Elephant in the Room
by Kiran Jhamb
(Nagpur, Maharashtra, India)
Elephant in the room is an idiom for an obvious truth/issue that is either being ignored or going unaddressed. An elephant in the room is impossible to overlook. Therefore, all the people in the room pretend that the elephant is not there because they want to avoid dealing with the issue. Openly discussing the problem is out of the bounds. The discussion makes them uncomfortable, and perhaps politically incorrect. As far as Higher education is concerned the educationists and society today are with great diligence ignoring the elephant in its corridors.
We want to make our education world class. In the name of excellence and Quality many steps are being taken. We introduced the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), an organization that assesses and accredits institutions of higher education.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So all kinds of things are being justified in the name of advancement and improvement by the wannabe A graders - mostly private colleges affiliated to the different universities. The need of the hour is for road side eateries to meet the demands of people whose pockets cannot afford five star hotels - whither your A Grade colleges? In the name of infrastructure conference halls with proper acoustics, lifts and electronic paraphernalia - which like the elephant's tusks are only for show and not chewing - are being collected. Hefty fund raising takes place at the time of appointments of lecturers and admissions of students. Nobody there is familiar with outdated words like corruption, bribes etc. Education has become business because money making private managements have been allowed to do so.
Hard skills are suddenly unimportant. The syllabus has always been there, so it must not be important, but innovation is. Soft skills are the new syllabus, the new buzz term. Soft-skills is an umbrella under which anything and all things can take shelter. The more the programs, the better the college reputation. Horrible sins are being committed in the name of imparting soft skills! All they need is a small photograph in the local newspaper for the sake of documentation (proof !) of the activities. For that perfect picture bouquets, chandeliers, PPTs and cushy chairs are procured. Worst casualty is classroom teaching. It has gone out of fashion. Nobody is interested in it anymore. All kinds of activities other than teaching /learning are carried out in the name of giving students something 'extra'. Forums, Fests, Clubs, Study Circles, Days' celebrations - their number is greater than the lectures held. Only a handful of students legitimately benefit from these activities. Empty classrooms and false attendance records clinch the deal for collection of scholarships and fine which is indeed fine as far as admin and students are concerned. Mass copying and mass dictations are used to improve results.
Those who never engaged classes (being busy with their private tuition s) manipulate to have tick marks in all the required categories and get the coveted extension of their teaching tenure. As a result the market is flooded with substandard books (with ISBN number!) just as the academic circles are flooded with substandard doctoral theses which remind you of shifting of the bones from one grave to another. There are hands available in the market for writing your thesis (research papers too!) for the quoted price. Sailing through viva needs skills of choosing proper incentives like gifts, travel and hotel reservations etc.
Jugaad - the solutions derived after bending the rules, are rampant. Give a call for conference - scores of lecturers are ready to send the delegation fee and their papers (courtesy cut/ copy-paste). The unwritten code is the host's assurance that their paper will be published and the host will see to it that their certificate is delivered to their door, meanwhile they can enjoy their Duty Leave as they want.
Networking means you scratch my back and I will scratch yours. Those who can procure newsworthy resource persons, are good at making travel, catering, printing arrangements, garnering namesake MOUs ( mutually beneficial tick marks!) are much in demand. Being a PRO is more important than simply teaching in the classroom in the old fashioned way. Quietly teaching without advertising is a big ‘no, no’. The Principal should have political backing, vast network of contacts, very thick hide and a secret childhood dream, which he hasn't forgotten, of being a gangster. Managing percentages (10% yours, 5% mine, 2% …) is a tough job, equal distribution is tougher! The Principal has to be more of a manager than an intellectual visionary.
Whatever at the moment is in the air is aggressive self-marketing not academic improvement. Everyone - the individual as well as the institute - is busy collecting the much needed points. Only the doctored records retain the upwards movement of growth. ***