Thursday, August 20, 2009


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.


Sri said...

Very insightful post,HHG..

For the first time,i found out about a teacher's perspective when students don't attend classes...

I really don't know how this issue can be today's competetive world, a student who is not academically oriented is looked down upon by the society..i am sorry to say this but a degree or post graduation is just not enough need a professional course to back up..

I feel sad to admit that even i wasn't too regular during my B.Com classes..i was managing both CA and CS during those 3 years..

The Inquisitive Akka said...

I agree with you totally! Have mailed you, I hope you received my mail :)

apu said...

HHG, I think the issue is also that all of us are looking for well-paying jobs rather than identifying what we really want to do, which is why the general disinterest in college - the courses are not seen as relevant. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make money, but I think purely basing your decisions on that leads to a lot of unhappiness later when your job doesn't really excite you. Students don't realize how hard it is to work 9 to 6 . 5 days a week when you don't like something. Unfortunately, this is not something you can do too much about college. Our entire way of looking at things, and how we manage school needs to change... I think this piece below may interest you.

AS... said...

you are the hippest grandmom!!

I simply loved all your posts! very thoughtful!

Anonymous said...

My computer has gone berserk.I have to post my comments as anonymous in my own site.Please bear with me.

Sri:There is an urgent need to make the necessary changes in the system so that a degree does not remain a piece of paper but trains children to face the competitive world.As of now every organization whether private or public has its own method of assessing the applicants.Is it any wonder that students would rather prepare for them than sit through monologues from teachers?

IQA:I know I sound repetitive but cannot help ranting and raving.I really feel bad the way things are going.yeah,I got your mail and have replied.Hope you got it.

apu;thanks for the link.i too have felt that students take up courses without even understanding if they have an inclination to study them.They land jobs that give them no satisfaction.

AS...:welcome here and thanks.

Vishesh said...

First of all sorry for being so late in commenting here :) I am to say the least bugged.

What am I supposed to do, when there are teachers who know nothing about the subject and I have to teach them(what i learnt in my CA classes?).How do you expect me to attend when we waste our time doing nothing but chatting(of course it isn't a waste, not for me anyway , it has given me the opportunity to study different types of people from different social and economic backgrounds)..

It is not just in one state, the entire country has gone mad. One of cousins studies in PSBB(you know it I think) and well being a reputed institution etc you expect some sort of nagarigam(guess the tamil word is more suited here-influence of college :P).But well he goes for Sanskrit tutions to a teacher who teaches another section!(in my school the teachers were allowed to take tuitions but only for kids from other schools and they were honest about it). That is the school part of it.

Of course in the Engineering colleges which my friends have joined , its day light robbery...5 lakhs for a seat!! Its madness, I was really upset by that!

My patriotism has started to peter out. The students I meet , my own friends , what they are reduced to , makes me wonder, is there a way out? We can't stop it because this has become a way to survive in todays world. In 12th they slog, so much so that they give up all their passions(at least if they had followed that they might have got something better!) and yet they can't cope with the demand , why not do something which might be more suited for them?

And i should mention how some other schools are...A guy sitting next to me is from a school somewhere in the outskirts, in his school they haven't thought him Debit and Credit(and the poor fellow joined Vivekananda because he thought they would teach him something!)..I mean that is like the base of accounting , its like telling kids to write 1 +1 is 2 without teaching them addition!

We need to be more pro thinking rather pro literacy, yes i have said it, but can I do? Nothing , why because the answer everywhere is "that is the way it is".

What are my virtues of using your head worth? Is terror the only way out? Lack of good teachers is another problem. And our government wants reservations in private schools! What are they trying to do? Destroy our future?

The choice I left to a person like me is whether I stay in this bus or get out walk?

shoba said...

My sister is the Electronics HOD at an engineering college in Bangalore and she echoes the same sentiments as you. It is really a pity. I had gone there to give a guest lecture and the students were not informed about the lecture till the last moment lest they run away. How sad!! It is as if the current generation has lost all interest in learning!! What a shame!
I think the root cause is the availability of all the items that they ask for, thereby losing the value for money, which makes them think life is easy. What we considered luxury once has become more of a necessity nowadays. My two cents!

dipali said...

What can one do but mourn, with education becoming both a commodity and an investment, the returns of which are seen in purely monetary terms? Youngsters are often disillusioned by indifferent teaching.
It's a sorry downward spiral.
We need to make teaching one of the most sought after careers in all terms to bring about any meaningful change.

Shachi said...

Very thought provoking. I echo your sentiments.

My sister (who is 6 yrs younger to me) had a very different schooling and college experience compared to me. I never had tuitions until 12th grade, and never after that. She had tuitions from high school....all through college. She hardly attended college, whereas I always did. And she is already a professional, so I can see how things are moving in the wrong direction w.r.t college education and its importance.

Hip Grandma said...

vishesh:your comment provided an insight to problems faced by students.Education is nothing but a lucrative business.Imparting and aquiring knowledge is a gone thing.

Shoba:I thought that colleges in Bangalore were better than those in our parts. I suppose they are but the deterioration has set in everywhere.

dipali:nothing short of a revolution can save the falling standards of education.

shachi:you are right.earlier generation gap was between parents and children.Now it is between siblings.What next?

Has to be me said...

spot on! There is indeed a big need for things to brighten in our own homeland for a better India for the future generation.

Tys on Ice said...

do u think its just that? Or perhaps theres also something to look on our medium of instruction to a generation that has been born into a world of multiple stimulations and instant gratification...its the way things are...the new generation is brilliant with short attention span ...maybe we need to relook the way we are imparting the knowledge...maybe we need to make it appealing to them...spark their imagination...hook them in...

dont throw in the towel yet...

Renu said...

I think the credit or discredit for this goes to two things..the monetary most of the student want a fat salary and whichever degree brings this, they go fo that, secondly to the teacher's fraternityis also responsible..many teachers today dont pay much attention to their class or subject, just pass the time and ask the students to join their coaching, to the extent that some even threaten to fail them.. I am saying all this from a practical experience,of course all the teachers are not same , but the no. of sincereones is decreasing day by day.

My children once had two teachers in APJ NOIDA, Deewanjus mam and aurora mam, ..for the first one my son said that she only made me love geography and the second one's class of english he would nevr miss..this is the charisma of good teachers.
Even in BITS PILani..some professors are so good that students will sit outside the class( because there is no place inside) on the floor to listen to them.

Hip Grandma said...

Has to be me:When I think of children of your children's or my g'kid's age I really wish that the revolution would come sooner than later.

Tys on ice:you are right.unless the entire sysyem is revamped these bright young minds are not going to be appeased.

renu:you are right.I don't deny the role of teachers at all.But parents also should inculcate a respect for teachers in the minds of children.