09 Sep 2021 20:15 IST

Straitjacketing educational institutions

Those with PG distance degrees are ineligible for appointment as profs in govt law colleges, says Madras HC

Educational institutions are gradually emerging from the severity of Covid restrictions to resume face-to-face (f2f) instruction. The restrictions placed by Covid resulted in forced experimentation at different levels and varying degrees. All institutions had to adapt to remote learning overnight. In the absence of advanced preparation, different types of online learning methodologies were attempted.

Some used platforms such as Zoom and Skype while others used simple mobile phone learning with audio communication alone. Limited infrastructure led to certain choices. New pedagogical techniques were tried, one-way or two-way, with or without the use of white boards, powerpoint slides and break-out room facilities. Teachers went through a process of trial and error to find what works best for them. Students, without sufficient preparation to re-orient their learning styles had to quickly adapt to what was being provided.

Reaching larger audience

Along the way, the institutions resorted to task forces, committees, and just impromptu personal interactions to identify and share best practices. All this will greatly benefit the education process as individuals and institutions discover new skills and abilities they possessed and formalise them. Many discovered that some subjects lend themselves to newer techniques more readily and are preparing to incorporate them into normal use in the future. Institutions will now be able to reach larger audiences. The doors have been opened for those prospective students who could not attend ‘normal’ schools and colleges and did not benefit from correspondence courses. They will now be able to engage and continue education.

This is what education is all about — experimentation and learning.

In the light of this shared experience, it is extremely disappointing that the Madras High Court decided to put a straitjacket onto the learning process by restricting those candidates who obtained post-graduate degrees through distance education and those with cross major degrees in applying to be professors for pre-law courses in government law colleges. In one fell swoop, the court has pronounced its judgement on the value of remote learning. The court is reported to have said in a recent case: "Persons with no experience in campus life, having not studied and earned their degrees in regular institutions/colleges, may not have experienced institutional academic culture and may not match the expectations of the present generation of students.” Wisely, the court used the word ‘may.’

Then why this decision? Why not leave it to the wisdom of the respective educational institution to decide whether a candidate has the requisite qualification or not? The court can certainly pass judgement on whether a law was violated, but is it the court’s responsibility to judge the quality of different learning methods?

Regressive ideas

The court threw education back into the British era with another observation in the same judgement. It disapproved of the practice of appointing cross degree holders (undergraduate degree in one subject and post graduate in another) to teach the subject in which they had obtained a PG degree. The Indian education system already puts students' in boxes starting in middle school by restricting their ability to experiment and switch subjects later on. Now, the court has decided on what makes for a good teacher rather than leave it to the judgement of the hiring committees.

The issues on which the court is pronouncing upon are best dealt with by the management of the concerned institutions and their accrediting bodies. Some will make mistakes and learn. Others may be mischievous and would need to be pulled up. But a blanket sweep on these issues pushes our educational system back into the colonial era and denies the opportunity to experiment and learn. Let us not deny our educational institutions their freedom on the 75th anniversary of our independence.

(The author is an emeritus professor at Suffolk University, Boston.)