India/September 14, 2020/by Chandrachur Singh, Bijayalaxmi Nanda and Hena Singh/Source: https://indianexpress.com/
Ensuring equity and access to quality learning could be done by encouraging partnerships between institutions that are perceptibly recognised as higher, say in terms of national rankings, and those who may not be there.
The importance of education in social levelling and ushering in plurality has been widely acknowledged in the realms of policy planning and execution. Concerns, however, have also been flagged in the Indian context on the extent to which education could tangibly lead to transformative and emancipatory objectives, particularly in the face of inhibitors ranging from the historical exclusions of women and other marginalised communities from education processes, to mundane pedagogy, curricular biases, lack of well-informed educators, academic prejudices and bureaucratic rigidities.
Axiomatically, given the peripheral ways in which we have gone about realising the objectives of social change — guided mostly by the need of appeasing communities for political mobilisation and not by the moral imperatives of adhering to social sensibilities and realities, education in itself has become a site for both reproducing and interrupting inequities. The sudden bubbling of online education in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and resurfacing of the ever-gnawing class and gender divides in society only accentuate such feelings.
This is partly because of the inabilities of both, the advocates of social change and educators to forge epistemological bridges between issues of quality, equity and access on the one end and power differentials that exist in the social set-up on the other. In turn, this not only hinders communicative processes between different classes and categories of citizens, but in so doing it also circumvents the material-discursive apparatuses through which social inequalities get into a constantly replicatory and perpetuating mode. Addressing the issue of social inclusion via education as such necessitates a re-look at the interrelationship between quality, equity and access, particularly in the context of the divides that have only got exacerbated in a digital world.
We believe that one good way of achieving the laudable objectives of equity and access is by having academic institutions committed to excellence. Such an argument is ubiquitous in policy parlance, and yet it needs to be re-emphasised, given that establishing institutions of quality learning is easier said than done. This is because academic institutions are not just about erecting buildings of brick and mortar or creating playgrounds. Instead, qualitative academic institutions are about having sensitive, knowledgeable, competent, skilled, committed teachers and highly-motivated and passionate students and the resulting exchange of cognition and knowledge between and amongst the two. It is about providing meaningful education that could confer agency on individuals. Unfortunately, we somehow continue to be guided by the fallacious understanding that institutions of eminence can be established with the stroke of a pen. The dualities, as such, are perceptible. Despite being the world’s third-largest education system, we are still host to a quarter of the world’s extreme poor and have gender disparities. While unemployment is an issue, ask any corporate recruiter and readily comes the reply — it is not unemployment but employability.
It is in this backdrop that a plausible alternative way ahead in the direction of ensuring equity and access to quality learning could be by encouraging partnerships and alliances between institutions that are perceptibly recognised as higher say in terms of national rankings and those who may not be there. The collaborations could start at relatively smaller scales say, for conducting faculty development programmes, or for taking certain initiatives in pedagogy, or even allowing teachers from eminent institutions to deliver few lectures for students of colleges in remote areas. The acceptance of online modes of teaching and learning would only bolster such initiatives.
We believe that such initiatives would not only be mutually advantageous for the partnering institutions but reinforcing as well, in the sense that while in providing outreach opportunities to the mentor institution they would allow it to fulfill its moral and social responsibilities of providing quality teaching and learning to students beyond the confines of its four walls, for the mentee institutions it would simply be an exercise that could motivate and propel it to catch-up with the best practices. Incidentally, the proposal would supplement the mentoring mission objective of the NEP 2020, which is aimed at pooling outstanding scholars for providing support to university and college teachers.
A recent experience of Miranda House, University of Delhi collaborating as a partner with Rama Devi University-Bhubaneshwar, Odisha, gave us a personal insight into the value of such initiatives. The University Grants Commission’s Paramarsh scheme speaks about a similar purpose where a mentor institution provides regular support and learning to a mentee institution so that they achieve excellence through their mutual synergies. The essence and spirit of this scheme can be captured and made a part of the larger goals of education. A dialogic epistemic community of teachers propelled by regular self-driven development programmes committed to sharing, conversing and creative collaborations will go a long way in enriching inclusive value-based education.
A broad outreach without the pressures of gathering points for promotion or just institutional compulsions is the need of the hour. Energising the teachers by developing in them a passion and commitment to equity and access is necessary. The inter-generational gate-keeping of hierarchised teaching-learning including ranks, positions, teacher and teaching needs to be interrogated as well. The synergies or collaborations can be across the board — local, regional, national and international.
Holistic education can only be provided if the teachers are imbued with a sense of cooperative learning and passion to inculcate that in their students. The online modes now provide an opportunity for extensive networks without much cost or the need for infrastructure. The ethics of sharing, empathy and compassion can only be brought about if each institution remains open and porous for this exchange.
Most importantly, such initiatives would be the most cost-effective, innovative and self-sufficing (atmanirbhar) way of realising the objectives of “developing the capacity of the students and the researchers to compete in the global tertiary education marketplace through the acquisition and creation of advanced knowledge in those areas” — so eloquently expressed as part of the mission statement of “Institutions of Eminence Regulations” of the University Grants Commission.
(Chandrachur Singh teaches at Hindu College, University of Delhi; Nanda is the acting Principal and Hena Singh is a faculty member at Miranda House. Views are personal)
Docente - Investigadora Educativa.
Doctora en Cs. de la Educación, Magíster en Desarrollo Curricular y Licenciada en Relaciones Industriales.