Hefty fee, popcorn knowledge

They don’t need a piece of fish, but the skill to fish



Confucius, a Chinese philosopher said, “Give a hungry man a piece of fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will never go hungry again”. The tragedy of our education system is that for the most part, since independence it does not even attempt to teach fishing. A crisis pervades all levels, from the primary to the tertiary, but merits only a cursory mention in our leader’s speech at some important occasions.  Lant   Pritchett, the noted Harvard educationists who has worked in India, observed in 2009 that the Indian Education system churns out millions of students every year with zero skills. Recent surveys show that even as the cost of professional education skyrockets, no more than 10 to 20 per cent of graduates possess “employable skill”
While parents can and do attempt to effect some remedies at the primary and secondary levels, mostly they watch their meager savings go down the drain as they try to equip their children with technical/professional qualifications at “teaching factories” to ensure a handsome salary package when their children enter the career market. The competition in admission and job market has opened up a lucrative business—Coaching Classes. These classes have mushroomed in every corner of the state promising admission to management and professional institutes. These children are so lost in search of an identity that they are willing to be pushed into anything that occupies their time and keeps alive the hope of a secured future.  A vicious cycle marks our professional education. Young students, mostly compelled by parents or peer groups, get into sweetshop classes to enter colleges and institutes regardless of their interest, abilities or aptitudes. They are exhausted by the time they get admissions. In many cases, students take up a graduation course because there isn’t any serious alternative, anyway, and then having crossed that milestone, they slog for their post- graduation. Students at these classes are told that they need not attend their colleges as it is a waste of time, just get enrolled and attend tuitions shops.  Parents of such students often pride themselves over the fact that these classes put their children through the most grueling routine to get higher marks and, therefore, a higher price tag on them. The empty college classrooms of today tell a sorry tale of lost identities, ignorance and self- destruction. Till a few years back, students used to write on their benches names of those they were infatuated with. Today we find scribbles of the names of coaching classes and most fantasized institute or a certain target of marks. In exposure visits to campuses, students of these institutes stop to pray in front of their “ideal” colleges. All that these students are told about their future dream destinations are highest placement package secured last year, the necessary marks and skill needed to gain entry and the size and glamour of their campus.
They are made to believe that their entire life depends on getting admission to one of those colleges. So failing to get admission often leads to depression, lack of confidence and even suicides. Many private coaching classes have spread out to smaller pockets with multiple branches. Students are charged hefty fees for popcorn knowledge. Training of group discussion and personal interviews are done by tutoring students on views that are current and trendy, and being told that saying certain words and phrases would make them appear smarter. In order to lure poor students, one such training institute based in Srinagar claimed that 90% Of its trained students have qualified for professional courses - Medical and Engineering courses. This is, to put it mildly, scary. Engineering  colleges are turning out students who are in reality unemployable; they may hold engineering degrees or diplomas but do not always possess the ability that is best described as “I know quality when I see it.”An orientation towards applicability and practicality is mostly not evident in our professional institutions. The cause is not merely the sad state of laboratories and workshops used to train students; most teachers themselves lack the orientation. Over time, teaching has become a less prized occupation. The old cliché “those who can, do, and those who cannot, teach” sums up the reputation of teaching careers in this part of the globe. And these institutes are gradually mass-producing clones who score low on their ability to innovate and lack emotional intelligence and empathy. These students will only transform into brain-dead professionals. T he least the institutes can do is making the tests and selection procedure unique and updated.
With regard to our professional institutions, there is desperate need to break this vicious cycle by applying pressure at two critical points. The first is the overhaul of curricula and pedagogy in the broader sense. This is not easy, but not impossible either. The second pressure point is a change in the faculty composition and orientation. We have many retired engineers and other professionals in their 60s with good work records and matching communication skills. Many of them are willing and anxious to share their experience as their contribution to the society at large, and not necessarily as a second career or a source of high remuneration. This talent pool can be profitably tapped to create adjunct faculty to augment the existing personnel of our professional institutions. They could also become mentors to younger colleagues lacking practical experience.

  Author is Professor, Political Science

Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Sat, 17 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sun, 18 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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