Mangaluru is a city full of educational institutions. But the quality of education remains poor. The memories of students passing out from Mangaluru colleges are usually restricted to extra curricular events. Very rarely anything interesting happens related to education. I found students and teachers holding a low opinion of each other in this region. My own experience of teaching at major institutions like NITK, NITTE and Manipal was filled with many challenges related to attitude and inefficiency.
The biggest hurdle I faced was the attitude of the administrators. When I faced a problem, people in command would say that this is India. Being India was good enough for not being good enough. When I pointed out that things were different in other colleges of India, they would then say those are the few good schools of India; I must not expect the same standards here. How do we argue with an excuse like that? It says we are not good enough and you simply have to live with it.
I have never seen the kind of hierarchies that exist in Mangaluru colleges anywhere else in the world. There were hierarchies in seating arrangements at events. Even how food would be served had a hierarchy. How fast you were served your free tea, would determine your status in the institution. The order in which people say ‘Hello’ to you had an hierarchy. In guest houses, different food in different crockery would be served to people sitting on the same dining table. Bottled water would be reserved for special guests. Of course, the teachers were way low in this hierarchy and the students were the lowest. Moreover, many institutions in Mangaluru are private. At every function, some member of the founding family would be present. The sycophancy exhibited at such events is so disgusting that it is stomach churning. The function maybe to felicitate somebody’s accomplishment but all the talks are focused on the founding member present. His mother, pet, wife, child, gardener, etc. will be praised. The speakers at such events would compete to prove whose grandfather was more eminent.
The priorities at these institutions were clearly off the mark. At conferences, the opening speeches, which typically had nothing to do with academics, were well attended. All the important members of the college would be present and took great joy in lighting lamps. The interest in academic talks was thin. Apparently, after the lighting the lamp, there was nothing left to stay back for. I have sworn since then that I will attend no more lamp lighting in my life.
Colleges in Mangaluru are in general affiliated to the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU) in Belgaum. Among the choices they have, students prefer to go to VTU affiliated colleges because there are quality checks. But I found that you can write books about the faulty examination system of the VTU. I witnessed exams where more than 100 students in a class of 150 students failed. Such exams serve no purpose. Among all the challenges I faced, nothing derailed me like the VTU exam system.
I was a little concerned when I was told that the exam paper for the course I was teaching may be set by someone else. I knew it was better if they were tested on what I taught them but I was not prepared for what was to follow. In the first semester, the students faced my exam and very few students failed. These students I knew either did not study due to various reasons or found mathematics difficult. The semester ended satisfactorily. But the very next semester, the exam paper was an outside paper. This paper was approved by the department but there was no expert on the subject in the committee. It was clearly a substandard exam paper supposedly picked randomly by the controller of Nitte. I had spent a week making two exam papers for my students but quality did not matter. This would be a random choice. More than fifty percent of the students failed this exam to my utter horror. And the department blamed the students for not studying hard. I told everyone involved that this was not fair to the students but they said nothing could be done because they had to follow VTU rules. Then there is nothing more to say but that the rules must change. There is nothing more demotivating than leaving your performance to random chance. Students must be assured that if they worked hard they can shine.
Another problem I observed was that three or four people corrected the exam papers. There were no communications between them. Typically, the student was awarded the average grade. If there was a conflict, a third person would decide, again, without consulting people who had already graded the exam. I found that students who passed in my grading did not pass in this system. When students went in for revaluation, students who scored an average of eighteen points were awarded nine points. The students are not allowed to see their exams. They are forced to accept whatever scores they are given. This system is exploited by vindictive professors. There are stories that I heard of students failing exams for years in one subject because they angered some teacher. The performance of students in exams must be separated from their ability to enter into the good books of teachers. We need to make sure that students believe and work for a world where people are fair and sincere effort is rewarded. The VTU rules can be effective only if they are more transparent. The students must be able challenge a test and the scores they get. They must be allowed to defend their work. At this point, I see the system is rampantly used to enslave students and break their spirits.
Teaching remains an underpaid profession all over the world. Colleges think nothing about raising student fees. But the legal pay that teachers are entitled to always seem a waste of money to the administration. In Mangalore, colleges save money by hiring temporary faculty. These temporary hires are typically unqualified for the job. For example, recently graduated Mtechs are hired to teach Mtechs. This justifies the lower wages they receive. Some colleges do not do regular hires for years even though there is a severe scarcity of teachers. They make do with temporary faculty.
I ended up being a temporary faculty because NITK was not hiring regular faculty when I applied. Temporary faculty are required to sign a register to get paid. I was used to flexible working hours all my life. Everyone who teaches knows that teaching is a profession of passion. It is not a 9 to 5 job. There are days when you will work well past midnight. Except for NITK, no other college in this region believes in flexible working hours. Even at NITK, temporary faculty are not allowed flexible working hours. This meant I had to go to college just to sign even if I had nothing to do. And the department really cared about that signature more than anything about me.
The reason Mangaluru can get away with this kind of education system is because of the export culture prevailing in India. India has been exporting students for higher studies for centuries now. Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar, and most other national leaders went abroad for higher education. The IITs continued the tradition. Nowadays, students from small colleges in India aspire to go abroad for higher studies. Education abroad means a real career for students. With all the talk about make in India by the Prime Minister, it is time, we seriously think about making real graduates in India.
Without any doubt, I, for one, am disgusted with the academic culture of the Mangaluru region. The green coconut trees of Mangaluru lured me into setting up home in Mangaluru. I hope, in the near future, Mangaluru will establish an institution which Indians can be proud of. When we hear someone say “This is India”, then it should be said to signify something good.
The author Dr Maya Mohsin Ahmed has a PhD in Mathematics from UC Davis and has taught mathematics in America, India and Africa. She was also nominated for the Excellence in Undergraduate Education Award at UC Davis.
Maya Mohsin Ahmed – from our archives:
- The Many Pitfalls of Holding on to Money
- Why on Earth did we agree that Religious Conversions are Wrong?
- In the Land of Coconut Trees
- Mangaluru: The murky land deals of Karnataka
- The Sad Economic Disparity of Genders
- Mangaluru: Misuse of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act
- Stop Domestic Violence