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Straight Talk: Where will good teachers come from?

The prospect of PM Modiís much publicized programs 'Make in India', 'Skill India' and 'Digital India' takes education for granted. Education which is the foundation for our economy and ambition. And yet, how big a draw is this sector for the country's bright young minds?
BY Pushkar |   16-07-2015
Pushkar
Brain drain has cost the country some of its brightest minds; have… IIT coaching classes done the same?

(The iitian, the online magazine of the official PAN-IIT Alumni Association)

Next time you run into an IIT or IIM student, ask him—it will most likely be ‘him’ and not ‘her’—whether he plans to become a professor at an IIT or IIM (In fact, you could ask the same question to almost any undergraduate student in any discipline).

You will perhaps not bother to do so because you know that the student may wonder if you have lost your mind.

Alternately, however, you could inquire from the student if he will consider taking up the job of coaching IIT/IIM/civil services aspirants. You surely know that this is not a silly question.

Approximately 600 IIT graduates are reported to be teaching at coaching centres in Kota, Delhi, Kanpur, Mumbai, Patna and elsewhere in the country. These numbers are almost certainly higher than, or comparable to, the number of IIT graduates, i.e. those with bachelor’s degrees from one of the IITs, who teach at the dozen or more IITs across the country.

An Awesome Coaching Institute in Shiksha Nagar reportedly pays better than a professorship at an IIT, and for good coaches, unlike IIT professors, sky is the limit as far as the paycheck is concerned. More than a handful of star coaches are known to earn four-to-five-times more than the most accomplished and senior IIT professors. No surprise then that fresh IIT graduates have been taking up teaching jobs at coaching institutes for more than a decade, occasionally even in preference to other private sector options.

Why blame the young?

Our best brains are selling soaps and getting into civil service, nothing wrong in that, but we are not able to attract them to a sector that is most important to us - education - particularly higher education.

Shyam Sunder, (James L Frank Professor of Accounting, Economics, and Finance at the Yale School of Management).

It is natural for young people to seek better paid jobs. As in many modernizing societies around the world, the worth of a profession in India is almost entirely measured by the number on one’s pay check. If coaching for IITs, IIMs, medical college exams, bank jobs, central services or just about everything else, pays better than teaching at IITs, IIMs or central universities, why should hard-working students, whether at the IITs or at other colleges, be interested in teaching and/or research as a profession?

Better salaries in other professions, however, are not the only reason why so few young people are inclined to take up teaching and research as a profession. Another factor, in part linked to salaries but also independent of it, is the decline in the social status of the professor. We as a society are carrying on with the pretense of celebrating the exalted status of professors/teachers, but the fact is that the social standing of a professor, even one at an IIT or IIM, has eroded considerably over time.

Our failure in inspiring students

If we can inspire students to take up teaching as a profession then the Prime Minister’s dream of one day being able to export teachers will fructify.

(Smriti Irani,Union Human Resource Development Minister)

No one is really above blame for the erosion in the social status of the professoriate; political leaders, bureaucrats, parents, students and teachers themselves have all played their part. What is worrisome is that despite the immense shortage of qualified faculty at both premier institutions as well as others, we—especially and including the government—are doing very little to address the situation. We are certainly not doing much to inspire young people to take up the profession.

How can students be inspired to take up teaching and research when highly-qualified professors are hounded out of their positions as IIT Directors or vice-chancellors of central universities for no good reason? What message do we send to young people who might be interested in teaching and research by appointing incompetent individuals to key positions in universities and the government?

A crisis on our hands

Now, since an IITian or a hard-working and capable young Indian is more likely to head abroad, switch to more lucrative disciplines such as business or finance, or even take up gigs at coaching institutes rather than teach at an IIT or a central university, you have to wonder how we will ever find those good teachers we desperately need at our colleges and universities for the coming generation. Approximately 2,500 faculty positions are reportedly lying vacant across the IITs, including older and established ones at Kharagpur, Powai and Delhi. Similar shortages are reported for central universities and elsewhere.

Worryingly, many of those who took to the profession over the last two-three decades may have done so only because they ran out of other, more desirable, career options. It may be that this remains true today.

Under current conditions, it is only fair to ask: How will we find good teachers for our colleges and universities?
 

Pushkar (@PushHigherEd) is Asst Professor, Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, BITS Pilani-Goa

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