Where has the education gone?

Autumn is upon us and at many universities around the world, it means the start of a new academic year. A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with my daughter, a sophomore, about her new classes.

Many second-year courses still have several hundred enrollments that only decline in subsequent years. This means that the only way to conduct them at the necessary speed and scale is in a conference format, where the flow of information is only one-way and the number of students makes it impossible to ask questions during class. His biochemistry class is one of them. And yet, she was positively excited. The first lesson ended with applause for the teacher. At the end, many of the students were so moved that they cried – in a biochemistry lesson!

Having never had such an experience in class, I asked him what made this class special. His words: “It was just so good!” This had the effect of reinvigorating his interest in his major. All of this using the humble lecture format much maligned in educational circles.

This episode shows the good that is possible even with traditional methods of teaching and learning, if only the effort that goes into it is genuine and wholehearted. Technologies like projectors, interactive displays, computers, tablets, smart phones, smart boards, clickers, and learning management systems and instructional methods like active learning, flipped classroom, l Group learning and project-based learning are all tools in the arsenal that can help improve learning outcomes. . However, dedication and commitment to providing an engaging learning experience on the part of the instructor and motivation to learn on the side of the students are a must.

Just having a piece of paper that says “PhD” doesn’t guarantee that its holder knows the first thing about being a good teacher. This is precisely what so many university students recently had to say to a committee of inquiry made up of parliamentarians. Who do we have to thank for this state of affairs? Why is education less of a priority for those entering university?

I blame the standards set by HEC’s Tenure Track System (TTS), its approach to the tenure system for American university professors. HEC’s TTS conditions professors’ career progression in academia on meeting a single, ill-defined and easy-to-play benchmark – publishing a number of journal articles, regardless of discipline, with a quality control condition that still allows many predatory and fraudulent journals while excluding many others from credible, long-established publishers.

As a result, academics have no incentive to devote time and effort to their teaching responsibilities. Those who still do it do it out of their own sense of responsibility but there is no systemic mechanism that requires it of them and there is no punishment for catching a fly by the seat of one’s pants. . Years of this misguided policy and the continued tooth and nail resistance to reform by those who introduced the TTS have created an ecosystem that rewards only research, much of which is of dubious veracity and without import or impact, but gives no priority to education. TTS dating contracts do not require anything else.

The system neither recognizes nor rewards people whose talents and strengths lie in teaching and forces them to produce “research”. The conditions in over 220 universities in Pakistan are as diverse as the country is large and very few can show even the most basic resources to be allocated to research and even fewer should qualify as research universities. Nevertheless, when asked to categorize themselves as research universities or teaching universities, all insisted on being placed in the first category, as if teaching well was below them.

This misconception that every higher education institution should conduct research has become deeply entrenched over the years. In an interaction with the secretary of MoFEPT at the time, when I proposed to rethink the requirement for all professors to conduct research and instead let them focus on teaching, the secretary said asked how it was possible for professors with doctorates not to do research. .

The goal of preparing well-rounded, thoughtful and employable graduates was abandoned. Is it any wonder, then, that so many undergraduates (who make up the bulk of the university student population) feel ignored and neglected by their institutions? This is what we achieve by giving responsibility to bureaucrats without specialized training, knowledge or experience, letting them make decisions and advising politicians in setting political priorities.

We need to get rid of the idea that forcing every member of faculty and the university, able and well-resourced or not, to conduct research without investing in their teaching will improve the quality of the graduates they produce. .

The higher education sector in the UK is an example that seriously values ​​teaching excellence. Faculty members with doctoral degrees are required to complete the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE), an 18-month program that equips faculty members with the skills to deliver teaching and learning high quality, during the first years of service in order to remain faculty members. Later, as faculty members move up the ranks and become more involved in other aspects of university management, this is followed by other qualifications which appropriately build leadership skills and in management.

Higher education systems in other countries such as the United States do not have strict qualification requirements as the United Kingdom does, but tenure committees for departments of senior colleagues, student feedback systems and healthy competition with faculty peers maintains effective control over the quality of education provided. in the classrooms.

But whether educational quality controls are maintained within institutions as in the United States or through national qualifications as in the United Kingdom, institutions recognize that there are different avenues for faculty to contribute to the university mission. Faculty members from the same institution often work on different contracts with very different expectations.

Realize that the main weakness of the local higher education sector is that the graduates it produces are mostly unskilled and unemployable. The research it produces should, at least for now, be a tertiary priority at best. Publishing journal articles that no one reads does not help hire graduates – teaching so well that it ignites the passion to learn the chosen discipline both in the classroom and long after the course is over. I’m not asking for the impossible: that every university become a Harvard or an MIT. All I ask is that the education they provide is comparable to that of our top performing local universities i.e. our NUST, FAST and UET Lahore.

Decoupling faculty success from student success has created the situation we find ourselves in today. We need a rebalancing of faculty efforts from research only to teaching or (in the few institutions capable of conducting research) to teaching and research and a shift in incentives that reflects this. For such dedication, teaching should no longer be treated as a dirty word.

The author (she) holds a doctorate in education.

Norma A. Roth