Teachers’ Eligibility Test Confounding The Confusion
Now is the turn of the teachers. The lobby that held sway over the education policies, programmes and institutions for over thirty years before 1998 regained its lost paradise in May 2004. It claims great success in educational reforms in school education and proclaims that school education has been set on rails and now the major reform strategy must refresh and reorient the teacher education. Towards this all they could formulate was to introduce one more test for the prospective teachers! One just cannot ignore that the system is already being repeatedly threatened that the regulatory bodies like UGC, AICTE, NCTE and others shall be either ‘abolished’ or merged together and a new setup for regulation and research in higher education shall be created. Since May 2009 onwards there has been utter uncertainty in these organisations and obviously, their work suffers. It creates impact on institutions supposed to be regulated by them. Who cares if the institutions suffer so long as the top appointments go to its recommended nominees? Is it not amazing that the NCTE, likely to be absorbed (or abolished) in the new setup has come forward with a reform measure that looks like an infantile approach to cover up its failure in performing the tasks assigned to it in the Act passed by the Parliament of India? Copying the much-challenged and often-changed UGC scheme of the NET, it now proposes to begin Teachers Eligibility Test (TET)! All this is being projected as an innovation in the name of improving the quality of teachers in schools.
A simple commonsense perception would indicate that the professionally sound approach in preparing school teachers is to ascertain their aptitude and keenness to enter the profession before they join the training programmes meant for teacher preparation for nursery, elementary and secondary stages. Most of them join for lack of alternative avenues. NCTE had made such a stipulation much earlier and several states even began conducting centralised admission tests to their training colleges. It required a competent setup in states with adequate manpower and training; and there NCTE had no say. It created conditions and inflicted huge burden on the aspirants. Its management failure resulted in delay in admissions, which extended up to two-three years in some cases and once again the young persons suffered immensely. There were instances of court cases and universities or even the colleges were permitted go ahead on with the admissions with their own tests or even without it. In one of the states, everyone who appeared in the test was declared eligible! Whose responsibility is to sort out this highly-amorphous situation? Is the TET a ploy to divert attention? Is it an effort to create one more stage that would be exploited by the corrupt elements at the cost of young men and women who shall be holding teacher education qualifications in their hands? Maybe in its new-found enthusiasm to copy everything from US, this is just another of the copy-book ‘reform’! Though it is sad to state, the advent of NCTE in the sector has created more hardships and hindrances all around and now there is little confidence in its ability to bring about any tangible reform as it lacks credibility in the eyes of the teachers and the people. A couple of years ago, the central government had singled it out for abolition, of course, on the basis of the report of the expert committee. Those familiar with the strength and potential of the NCTE Act had, at that time, opposed the move and suggested that it should be assisted to reform itself and to regain its initial credibility which emerged from its success in reigning the low-quality correspondence courses run by several well-known universities with the sole purpose of ‘generating resources’. The NCTE instead of grabbing this lifeline is now trying to take recourse to means that are simply impractical propositions in the existing situations in the schools in India. It can be safely said that around 20-35 per cent of the existing positions of teachers in government schools remain vacant. Now when you have one more stage, states shall have another readymade justification for delays in recruitment. These delays also provide them an opportunity to recruit para-teachers in larger numbers and thus strengthen the unofficial though nationally known practices being followed in such recruitments. That, everyone knows, lowers the quality. All para-teachers have to be absorbed as regulars after a couple of years.
Higher Education at Crossroads
A CRITICAL APPRAISAL
INDIA is said to be at the forefront of the knowledge revolution and one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet it has a quarter of the world’s poorest people and the largest number of illiterate women (over 40 per cent). It was ranked 62nd among 108 developing countries in 2005 listed in the Gender Development Index (UNDP, 2007). Higher education in India suffers from several systemic deficiencies. As a result, it continues to provide graduates that are unemployable despite emerging shortages of skilled manpower in an increasing number of sectors. The standards of academic research are declining. Some of the problems of the Indian higher education, such as the unwieldy affiliating system, inflexible academic structure, uneven capacity across various subjects, eroding autonomy of academic institutions, and the low level of public funding are well known. Many other concerns relating to the dysfunctional regulatory environment, the accreditation system that has low coverage and no consequences, absence of incentives for performing well, and the unjust public-funding policies are not well recognised. Higher education institutions are embedded in a national political, regulative and governance systems. Higher education is witnessing a process of deep institutional change that involves the deinstitutionalisation of its rooted policy and values frameworks and the parallel institutionalisation of new ones. These processes entail a more or less strong resistances, conflicts, tensions but also efforts to conciliate, adapt, translate, assemble the new with the old, the national features of higher education system with the new globalising pressures, the single institutions structural and cultural features with the new imperatives and demands. (Massimiliano Vaira 2004).
The authors of the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) Reports, 2006-08 and Yash Pal Committee Report envisage a comprehensive and radical programme of educational reform at all levels of education in India so as to bring the country into the new knowledge economy. Yash Pal, Chairman of the Joint Review Committee of the UGC and AICTE (2008) remarked that one of the reasons for the world being in the present mess is that the universities are not performing their functions properly. An urgent need for change was envisaged by different commissions on education from Radhakrishnan commission in 1940’s, Kothari Commission in 1970’s and Knowledge Commission in 2000’s. But the change should come from within, rather than through any regulatory authority or government order (B Panduranga Narsimha Rao 2009). In India universities need to move beyond the concept of merely offering industry or community-related courses and give due importance to collaboration. Universities should have permeable boundaries whereby the emphasis should be on integration rather than fragmentation. Through University Outreach Programmes, concepts like open-distance learning, corporate universities, extension education, adult education, university-industry interaction etc need to be imbibed to bring about collaboration rather than erecting isolated ivory towers.
Universities were established by the British government to serve the British domination in the second half of 19th century. However, the western liberal education also provided an opportunity to the Indian intellectuals to question British rule and became a powerful force in the freedom struggle to liberate India from British control. India’s late arrival in the industrial transformation and also the legacy of British rule meant that state-supported universities, during first phase of expansion after Independence, could support the transformation to a limited extent.
The contemporary phase in the transformation of higher education is the age of globalisation or post-industrialisation, which is characterised by the IT revolution. Universities are again in the phase of transformation to support the generation of knowledge. Universities in India are facing dual transformation phase of industrial transformation as well as post-industrial transformation thereby making renovation and rejuvenation of higher education in India a necessity.
Contradictions between structures and functions of industrial and post-industrial phases
There is a dilemma that if regulatory structure is dismantled and new market-friendly structure is established education will become elite oriented. If the old structure is continued, universities in a globalised scenario will loose their relevance. Hence a practical approach needs to be developed to remodel the structure in such a manner that universities are able to perform twin functions, where it satisfies the conditions for industrial as well as post-industrial transformation. Probably NKC and YCR reports are attempts in this direction. NKC recommends steps for creating a system that supports establishing conditions for an effective market order.
In line with the spread of neo-liberal constitutionalism, GATS provides a political and legal framework for deregulation and privatisation of education. Owing to the already existing overburdening of the public system due to budget constraints, governments have started increasingly to ‘commercialise’ public services to make them ‘profit-oriented’.
Critical appraisal of NKC
State guided by the market principles, as under neo-liberal doctrine, will perpetuate the differentiation and hierarchy. It is not the efficiency guided by the rules of market but the efficiency in terms of social priorities that should form the basis of education reform in a developing country like India. The agenda of reforms should include inclusion, quality, excellence, relevance and values to be created in the society. In the present phase of globalisation, when the movement of ideas and information is very fast, the developed countries have attempted to tap the resources that lie embedded in the human resources of the developing countries. Thus knowledge has become the source of extracting surplus from developing countries either by making investments in the developing counties in the education sector or by inviting students from the developing world in the name of internationalisation of education. It is imperative that India does not fall in the trap of the neo-colonialist strategy devised by the developed countries in the name of Knowledge Economy. It remains to be seen whether the educational policy of India has fallen in the trap of ‘Finance Imperialism’ and following the diktats of the World Bank and the IMF or the state has maximised national interests as well?
NKC seems to be guided by the necessity of reproducing the corporate capitalism. Thus while its recommendations will guide India to be a major capitalist power, it might be an India of greater differentiation and hierarchy. The suggestion of NKC of encouraging pluralism, diversity and differentiation in educational institutions and avoidance of uniform “one-size fits-all” institutions also needs to be critically evaluated. NKC notes that ‘higher education is about a quest for excellence. It is, at least in part, about distinction and not always about levelling.’ However, there is no reason why equal opportunities should not be created for all institutions, although at any point of time there will remain differentiation.
For the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) to make the right recommendations, it needs to know the real causes of past failures. No NKC document has studied the past record of knowledge management in India.
Issues of equity
The definition of knowledge as projected by NKC is limited, uncritical and abstract, and not located in the grounded realities of oppression and marginalisation in Indian society. Instead of playing a critical and leading role in providing a balanced vision of future national development, the reports emphasis the need for trained, English-speaking technical personnel for global corporations, validate privatisation, and justify the focus on the techno-sciences and the expanding information technology sector at the expense of the social sciences and humanities. The discourse of efficient management, maximising productivity, downsizing institutions and rationalising operations rather than of educational goals, social responsibility, accommodating diversity and providing equity, access and justice is definitely going to downplay the issue of gender disparity. As such, the reports do not treat gender issues with any degree of seriousness. The implications of the reforms for women’s education and empowerment are as follows:
■ The NKC report commodifies knowledge as capital to maintain a “competitive edge” in the new global world. Science and technology, “relevant” education, form the core of this document to the near exclusion of the social sciences and the arts, which have the greatest number of women students and academics.
■ Those who are least likely to have access to technology—the poor, women and the marginalised (the majority of the population)—remain on the other side of the “digital divide”.
■ A major concern in the Knowledge Commission reports is with language. English is described as a “determinant to access”, thus disadvantaging those who do not have English-medium schooling, the majority being girls.
■ This policy will put higher education beyond the reach of poor students, particularly of women. Fee waivers have been suggested for “needy” students, but the social and cultural context and factors that discriminate against women are ignored.
■ Women and men have different needs and constraints when accessing and using Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). There is a greater need to focus on differentials and variations among women.
■ Finally, gender issues do not figure at all in any of the reports. In fact, women are never mentioned as a social category. Gender is left to “Potential Future Areas”, which is to be discussed later along with public health, environment and teacher training.
Limits of UGC
It is pertinent to note that none of the reports have analysed the limits under which UGC has been providing the institutional support to university system in India. UGC was an agency to provide guideline to maintain standards in higher education to the universities. It also provided the plan support to development purposes. The only instrument of control with UGC was that it could stop funding to a limited number of institutions if they failed to comply with regulations for the maintenance of standards. State governments and universities under state act were constitutionally independent under the federal governance. UGC had no power to interfere with the functioning of the university under federal structure. Though UGC became another bureaucratic organisation rather than developing an academic outfit to guide the university, simply by reducing UGC’s role as mere funder would not serve the purpose of improving higher education.
Both the reports have pointed out a deep crisis in higher education in India and have many useful ideas for reforms but these merit serious discussion and consensus building. Higher education policies rooted in the past will not work. (Aggarwal Pawan, 2007) We need policies rooted in today’s realties with ability to adjust to changing circumstances as DS Kothari pointed out more than 40 years ago. Gender issues in education cannot be considered in isolation. They have to be understood along the axes of class as well as geographical location. It is important to look at women’s issues as crosscutting with other disparities and disadvantages. When policymakers avoid the issue of the gender divide and assert that it does not exist, they think primarily of urban, upper middle-class women and rarely of the majority of poor, rural women.
While enrollment in the information technology and engineering has been increasing at a rate of 54 per cent in the last 5 years, enrollment in the undergraduate courses has come down by 1 per cent and enrollment in the medical has increased by 30 per cent. India’s educational policy should not be geared to only a few sectors like IT but produce a balanced number of engineers, doctors, scientists, teachers, informed agricultural workers and trained laborers thereby bringing about a diversification of education. Though the XI Plan has earmarked the training of 50 crore people in vocationalisation, the drive is neither based on quality assurance nor on market convergence and the demands of Indian home market. Any policy perspective in education must also take into account the problem of brain drain as the best of our brains move out in search of greener pastures and all the investment which the government makes on their education and training goes waste.
The pursuit of quality should not link itself with privilege and should not become inimical to that of quantity. The goals of equality, quality and quantity still remain elusive and it remains to be seen whether the reforms in higher education would lead to their attainment. A simultaneous and direct political and economic action to create the new society in which the poorer sections are aware of their rights and are able to come into their own should be implicit in any radical reconstruction of the educational system (Naik JP 1982). The two main forces of modernisation—education and science and technology—have allied themselves with the elite and improved their standards of living, but have not done the same service to the mass of marginalised and deprived people. Despite many advances for women since Independence, in the 2001 Census 245 million Indian women were still illiterate and 40 per cent of Indian girls less than 14 years of age did not go to school. These figures indicate that nearly half the brain power represented by women in India is not being utilised for the development of the country. The deeply internalised patriarchal notions even among educated women also need to be addressed through gender sensitisation which is sadly missing in both the documents. The larger question of educational goals needs to be addressed and discussed. Is the goal of effecting social transformation through education to be totally abandoned to privilege the need to supply recruits for the newly emerging global markets? Surely, innovative education reforms can incorporate both market needs and social ones.
By Shruti Vip
The regulatory bodies are required to ensure that the quality of teaching, infrastructure and the transaction is not below a certain specified level. In performing their assigned tasks, these are supposed to respect the autonomy of the universities and in the process, must accept their evaluation of the trainees at the final examination. Most of the newly trained teachers are appointed within their states and their concerns must be attended to on priority basis. The state governments must respect the assessment of their universities or other bodies awarding teacher training qualifications to the new aspirants. School education system and particularly the teacher education systems require several reforms on priority basis. NCTE does not have enough manpower even to properly conduct its well-defined regulatory functions. It would just be inappropriate for it to flutter its wings further instead of wiping out the credibility deficits it has already earned. There is no need for a TET at this stage in this country. State universities and institutions must get full trust of the regulatory bodies. Wisdom does not reside in Delhi only and pliable committees of ideologically-convenient academics do not necessarily take a comprehensive and objective view of the existing compulsions.
Come April 01, 2011 and, rest assured, the MHRD shall come out with a progress report on achievements in the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act. Statistics shall be displayed to substantiate the claims of spectacular achievements as it provides the only support base for most of the projects which either remain in limbo or just refuse to take off. In May 2011 people would certainly like to have a full-scale review of all the grand initiatives that the MHRD had announced two years ago. Most of these are on paper only. How many school boards have made tenth class board examination optional? How many deemed universities have been ‘set right’? What has the central government achieved in ensuring presence of adequate number of teachers in government schools to carry out continuous and comprehensive evaluation? Immediate concern in the system is to see that the existing confusions are not allowed to get confounded further and instead of improvements, the system is relegated further backwards.
By JS Rajput
The author is a former director of NCERT