For many of us, a university is (was?) a critical place for the interpretation and making sense of everydayness; a place for envisaging a just society; an important site where ideas and ideologies are debated and developed. Freedom of criticality and liberty of creativity were always remained the core and central to university teaching-learning processes.

The ideas on education cherished by people like Tagore, Nehru, Maulana Azad, Lohia, Jayaprakash Narayan etc. have shaped the public imagination of universities. They imagined education in its real terms where inputs and insights were considered more important than outputs. However, it is saddening to state that universities have now been bound to take the said priorities aback and their very existence to remain the sites of learning is under question.

At the outset, universities are facing serious issues of financial implications from their concerned departments (in various reports done by Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability, New Delhi). Huge cut on education in central budget tells us a bit of the story. It is irony on the proposed National Education Policy (NEP), 2019 which desperately seeks to transforms the higher education without any additional financial commitment to education sector. The idea of public funded university is moving to students funded university. Across the universities students had been on strikes over the issues of lack of amenities and gradual fee hike. But the establishment (actors from university administration to the Ministry of Human Resource Development) has blissful excuses to condemn their genuine worries and push them to convince in a different (capitalist) manner.

We are living in a time when the higher education institutions are weakening due to the market driven ideas on education and neo-liberal penetrations all the way into universities and public institutions, the new tool is to have regulatory captures and control in all academic and executive affairs of a university. In a more nuanced manner, one can observe the upsurge emotions for privatization and overwhelming presence of regulatory bodies in higher education institutions in the proposed NEP, 2019 as well. Digital records, social media profiles, bio-metrics, CCTV cameras, CCS rules and so on, for students and teachers are some keyholes in the diverse strands of issues. The underlying purpose is to make teachers and students efficient and effective. There is a prejudice prevailed throughout the common sense psyche about the ‘non-productivity’ and ‘comfort zone’ of teachers. Thus the transformation of higher education system (herewith particular reference with central universities) becomes inevitable!

This idea must be appreciated, however, a few questions arise in this changing context: Do the teachers and students earlier who did not have the ‘privilege’ of information technology were less or not efficient and effective beings? Are the writers, scholars and philosophers till the last decade of 20th century of no merit? Or should we write off Ambedkar, Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad from the list of the makers of modern India as they do not belong to the ‘age of revolution’ in absolute sense? So the fundamental question is that are we concerned about the utilization of digital technology in education or are we more convinced for digitization of the entire education system? One should also not neglect the vested interest of private players who see the universities as their potential market. It seems government and their implementers are more convinced than the investors. Or, more importantly, are these the new tools to control the bodies and regulate the ‘rebellious and undesired behaviors’ of students and teachers. It is exactly what Foucault says about an establishment which is eagerly committed to producing docile bodies. The frequent directives from MHRD and the regulatory bodies like UGC, NCTE, AICTE etc. hardly leave space for the total autonomy of universities. By scrolling official website of any public university, one will find no difficulty in understanding the very much dominance and canopy of digitization rampant in universities.

Has the time arrived to say good bye to all kind of academic freedom and enabling environment that one enjoyed in universities for a long time? Is their role as conscious keepers going to sing a farewell song? The idea of panoptican has been exactly true to our universities. You never know when you are being monitored and captured by some hi-tech fancy cameras. One can debate on the idea of university but it should not be diluted.

Creativity and innovation have been confined to the use of technology and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). The use of ICT may scaffold but could it become the sole substitute in the realm of education. It is rather more important to have that orientation, the realm and view point on education. Are the university teachers have come down to earn money or they treat it as a source of their livelihood? Do they, primarily, join any institution for handsome salaries? Or, somewhere, they are looking for a space, a place to satisfy their conscience. They are paid for the pain, time and energy they devote in teaching and researching.  Are students, for them, simply clients to deal with or the people who need to be shaped?

Ideally teachers’ task is to shape conscious human beings. They meant to critically evaluate the existing systems of governmentality, besides imparting the subject curricula with students. Yes! There are responsibilities of teachers towards students: students should learn that they are living in a society which is deeply divided and stratified and on the lines of several identities. They should learn the harsh realities of our society; the reasons of prolonged injustices for certain marginalized groups; the unfair distribution of resources.

Teachers are becoming clerical and co-curricular job masters. They need to participate in governments’ extension services on cleanliness and other social responsibilities. Grown with patriotic sense of schoolchildren, where national anthem and song, hanging photos of freedom fighters and fancy stories of Maratha and Mughal clashes were part of core syllabi, now the public funded universities have been turned into the laboratory of nationalism and eventful celebrations of personalities. The focus has been shifted from questioning the systemic anomalies to focusing on individual morality. The very notion of academic culture has been replaced by standards and targets set by some accreditation agencies (for example, NAAC). We, as teachers, are turning into masters of examinations but feeble at thinking differently and innovatively.

What is more striking that debating and deliberating in a face-to-face setting is being replaced by SWAYAM PRABHA, MOOCS and online lectures. It indicates of a particular trend- to cut the workforce and employment opportunities at one side and to block the scope for reasoning and questioning on the other. The virtual or online method of teaching-learning is an act of monologue which could only promote the ‘banking concept’ and the ‘culture of silence’ in education as proposed by the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire. Are only we committed for replacement or should we search for new possibilities of progressiveness within education system? Firstly the Semester System and subsequently, the Choice Based Credit System have done injuries to our academic culture. Students have to meet the targets of paper wise assignments on weekly basis. The very idea of continuous and comprehensive evaluation has dampened the quality teaching-learning. Neither students nor do the teachers have time to read and deliberate. It becomes even more worrisome situation when education is losing its political vocation. As the higher education institutions (with their deliberative roles) are potential and permanent threats to the state machinery. The best way to deal with this threat is to turn the curriculum upside down and regulate the behaviors of teachers and students through technology.

The byproducts of such initiatives are alarming: Students complain about teachers who want discursive classroom to be happened; only handful students need Amartya Sen’s scholarship and ‘argumentative’ classroom; they do not want to grapple with the core of the concept or any idea rather require a quick fix solution of every concept and everything, be it social science or management or any other subject for that matter; they started loving conclusions; hardly are they prompted in developing introductions. To create a challenging and problem posing classroom has become a challenge for a teacher itself. When laws and acts are simply meant to memorize without understanding the basic tenets and philosophy of it, how could one develop an imagination to critique any unconstitutional laws such as the Citizenship Amendment Act.

Having said this, how could one expect from students and teachers to be prompt and daring to raise their voices or put their dissenting muse against any kind of injustice in society! The notion of justice and human rights comes if one has that perspective. And perspective building is not done overnight, it takes years of contemplation. Beyond ‘career progression’, one needs quality time, freedom of criticality, libratory pedagogy to question the prevailing state of affairs in society. Teachers have travelled a journey from receiving reverence to become irrelevant. Because Google as a university and as a teacher can contest the most brilliant teachers of this country!

Abu Osama teaches Social Work at Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad.


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4 Comments

  1. Its true, I witnessed some similar things in our primary education sector too.

  2. Avatar Shahid Jamal says:

    Brilliant piece..

  3. Avatar Mohd. Shahid says:

    Rightly so. Universities are simply becoming Degree Distribution Counters.

  4. Avatar David Kennedy says:

    We are the prisoners of the ALGORITHM. Humankind’s much vaunted “freedom”, whatever is meant by that term, is no more. The ALGORITHM rules. Artificial intelligence allows perfect ‘reproducibility’ – something almost impossible with mere humans, especially if the latter are allowed ‘academic freedom’.
    Learning has always existed. Teaching became a profession. Like many other professions, the march of ‘progress’ now enables consistence, efficiently and effectively. And also cost-effectively! 24/7, 365 days a year, 366 on leap years. No human can compete with that.
    What is the purpose of education? What is the purpose of universities? Indeed, what is the purpose, or need, for humans when robots are so efficient, so obedient, and so reliable?
    We are at the beginning of THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION. As the Americans would say,”You ain’t seen nothing yet.”