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Wanted: New-age gurus

Universities need educators who are up to the challenges of the 21st century, writes Rahat Bano

education Updated: Jan 19, 2011 10:02 IST

Radhika Govinda was a French language teacher at Alliance Francaise during her college days when she was bitten by the teaching bug. After her bachelor’s in political science from Lady Shri Ram College in 2002, she bagged a French government scholarship for a master’s at the renowned Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris, popular as Sciences Po. She went on to win a number of scholarships and awards and earned a PhD from the University of Cambridge in 2009.

Now an assistant professor at Ambedkar University Delhi (AUD), Govinda says it’s a coincidence that she belongs to a family of academicians — including her husband, her parents, and their parents.

“Being a university teacher is a tremendous experience: while it offers the opportunity to mould opinions, to shape young lives, in a sense, one is also constantly learning and growing,” says Govinda, a South Asia specialist, whose research interest overlaps political science, gender and development.

The budding university academic spends hours preparing for classes at AUD, which itself is a young kid on the city’s high-education block, attempting to be a change agent in teaching. This involves going through texts and audio-visual material, trying to make her lessons interactive as well as “theoretically astute”.

“In the past year, I have had the opportunity to not only teach on but also design courses in both graduate and undergraduate programmes that are vastly interdisciplinary,” says Govinda, 30. “I have presented research papers at conferences. I recently coordinated a three-week social science research methods festival that the university organised for research scholars and early-career faculty from all over India. To get this experience so early in one’s career is extremely rewarding.”

However, there are few such people around to grab the opportunity in India. According to Ashok Bakhshi, director, Institute of Lifelong Learning, University of Delhi, about 40% of teaching positions are vacant in Central institutions in the country. Incidentally, that’s not the only consequence of rising enrolment in colleges.

Shyam Menon, professor of education and vice chancellor, AUD, explains, “Many students will be first generation post-matriculates, and will need more compassionate and yet intellectually stimulating guidance which the teachers should be in a position to provide.”

With the spotlight on research, aspirants should also be prepared to push the boundaries of knowledge.

The 21st-century university is a changed landscape. Different disciplines are evolving: from being aloof bubbles to multi-symbiotic partners.

What's it about?
University teachers not only work in tertiary-level and research institutions, but also contribute their expertise to many national and international missions. Professors have been/are Union ministers and advisors to prime ministers/ministries. In addition to universities/colleges, private coaching institutes, private education-content companies/web portals, and think tanks, some can be consultants to big companies and international bodies

Clock Work
9am: Check emails, make arrangements for taking class
9.30am to 11.30am and/or 11.30am to 1.30pm: Teaching in class
1.30pm: Lunch
2pm onwards: Attend faculty meetings, contact hours with students, prepare for classes/ attend to administrative work
6.30pm: Return home
9.30pm: Study for research work

The Payoff
Assistant professor
Pay: Pay Band of R15600 to R39100 with academic grade pay (AGP) of R6000
Associate professor
Pay: Pay band of R37400 to R67000, with AGP of R9000.
Professor
Pay: Pay band of R37400 to 67000 with AGP of R10000

Skills
. Intellectual vitality
. High levels of self-motivation, especially to focus on research
. A genuine interest in and dedication to your discipline as well as be curious about other areas
. Be innovative
. Analytical and critical thinking skills
. Ability to reason and hold an argument on a topic
. Strong verbal and written communication skills
. Leadership
. Technological savvy

How do i get there?
Maintain a consistently good academic record up to your masters/MPhil/PhD. The University Grants Commission (UGC) conducts the National Eligibility Test to determine eligibility for lectureship and for award of Junior Research Fellowship in 77 subjects. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research holds the NET for life, physical, chemical, mathematical and earth atmospheric ocean & planetary sciences — jointly with the UGC. Information on exemption, subject list and other details are on www.ugcnetonline.in

Institutes & urls
. The older Indian Institutes of Technology (multiple locations)
www.iitd.ernet.in
. University of Pune
www.unipune.ernet.in
. University of Calcutta
www.caluniv.ac.in
. University of Delhi
www.du.ac.in
. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
www.jnu.ac.in

Pros & cons


.

In research, you have the freedom to choose your topic. But in India, generally, research takes a backseat


.

Travel opportunities


.

Plenty of leave and vacations. Caveat: Some professors work on holidays too


.

No tension of meeting targets a la corporate jobs but money is no match to what the industry pays; red tape, politics not everybody can handle teaching

A big responsibility rests on an educator’s shoulders

Do tell us about the demand and supply scenario...
I gather that after the OBC seat expansion, about 40% of teaching positions are lying vacant in Central universities in the country, including the IITs where many seats are unfilled.

When we get candidates for interviews, we see that they fulfil the basic requirements but they are not very competent. For deserving candidates, there’s no dearth of opportunities. If you are excellent, there’s no looking back.

What should aspiring university/ college teachers be prepared for?
Subject expertise is very very important. Teaching is not everybody’s job. It is not about just reading a book or two and reproducing it in class. Your teaching should reflect how much you have thought about the topic at hand. This is missing today.

You have to begin from scratch. You begin with thinking why this topic is important. What would have been missed if it was not taught? A good teacher prepares for questions that can arise in a student’s mind. You should have the ability to come down to the level of the weakest student and take all students along, even if it requires you to give one or two extra lectures.

Effective communication is important. You should be able to express an idea systematically and logically.

Students have to leave the class and eventually face the world. Are you preparing them to face the world? Outside, people will not ask you about postulates of some scientific theory. They want to know your critical thinking skills, ability to inter-link topics… You should encourage out-of-the-box thinking on the subject rather than rote-learning.

Another challenge is the growth of knowledge in other disciplines. The amount of knowledge is doubling very very fast. And new knowledge has to be passed on to the next generation. It has to be integrated into the syllabi.

Integration of technology, too, is a challenge. Teachers need to develop multi-media-enriched content because they cannot explain everything on the blackboard.

Do you see any change in the level of prestige attached to the job?
I think it’s the same. I think it’s the individual who commands respect. If you are able to satisfy your students, they will know he is sincere and hardworking. A student can make any mistake but he will not make a mistake in identifying a good teacher. No other profession gives you as much responsibility. And it’s a big responsibility.

Ashok Bakhshi, director, Institute of Lifelong Learning, Delhi University Interviewed by Rahat Bano