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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 38 September 16, 2023

Fading Trust in Teaching-learning Process | Indranil De

Saturday 16 September 2023


A Hindi faculty of Symbiosis College of Arts and Commerce (SCAC) in Pune was arrested for allegedly making objectionable remarks about Hindu deities in class and outraging religious sentiments [1]. The faculty explained that he was teaching Bhakti Rasa and wanted to convey that all religions are same and there should be no discrimination of people by religion. Another faculty from Ashoka University had to quit his job for authoring a research paper on ‘Democratic backsliding’ which indicates that a national political party won a disproportionate share of seats in closely contested constituencies in 2019 general election [2]. The faculty is highly educated holding a doctoral degree from one of the elite universities of the world. His conclusions are based on rigorous techniques and carefully crafted, not sweeping remarks. Both these incidents pose a great threat to academic freedom in teaching and research.

This is not all. A senior lecturer of political science was suspended by Jammu & Kashmir Lieutenant Governor’s administration for violating rules and regulations four days after he pleaded against the Centre’s move to end Jammu & Kashmir’s special constitutional position before the Supreme Court [3]. The faculty explained that it has been very difficult for him to teach India’s “beautiful Constitution” since 2019. It is very difficult to provide satisfactory answers when students question on democracy in the state. Social scientists are very conveniently ascribed as theoreticians, drifted from reality, and often irrelevant. However, when they act, they are alleged to contravene rules and regulations, and are suspended or arrested!!

These incidents damage the trustworthy relationship between students and faculty, and between state and its responsible citizens. A teaching-learning process becomes meaningless if this trust relationship breaks down. Students need to trust faculty who not only provides information and theory but also perspectives and interpretations. Without the latter knowledge is only useful in passing examination. The faculty should also have enough trust on students that they accept teacher’s perspective in right spirit and appreciate the critical view. Similarly, there should be a trustworthy relationship between the academicians and the state. The former should be responsible and honest in their approach and methodology and the latter should protect the former’s right to express critical views. Critical views are not hinderance but fuel for progress.

Higher education in India has been under duress for quite some time due to changes in institutional structures and models of operation. The government institutes in India, barring a few elites like IITs and IIMs, are increasingly becoming unpopular among students due to political interferences, and lack of infrastructure. Students are increasingly flocking around private universities. This is a welcome development had government institutes also improved their standards and popularity. The government institutes could have set a benchmark of excellence for the private. Instead, the quality of education is monitored by students through a feedback mechanism. This ushers a confounding problem whereby a faculty may be punished as he or she has introduced lessons that are appropriate for the course but difficult for the students to manage. Such faculty bashing demoralizes committed teachers and encourages mediocracy. It breaks the trust between teachers and students.

The breakdown of trust between teachers and students has the most insidious consequences for school children. The bizarre incidence of a school teacher in Uttar Pradesh instructing her students of one community to hit a student of another community is an ultimate show of hate [4]. It is infusing trust deficits in the younger generation. It is more saddening to observe that the kid’s parent is pressurised to expunge FIR registered against the incidence [5]. In another shameful incident a student was given capital punishment for writing religious slogan on board in Jammu by a teacher of a different religious community. The student had to undergo treatment in hospital and the teacher was arrested. In both these incidents, the teachers forgot their moral duty as guides and protectors.
Repetitive pernicious actions of teachers and students are creating a vicious circle of mistrust and disharmony. The worst sufferer of it is our beloved nation and her people. We are threatening our future stability and prosperity. The state and the administration of educational institutes should act more cautiously showing restraint on the one hand and taking strict actions against violations. The political institutions and the state have a more important role in ensuring an open and honest environment for teaching-learning as they hold the de jure political power as lawmakers and implementers.

It is not easy for a teacher to discuss issues of caste, religion, ethnicity, institutions, and politics in a classroom without fear, whatsoever academic and honest the discussion may be. Persecution of intellectuals and teachers is not new in human history. The father of Western philosophy, Socrates was tried and executed in 399 BCE on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth [6]. He was indicted for not recognizing the gods recognized by the city and introduced other new divinities. However, that was medieval Europe with a state-defined religion, we are now a modern democracy.

(Author: Indranil De, Professor, Institute of Rural Management, Anand)

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