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July 30, 2009

Quality enhancement in higher education

— Hitendra Nath Sarma
National development in any country is the handiwork of the qualitative achievement of its education system. Such an achievement has two fold directions-growth and change-doing and undoing in the socio-political, cultural, economic, historical and intellectual dimensions of life of the nation vis-a-vis the global ambiance. It enacts the drive of the Shelleyan paradigm of the West Wind in tangible forms. The Education Commission of 1964 in its report, Education and National Development, observed that if the pace of national development had to be accelerated there was need for “a well- defined, bold and imaginative educational policy and for determined and vigorous action to vitalize, improve and expand education.” The observation spells out in general terms the quality as well as the dynamics that works it out. The National Policy on Education, 1986 recommended that “a major effort must be made to drive the maximum benefit from the assets already created and to ensure that the fruits of change reach all sections.” “Education”, it asserted, “is the highway to that goal.” This policy statement invests the new Indian education with a democratic quality and character and seeks to transform it to a powerful instrument to realise the goal of national development and progress.

The bold and ideal recommendations and assertions of various education commissions remain wishful yearnings ensconcing themselves in the domains of theoretical parlance against the quagmires of the real life situations of geo-physical as well as socio-cultural and economic divides of the country of proverbial multiplicity. The status of development varies from State to State, region to region, locality to locality, community to community with corresponding variations in the levels and opportunities of education. The impact of economic globalisation has made the education scenario of the country more baffling. Education today has become a branded commodity and the brand of the institution seems to be all important. It appears that a degenerated kind of aristocracy has made its inroad into our education with the lure for cleverly manufactured falsity of values and attainments, abilities and inspirations, ideals and yearnings affecting an overwhelming number of our growing teenagers and early youths. The crispy junk food is overruling the necessity of square meals!

The symptoms of a pachydermatous insensibility to all the finer aspects of complete manhood- such as were revealed by the Renaissance image of the overreacher, the Promethean fire of freedom and knowledge, the insatiable Socratic urge to explore the truth, the Buddhistic resolve to overcome death and sorrow-are now ruling the world of our education under the comforting umbrella of consumerism. The dry formalism of our syllabi and system is only lending support to the success of Macaulayan vision of the creation of a smartly dressed literate class with little originality and self- knowledge, less thinking power and still less awareness of the history and geography of their country.

A similar kind of artificial divide between the Eton like public school educated class of young men and the less fortunate but overwhelming majority of the grammar school products had plagued the system of English education and therefore the English society during the later part of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century. But the English society took serious heed of the clear warnings of their intellectuals and thinkers and began the revolutionary task of purging the ills of the system of their education with the result that their education today has gained new strength and new vitality. In India there is no clear voice and no serious effort to remedy the ills that are paralysing our system of education, more particularly our system of higher education.

Our education is so directionless and dishevelled that majority of the students do not have any definite purpose, any clearly conceived goal to guide them through. They join the colleges blindfolded not knowing what courses of study they should exactly follow and why. The divide is widening with the passage of years.

Management plays a pivotal role in the improvement of the quality of education. Every educational institution is supposed to work towards the fulfilment of its avowed mission and vision which are directly connected with the welfare of the community around. The function of management is to facilitate the institution to realise its effective co-ordination among all the other stake-holders of the institution-students, teachers and the office staff and other employees. The management is the upholder of the rules and procedures issued by the administrative machinery of the particular government department, the University authorities, the UGC and every such funding institutions and organisations. It is the custodian of the faith reposed in the institution by the people who built it up through lot of pain and sacrifices, apart from the buildings and property. The role of the management is very important in the sense that it not only manages the affairs of the institution but also interprets the rules and procedures as and when necessary and arranges for proper compliance of these.

The management of the colleges in Assam consists of the governing bodies formed by the Director of Higher Education Department. The provisions of the rules arm the governing bodies of the colleges in Assam with enough power and scope to improve the over-all quality of education. The structure of the governing body establishes that it is participatory; the permanent stake-holders are given around 42 per cent representation, that is, out of the total of 12 members in the governing body five belong to this category. This can be a very positive source of strength to the integrated development of the college. Further, the educationist members and the university nominees can be the fountain-heads of innovative ideas in relation to the academic programmes and policies and the teaching –learning methodology to be followed by the college. Similarly, the guardian representative can incorporate and synthesise the student feed back in the academic plans and general perspectives of the college and thereby ensure greater concentration of the students in the learning process and make it more effective. A rightly chosen governing body may be instrumental in the qualitative growth and development of the college; in fact, there can be a magical transformation of the external as well as internal state of affairs of the college due mostly for the enabling, creative, visionary and participatory leadership of such a governing body.

The management of higher education institutions in Assam is very often affronted by muddles created by dubious practices of some of the concerned government departments, lack of responsive co-ordination between the government and the university authorities, very poor quality of departmental monitoring of the activities of the colleges concerned, the hellish red tapism, lack of innovative planning etc.The government function with regard to higher education seems to be confined to release of the monthly salaries only. The colleges in Assam were provincialised with effect from December 1, 2005 and since then the government has not released any maintenance grant nor it has allowed the colleges to utilise their due share of the fee income for maintenance purposes.

The political shadows in the governing bodies are yet another disabling factor. It is not to say that the political personalities are incompetent to give leadership to the college concerned; the essential fact is that they cannot devote longer enough time to the management of the college matters because of their political commitments. The governing bodies, at least some of them, seem to recognise these systemic constraints, and showing no angst against these they are concentrating on building up a kind of institutional resilience in response to the demands of the changing times.
(The writer is former Principal, Margherita College) SOURCE: ASSAM TRIBUNE

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