Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Higher Education in Kerala - from Mediocrity to More Mediocrity

The best way to treat a disease is to arrive at a diagnosis and then treat the cause. The Kerala Higher Education scene generates a plethora of diagnoses, most of them right but not fully right. There is no convergence in the various diagnoses ‘cos the conclusions of all education pathologists are coloured by some agenda or the other.

Ministers, politicians, people from the industry and eminent people connected with education have come up with views on what ails the system of education in Kerala. But then, this has been going on for decades, and with each passing year, things have only changed for the worse. Knowing fully well that diagnosis alone cannot be a panacea, I too am adding my theory to the ever growing mountain of futile theories. After all, having been a beneficiary of the education provided by the state and a person who pursued a career in the Kerala Education Service, I can with some authority provide a few home truths which figure prominently in informal conversation in our circles, but rarely get a mention in official documents or media reports regarding state of education in the state.

A cliché but I’m repeating it. The greatest damage to education in the state was done by the infiltration of political concerns in decision making. The de-linking of the Pre Degree from Colleges was staggered for many years as it would have rendered supernumerary not just the teaching staff, but also administrative staff in the universities. In Kerala, progressive measures in education get invariably linked to non academic issues, and the casualty is always the quality of education. Successive Governments dragged their feet over the de-linking, and finally when it finally took place it was on account of pressure to comply with the requirements of University Grants Commission, the national funding body for education.

The quality of education is the quality of the teaching professionals. Has any one of the governments made any investigation into the reasons for the stagnation of college teachers in Kerala once they enter service? With brickbats, both the authorities and the other stakeholders in the education sector are generous. College teachers unions are very active but their concerns are not remotely connected with creating, maintaining and improving teaching/teacher quality, and they do not voice the discontentment of the majority of teachers who know they are not able to give their best to their profession. The reasons for this situation are many.

A college teacher in Kerala spends the best part of her career valuing papers. One cannot grumble about the internal papers of the periodic exams that the college conducts. It is a test of how the students she teaches learns. But the university papers – those huge gigantic bundles which double up in size the minute you cut the restraining cord – oh that’s the bane of every teacher. They come throughout the year. No season for it. Sometimes they come ten times in bundles of sixty (A small bundle, madam, says the university employee who manages to talk you into accepting). Sometimes they come in three hundreds, four hundreds and even upward. And during summer vacation, there is this centralized valuation.

What else is the government to do, you might ask. Well, before I give an answer to that let me tell you that these papers are not the papers of regular students alone. The universities of Kerala perhaps have the largest number of private candidates. Is it fair on the part of the authorities to bank on the teachers of regular colleges to deal with these astronomical numbers of answer books?

How does this take away from the efficiency of the teachers? Well, this evaluation duty more than takes away from the efficiency; it simply terminates the growth of the teacher. A teacher, first and foremost, has to be a scholar. Scholarship does not come from the guides available in the markets a dime a dozen. Acquiring scholarship is a continuous and slow process. The mind of the teacher must evolve by the minute, no, by the second. How is it possible for a teacher to read, research and learn when her mind, in the course of her career, is ever engaged in the effort to extricate herself from the avalanche of examination papers under which she permanently exists?

With the onslaught of the NAAC (authorized accreditation committee) visits, the teachers’ duties have tripled. The guidelines of the NAAC accreditation are laughable, imported wholesale from a totally different education scenario, and applied without factoring in the indigenous conditions. And colleges desperately scurry to meet the requirements, on account of the ratings, and the prestige and funding that go with the rating. Events are organised, practices are introduced to satisfy the NAAC demands - and documented religiously. And who does this documentation? The teachers. Colleges have begun to live from one NAAC visit to the next and the focus of the educational institution has shifted from its primary function of imparting learning and education to its wards to pandering to the NAAC, so that they get good scores.

And the internal assessment. I have in my earlier education
blogs exposed the gigantic farce called the internal assessment. Their relevance in the present context is the time a teacher has to spend doing this absolutely useless business of “continuous evaluation’, which involves running after reluctant students to submit their work, giving good marks despite knowing that the work is either plagiarized or substandard and then keeping the registers updated. All of which dig into the precious time a teacher should be spending updating her skills.

So a day in the life of an average teacher consists of 3 to 4 lectures (I e 3 to 4hours), preparing for those lectures, valuing university papers, valuing periodic exam papers and valuing internal assessment work, documenting activities. On and off, she is bound make that pilgrimage to the University to collect the exam papers to be valued, and transport them home at her own expense. The pittance the university gives for this purpose will not take these papers beyond one kilometer.

How much time does all this leave one with for research activities and or a quiet time in the library browsing through books or reading?

Now that the salaries of teachers have been hiked substantially, the authorities are all out to make this category of professionals sing for their supper. And how, is what matters. Ideally, the move should be to make it mandatory to improve qualification, to publish, and make promotions and even tenure based on academic performance. But with the unions flexing their muscles for a smug existence, this is not likely to happen. Instead, more university papers, meaningless assessments and clerical work will descend on them, denying any hope of improvement of the higher education picture in Kerala.

Solutions? Oh yes, they are a plenty. But the first mandatory step for all solutions is to delink higher education from politics. Think kerala will ever have the political guts and will to do that?

More to follow.


  1. Your diagnosis is spot on, but the question of whether Kerala will ever delink higher education from politics is moot- Politics is the lifeblood of the whole system there, not only the teachers' unions vs. management but students unions vs. teachers vs.management. Too many vested interests and you end up with the mishmash and chaos towards which the entire higher education system is descending.
    And yet, compared with some other states, it isn't even terrible-see the case of TN with its proliferation of colleges and universities in every little 'patti' and 'thotti', capitation horrors and totally untrained teachers. Maybe what you see as a glass with a tiny amount of water is better than an empty one;)

    (BTW,you're tagged!)

  2. Politics is the culprit? You mean the likes of Vimochana Samaram?

  3. @ sujatha
    shall take the tag
    @ stoic
    politics is A culprit. deny that?

  4. When you say greatest damage is caused by politics, I will agree with a qualification to the term politics. I will say damage was caused by politics which were pro management and pro unions instead of being pro people and pro academic. Even them as Sujatha said Kerala is better off than most of the other States in India Large bundles of answer papers coming in the University van was a familiar sight for me as my mother was a teacher in college service for more than 30 years. We used to help her in tabulating marks and in packing the valued answer sheets.

  5. @ charakan
    'pro people and pro academic' - no such thing as these exist/can exist. impossible to isolate pro manag & pro unions from the above. pro academic poitics invariably ends up as making the syylabus either extreme left or extreme right, introducing subjects to protect the job of some teacher or other who has a clout, formulating policies which will enable the wife or son or daughter or relative of some mantri or party heavy weight to extend a leave or get a plumb posting or a entry into PSC or a research grant.

    'Large bundles of answer papers coming in the University van'
    gone are those halcyon days for the teacher. today she goes to the Uty or some centre for distribution of paper and has to transport her burden home.

    sorry for sounding so cynnnnical. this is the voice of experience speaking.

  6. By pro academic I meant policies helping to raise the academic standard of the college and by pro people I meant a syllabus that will raise the educational economic and cultural levels of the community I can understand ur cynical feelings but looking at the larger picture despite all this our Colleges are not that bad.

  7. Most politicians are not interested in the academic community. Teacher-politicians create most problems. The incompetents in the private colleges play politics most. The AKPCTA is one big villain in the matter.
    Internal politics of incompetent teachers of private colleges and schools, who do not owe their jobs to any brilliance, is the root cause of all academic catastrophe. The private managements that appoint them have been the bane of Kerala society for too long now. With more of globalisation coming into the campuses, sheer competition might reign them in, in the future.


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