Teaching and Learning `“ The Neglected Sector . . .

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By Ananya S Guha

Why do all, or most awards centre around film actors, is a question I ask after reading this comment by a school Principal, on receiving an award for teachers last year. The awards were instituted by the Telegraph the Kolkata based newspaper. The principal, a lady lamented that teachers are hardly recognized for their work.

This is a point not only worth pondering about but also makes us think of the silent dedication of so many teachers doing their work in a very effective manner. One of the awardees in the gathering mentioned above was Bro. B. McCarthaigh who is now the head of an educational institution by the name of SERVE. Bro. McCarthaigh taught here in Shillong and then left for Kolkata in 1977. Ever since he has been working for disadvantaged children such as street children and educating them. SERVE is now his foundation by which he imparts education to the poor and needy children.

I am often shocked as to how such work gets unnoticed and you need some organizations which are more humane than the rest to recognize the worth of such people. However, when it comes to awarding to cricketers and film stars we are not only flushed with them, but also with money.

The whole point is that education continues to be a neglected sector especially school education where teachers are under paid compelling them to resort to private tuition. Similar is the case with private and adhoc colleges.

I was once a governing body member in a private college in Shillong and was astounded at the academic qualifications of the teachers who were mostly first class degree holders and toppers, yet they were paid a paltry Rs. 3,000/-. I fought with the management to raise it to at least Rs. 5,000/- and after that my services were dispensed with in the governing body!

Once education becomes a pure business and once the GDP of the country is not directed sufficiently to education then standards will fall, in both teaching and learning and this will create a vicious cycle in the process. The point of this great neglect is as usual school teachers who are not recruited properly nor trained properly. Simply theoretical training will not be enough and we will have to be clear on pre entry and post entry levels. I think we are still confused with this dichotomy, that is to say who requires it and when. Once teachers are recognized in whatever manner in their role as catalysts, then this will be a major impetus for them and in turn will give them credibility as people who play a pivotal role in not only education but in society as a whole.

There will be no use of Right to Education unless we sort out the morass which has affected education as a whole, in entirety.

Recently, the All India Council for Technical Education has granted blanket approval for all engineering programmes taught through the Distance Learning mode. This is a gratituous offer considering the fact that this body had withdrawn the recognition to all distance learning programmes in Engineering even by universities such as the IGNOU, which had established its quality services the world over, in the country and internationally. Now, in a swift gesture of honour it has reneged its earlier decision by stating that distance education programmes will help establish the concept of dual mode institutions, and will give opportunities to learners who cannot study, for whatever reasons, through the conventional modes of education.

This is wisdom at its ironic best, and the ways of such statutory bodies are whimsical to say the least. Everyone knows that Open Universities and the Open School in the country were established to provide alternate and convenient methods of education, to the socio economic disadvantaged groups, the working people, the persons who have missed out on educational opportunities, house wives etc. Did not the AICTE know this when it summarily decided to banish its hallowed `recognition`? And, now has it woken up to what the apex body of ALL Apex Bodies in education, the UGC has been saying for the last five decades or so?

The arbitrary manner in which statutory bodies in education work is based on ignorance, lack of ground realities, and internicine rivalry. The All India Council of Teachers Education, displayed the same pomposity when it sought to impose limitations on IGNOU`s BEd and Diploma in Primary Education Programmes some years back, in the same manner of intransigence and insularity. The latter programme of IGNOU has radicalized teacher training in the country, by bringing it to primary levels of heuristics and pedagogy.

Anyway, it is better late than never to go by an old adage. But think of all the damage the AICTE has done to prospective learners in technical and professional courses. Can it go about making totally arbitrary and whimsical decisions, whenever it feels like it, and then in a sudden spurt of wisdom, go back on its decision, by repeating what has already been decided earlier by the new wine in old bottles tautology?

It is amazing how idiosyncratic decision makers in sensitive areas such as education behave. And now simply because the Government is emphasizing rightly on vocational education, blurring the distinction between `vocational` courses and the much vaunted `professional` courses this luminary body after having derailed the processes for narrowing skill gaps, is shouting in euphoric hysteria, how Distance Education, will address alternative and viable modes of study, and how conventional educational Institutions, should become dual mode institutions, giving opportunities  of study for working people, which is truism now.

The word sustainability is used for almost everything today. So, we have a plethora of conferences and seminars on sustainability. Initially the term was used to denote environment and environmental degradation, and how sustainability can lead to the protection of the environment. But sustainability is a broad issue: it means development of all fronts which is holistic. So, sustainable issues are complex, they include education, poverty and eradication of it, equal resources for everyone, livelihoods and its continuation in the face of natural disasters or calamities. However, one feels that education is the fount of it all: once education is ensured then livelihood is sustainable, and once this is achieved there is a continuation to the quality of life. In other words, once a person starts earning he or she need not necessarily depend on natural environment for livelihood. True there will be people in remote regions, who will continue to depend on the environment for protection and sustenance, but the environment should remain as unprotected and virgin as possible because left to itself it has its own natural processes of ‘living’.

Education is the fount of livelihood because education promises a quality of life; education also takes people out of the rural areas to more developed and industrial settings to eke out a livelihood and earning. So, even a minimal education which may not have the trappings of degrees, or for that matter, diplomas can enable a person to earn and at the same time learn. In developing countries the issue is that of sustainable education leading to livelihood. At the same time, education is a continuous force and one can continue to learn and earn simultaneously.

Let us see what this can mean. Today literacy is basic computer knowledge and once a person is endowed with it then he or she is empowered to face challenges independently. This knowledge is a sustainable one, and helps people not only to acquire jobs, but also to be self reliant and independent in terms of taking action and decision making. Though in a very broad sense, this is education. Similarly, village community centres technologically equipped can help in educating people, and consolidate literacy.

Today education cannot be understood only in terms of degrees, it is basic and minimal education that is required if one has to take it to the grassroots. Education in turn will accelerate development in all fronts including economic development. The eradication of hunger and poverty is also dependent on education, to make people live in harmony with the surroundings and tap natural sources to earn a living.

For example, floods which are a continuous menace in countries like India have to be tackled by living intelligently during the season as floods cannot be combated on even a war footing. At best they can be contained by saving people and moving people to safer locales. But it is almost impossible to prevent them. What can be prevented is human loss, but once people learn to live intelligently with floods then they can sustain themselves, lead a normal life and not be in fear of losing their lives.

Another example is low cost bamboo housing, once people are educated on these lines and in areas where bamboo is grown then living in cost effective but endurable structures sustains life. In fact, it is not only cost effective it is almost free of any of tangible costs. Hence, a sustainable livelihood education to make people self taught and skilled. No wonder then today there is so much talk of green technology and green vocational education.

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