The words uttered on the state of higher education in the country seem to have touched a chord with more than a few. Last time we shared in this space a misguided “missile” and that should have been more than enough, but one is rather forced to accommodate one more for it opens up an entirely new dimension to the debate: the state of the faculty. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it? Let’s see.“I agree with every word written in the last two columns that dealt with the HEC devolution drama. There is one thing you seem to have ignored, however, and that is the worth of the “honourable” teachers at most public-sector universities, including Karachi,” reads the correspondence, and there are no prizes for guessing that it comes from a student.“I write this to defend the community of students. I agree when you say, ‘A sizeable portion of the fresh entrants in public-sector universities in the last few years should not have been allowed within 10 kilometres of a centre of higher education’, but what about the teachers? Don’t you think many of them should also have been kept miles away from the educational centres?”
One really has to have a particularly blind eye and an ultra-thick skin to answer it in the negative. Really. If a 10-kilometre diameter is the benchmark for students, one can’t help but make it 20 for an equally “sizeable portion of the fresh entrants” on the faculty side. And the reason—one of the several reasons, actually—is part of the mail in question:“It is a regular happening that students keep waiting for teachers most of whom reside on the campus but do not take classes as scheduled in the timetable. The assignments handed out by the teachers are generally nothing more than a waste of paper and money. In most cases they want us to reproduce the same things that have been discussed in the class from different sources,” it says.Now, with the two sides of the coin having come together, they paint a bleak picture about what is going on at the university level and, in turn, question the self-acclaimed progress under the HEC banner. We have seen the worth of the increased enrollments and the worth of the academia. Do we still have the cheek to talk about HEC wonders?The potential of a positive equation between students and teachers was on display recently when a private-university professor in Islamabad was first forced out of a packed auditorium full of students and faculty members and then got his services terminated for questioning the “role and vision of the education institution” concerned.
His students staged a walkout in protest, and the professor started an impromptu class under the trees at a nearby roundabout focusing on “leadership and the larger interest of people”. Carrying the same questions that he had raised in the auditorium, the 31-year-old professor stood on a rock and answered questions from the students.University officials tried to “influence” the students, but that did not scare them and they sat in the shade listening to their professor.As reported, one of the students who held a placard that read “Freedom” said: “We know the truth and that is why we are here to support him [the professor]. We have been taught to respect our teachers like our parents and the administration has insulted our parent”.“All our lives we have been told to think out of the box but the professor asks us to think beyond borders and boundaries,” said another as a couple of former students, hearing of the incident, took time off work and joined the gathering.The student-teacher bond is a potent one, provided there is a bit of sanity on both sides and, indeed, on the part of those running the show. But we tend to prefer creating wonders in official files rather than doing something simple on the ground. And that is exactly what the HEC story is mostly about.Ironically, when the professor was being dragged out of the auditorium by security personnel, one of those witnessing the spectacle happened to be the HEC chairman. As could only be guessed without much of an effort, he was not seen among those who protested.So, the bottom line on HEC remains simple: its future should not get equated with the future of education in the country. Devolve it, evolve it, dissolve it, reform it, keep it, kick it … do whatever you want to do with it. The agenda should be education-specific, not HEC-specific. Period. – Dawn