeling is that classes are never held as per schedule in the college. How can classes be held in the absence of students? If anyone has an answer please let me know. Gates were finally opened and haven't been locked since then. No student union leader comes to advise his fellow students to attend classes regularly or to arrange for tuitions after college hours.
Was this always so?? No, it wasn't. When I first joined college we had students who came from their theory class discussing the topic taken up. They'd account for the number of ATP molecules formed in the course of a cycle of reactions in biochemistry or the bonding of atoms in a particular molecule and I'd have to ask them to stop their discussion and get on with their practical work. We still remember our old students. Arunima for the diagrams she made and Manisha for her perseverance and so many others who may not have been bright sparks but were keen to learn and made a sincere effort towards aquiring knowledge. This is what I find missing in my current batch of students. I had mentioned about a batch of students in an earlier post. In my department they were perhaps the last batch of dedicated students. Students wanting to study basic science have decreased in number. Another women's college in town offers Biotechnology and Environmemt and Water management as Honours courses. Students seem to find those courses more appealing. But a post graduate in Water management may be good for the industry but may not necessarily be a good Biology teacher in school. And not all of them are absorbed in industries. Some do take up teaching not having anything else to do. As a result the very foundation may be wobbly and it is these students that come to college and are unable to cope with the speed at which education is imparted in college. With coaching classes mushrooming all over town they prefer to go there rather than stay on in college. The college is reduced to a mere examination centre. They do not realize that tuitions can supplement or compliment class room coaching. They can never replace the teacher who draws figures on the board or explains the portion in detail.
It is the future of our children I worry about. The process of imparting and aquiring knowledge should be enjoyed to the core. Parental ambition sees to it that children handle the computer even before they learn to talk. Is it any wonder that we have robots instead of children and the curiosity of an entire generation is being stifled? A reputed preparatory/play school in town holds entrance tests for two year old kids and parents keep their fingers crossed for their ward's admission. It is a kind of prestige issue to have your child coached in the school.
I happened to visit the school attended by my grand daughter in Maryland, USA. The school charges no fees or may be a nominal amount. Parents don't go hunting for the most expensive scools. In fact the school authorized by your county is the only one you can send your child to. Children have an hour or two of systematic learning to do followed by an hour of any activity of the child's choice. The child can draw or paint, read a book or organise cutlery and crockery on a dining table. The child learns a lot when she/he is left to choose an activity of her/his interest. I also saw volunteers reading out stories to children in a local library and this was perhaps to help weak students and others who don't speak English at home to pick up language and grammar. In another day care I saw flower pots with children's name on it. Three year olds are encouraged to sow seeds and watch a seedling develop into a full grown plant. What a relaxing way to learn things. I really felt that our children were missing out on their childhood for no fault of theirs.
I may seem to have gone off the topic. No, not at all. I am coming to the point I wish to make. If one inculcated a love for learning in children and allowed them to do it at their own pace they may not peak before their time and will join college with their quest for knowledge in tact. As of now, we have a group that is so ambitious that they want short cuts to success and another group who are so weak that they lack even the will to try. The middle group to which most of us belong is perhaps missing. As a result no one wants to put their hearts into what they learn unless it translates into a five digit salary right from day one.
Sorry to sound pessimistic. But it is the future of India that is at stake. I've discussed only one aspect that bothers me. There are more angles that need to be explored and debated. I should consider the student's point of view and also accomodate the plight of parents who want the best for their wards. Somewhere in between the two, the role of politicians who want the masses to remain ignorant also needs to be included.