Saturday, September 04, 2010


Where I did my MA, there's a reason I used to call it the pisspot. A miniscule institute perched on the edge of the university, with a total of maybe 200 students in its MA, MPhil and PhD programs. People crammed three to a room in the hostels, teachers who did whatever they wanted and called it a course, without actually you know planning it or having any external evaluation of it, or looking at how to make a holistic program out of the business.

I remember in my first month, we had a strike! how exciting it was. We all lined up with posters in front of the admin building, we shouted slogans and giggled a lot and gasp ditched class. There wasn't room in the hostels, food in the mess or electricity.

Seven years later I go back. It now offers undergraduate courses and has been converted into a university proper. A central university with funding and everything. Now there are over 1000 students crammed into that same campus. The hostels have been "rebuilt" and "expanded," but people are now living three to a room. The lines are an hour long and there's no food at the end of the line. The students had a strike, almost a regular event now, and the acting vice chancellor refused to meet them. Well I hear he tried to wriggle out of a meeting he had agreed to. So they gheraoed him. And the professors in their indignant fury had a meeting. Shall we expel them? This disrespect for the dignity of their professors is unacceptable.

To you I say sir, or madam, what about the dignity of the student? What happened to the dignity of the human being? According to Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services...
 Is your dignity as a professor more important than your responsibility, as a professor and a part of civil society, to uphold the UDHR? Is your dignity as a professor more important than your duty as a professor to wish to impart and nurture knowledge, to which end your students should have managed to get a good night's sleep, take a shower, and put some food in their tummies before they get to class?

It makes me sick.

So much is so wrong with the way we look at education in this country (and the rest of the world, but right now my life is involved very deeply in this country and education), and that spills over into everything else. I'm not even touching the subject of school education. That's a whole parallel universe of worms.

Literacy is defined as being able to read and write your own name. Then guess what, I'm literate in every language that uses the Roman script.

Qualifying to teach a language at the university level means you can spout a lot of facts about the literature written in that language. You don't have to know the meaning of the word "predicate" but you can pass the NET exam and teach English in a university. Because, you know, being able to write a critical essay on Chaucer is immensely important to teaching modern English for daily usage to non speakers.

The point of going to college is to get the degree that is currently in fashion, not to actually learn to think. Because B.Tech or MBA on your CV will get you that BPO job where you work nights and make money.

Learning a language is a waste of time - putting one in the syllabus at your institute is merely a nod in the direction of the "trends" in favour of communication and international relations. So you can't be expected to actually pay for it. And the more people you can cram into a class the better, surely a student doesn't need more than three minutes of teach attention in a week! Also, why on earth would you need to know what a demonstrative pronoun is? It's not like you need to know the difference between subtraction and division to get an equation right.

Nobody cares. There are so many of us. Everyone wants an education. Everyone kills themselves saving up so their kids can go to engineering college. Those kids come out and they can't engineer anything to save their lives. But hey, they have the stamp. And they are the perfect little drones to perform all the pointless repetitive tasks that the outsourcing industry needs to get done. Should one of them wake up and rebel, out it goes, there's a hundred more dying to take its spot. That's exactly how we look at higher education. Never mind there's a hundred more where that one came from.

I want to scream at them. STOP IT. DON'T pin your life to this. Don't do it. Do not rush headlong into that furrow and dig yourself into it so deep you die there.

I, who am a vociferous and venom-spitting critic of "cultural studies;" I who woke up one morning in the middle of my MA litt and said FUCK woman, could you BE doing something more worthless; I sit here today and I think, well, it may be self serving and annoying; it may be a bubble, and it may lead to nothing much, but at least the humanities teach you to think. The humanities are the only discipline in India where you can look at your professor in your first year and say, no, I disagree, and be fairly confident you're not going to be failed. And they are the only place where you have a hope of being taught to life you head up, look around and go hmmm lemme try going the way the teacher said not to. (I'm talking about first year Bachelor's degree here.)

Ok I don't know where I was going with this anymore. Heh. I got distracted by an I-used-to-be-fat article, and of course three more posts mushroomed in my head. Here's hoping they see the light of day.


  1. Hehe, not sure where you are going with this either.

    Agree that they needed to have been more rigorous about course structure and evaluation. I felt a lot of time was wasted. But most of the classes I took were not a complete waste of time, I somehow managed to skip most of the mediocre ones. I am more tolerant of teachers though... i don't expect all to be brilliant.

    One of the things I liked about that institution was the smallness of it. They are clearly not equipped to deal with huge student numbers because most of the profs are so la di da and are not up to admin work.

    Also, most of the courses there fall under the humanities no? Except the strictly TESL ones but part of the beauty of the system there was that they should have been allowed lots of humanities electives.

    However, while I do think Humanities are important, I think specialisation is important too. The US has gone the whole hog with the liberal education thing, and now suddenly seems to be backtracking because there is a lack of specialists. Moreover, I wouldn't say the Humanities are the only courses where students are taught to think. There are management schools also take innovative approaches to education and inspire thing.

  2. yeah while i thought the smallness was a problem, at least it was lil more controlled. frankly they werent equipped to deal with us MAs either cos essentially they had these courses the profs wanted to offer bu they didnt come together into a degree curriculum you know.

    and yes i know they are humanities heh it was just explaining where the whole thing came form. as in the pisspot makes me worry about some things and this is another thing i worry about in terms of education.

    also, humanities do not mean no specialization babe. the cafeteria system as they loved to call it is what has no speicalists! and i totally agree that they need to turn off cafeteria after 2nd year and make it a 4 yr program. you know?