Biometric attendance for teachers: Boon or Bane?

The profession of teaching is something where fixed time-lines to work will only limit the teachers’ creativity and ability to deliver well
Representational Picture
Representational PictureFile/ GK

Academics across the globe have debated the ‘noble’ profession of teaching for a very long time. How much ‘nobility’ is left in this profession is something that would take longer than usual to explain.

It is not the topic of discussion today. Nonetheless, the profession of teaching continues to exist, leading to debates concerning its essential elements like pedagogy, curriculum, modes and means of teaching.

Of late, this debate revolves on the merits and demerits of online and offline modes of education.

The Covid-19 pandemic made even the elite academic institutions in the world shift to online mode of imparting teaching to the pupils, even though the same is still not considered as an alternative to formal mode of teaching.

That debate aside, the basic understanding of the profession of teaching seems to have gone wrong even with the ‘best’ of academics in the world’s some of the finest colleges and universities, let alone those in Jammu and Kashmir.

The fundamental and apparent failure here is the fact that the profession of teaching still continues to exist as merely classroom teaching, where a teacher enters for 40 minutes to deliver a talk and then leaves to sit in his/her staff room for the rest of the time.

This has turned most academic institutions in the world into factories producing ‘degree-earning students’ who are left to wander for jobs and the way forward after leaving these institutions.

William Deresiewicz, a former professor at Yale, calls such students as “excellent sheep” in his much-acclaimed book “Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to A Meaningful Life”.

Deresiewicz argues about some of the ‘elite’ universities in the world that these are producing ‘soulless’ students whom he, as a euphemism, calls the ‘excellent sheep’.

Therefore, the profession of teaching is beyond classroom lecturing.

It is about producing students who find a meaning to their life, in the first place, rather than find themselves lost in the wilderness at the end of the day.

The profession of teaching is about many things. It is about fostering creativity in students. It is about letting them develop the ability for critical-thinking. It is about letting them find meaning in experiences way beyond their classrooms.

For teachers themselves, it is as much the same as it is for the students. Because teaching is an art. It is not about going to classes and delivering lectures of 40 minutes.

Beyond the mundane practice of going to labs and classes, it is about going to fields to let students benefit from experiential learning.

It is about encouraging them for conversation and dialogue with their peers, with the community and with the society at large so that these students become the partners to understand all the good and all the bad that the society is going through.

Laboratories and classrooms do have their own significance, no doubt, but the fact of the matter is that the profession of teaching is about encouraging creativity and innovation and developing the culture of understanding in academic institutions so that right knowledge is produced that benefits the society at large.

It is in this context that I believe that teachers in Jammu and Kashmir, and elsewhere too, should be spared from taking the teaching profession as a 10am to 4pm job, something that the biometric attendance of marking attendance is doing to them.

Such a system comes with a huge set of problems, not only for the teachers, but for the students at large who will be at the receiving end of this illogical ‘system’ of ensuring punctuality of teachers.

It may be a good system for other professions, but it is certainly a bad idea for the teaching community. It runs contrary to the fundamental understanding and objectives of the profession of teaching.

I list here some of the basic disadvantages that the biometric system of attendance for teachers brings with it:

First, it creates a stereotype impression about the J&K Union Territory’s education system that teachers in the UT are not punctual and dedicated. This, however, runs contrary to the fact that the UT administration under the leadership of LG Manoj Sinha has made many giant strides in the last few years—despite the Covid19 pandemic—to keep the education sector fully functional at school, college and university level.

The Principal Secretary of Higher Education Department, Government of J&K, recently also revealed at a conference that Jammu and Kashmir is the first place across the country to implement Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new National Education Policy 2020. He credited college and university teachers/administrators for this distinction. Therefore, this biometric system fundamentally creates a wrong impression about the education scenario in the UT.

Second, it impedes teachers’ creativity and ability to deliver. Rather, instead of going to libraries at 6pm to read a good book, they will be mentally busy thinking of going back to their school and college buildings to mark the biometric attendance.

Even when they would be in the field to give practical exposure to their students, the teachers would be psychologically in a hurry to finish the task to mark the biometric attendance.

Third, it limits the teacher’s imagination about the profession of teaching itself. If the teacher creates the impression among his students that the profession of teaching is all about delivering lectures, it is not a good idea to be conveyed to the students. The real idea is to promote the profession of teaching as something that encourages creativity among students beyond the four walls of their classrooms.

Fourth, it limits conversation and dialogue among faculties from different streams. It puts them in a tight-spot to focus more on marking thumb impression at 5pm rather than mingle for a conservation at 8pm in the lawns of a college over a cup of tea. Therefore, it brings dullness into the system.

Finally, it has the high potential to disturb academics psychologically which, in turn, would impede their capacity to deliver before the students. Therefore it disturbs the students too. If teachers in a college or university are a disturbed lot, it has a bearing on the overall education imparted in that institution. It will hit the teaching-learning delivery badly. It will not let the teachers to engage students in other extracurricular activities in the field if the sword of biometric attendance dangles over their heads.

To conclude, it would be prudent on part of the education authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to have a rethink on biometric attendance for teachers. One important fact that is being ignored in the whole process is what if a teacher marks his attendance in the morning and then takes a nap somewhere in Shalimar garden and then returns to the college at 5pm and then leaves for his home. How does it serve the purpose of ensuring quality education? Teachers deserve a free atmosphere to engage students in conversations, dialogue, extracurricular activities, discussions and other important aspects of education.

Limiting their tasks to classroom teaching will only limit the ability of our students to think beyond classrooms.

The Jammu and Kashmir Government has itself declared the year 2022 as the Year of Academic Transformation. The real transformation of our teachers and students will take place only if they are provided with a congenial atmosphere to work, only if they are encouraged to adopt best practices for teaching and learning, only if they are suitably rewarded for their hard-work.

Putting them under any kind of stress will only cause harm to the education of children who have already borne the brunt of Covid-19 pandemic.

The academic institutions in the UT of J&K are doing exceptionally well. The NEP is presently being implemented under the leadership of LG Manoj Sinha. It is a challenging task to translate the objectives of NEP into reality especially in schools and colleges in far-off areas of the UT.

In such a scenario, the LG administration would do well to encourage teachers to actively participate in NEP implementation so that Jammu and Kashmir becomes a model UT for all other states in the country in the area of educational emancipation.

Because any place having its educational sector disturbed will never be able to focus on educational emancipation of children and teachers.

There are many serious issues related to examinations, evaluations, syllabi, pedagogy, teacher training etc which require the attention of the educational authorities of the Union Territory.

Addressing these issues requires active participation of the teaching community. It, however, cannot be done if the right kind of atmosphere is not provided to teachers.

To create a true and right image of the UT’s education sector which is doing exceptionally well in comparison to other states in the country, the authorities will have to provide the right kind of congenial atmosphere in the educational institutions.

The first step in this direction can be to have a rethink on biometric attendance for teachers, whose punctuality can be ascertained from students’ feedback at the end of the session. Hope good sense prevails.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK .

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