As professors in our premier institutes go on a strike, a teacher reflects on the profession and its rewards...

Tagore in one of his famous poems titled “Dui Bigha Jami” wrote, alas, that those who own more in this world, desire to possess more. Some may say that the way some of the torchbearers of knowledge have been behaving may be explained by what Tagore wrote so many years back.

Professors of premier institutes like the IITs and IIMs are on a hunger strike because they feel that the recent hike in their pay structure is unacceptable to them. They consider that it is below their dignity to accept a pay structure which is not in tune with their capabilities. The Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal in a recent statement had interestingly said that the professors should be hungrier for knowledge instead of resorting to hunger strike for fatter pay packets. IITs and IIMs are no doubt the premier institutes of our country. There are also gradations and classifications within these groups of institutes. For example, there is a general belief that IIT Kanpur is the best among the IITs and IIM Ahmedabad is the best among the IIMs. But the professors of all the IITs and IIMs are demanding equal pay scale, not taking into consideration such gradations and sub-gradations. But the fact remains that owing to the recent hike in the pay structure of the teachers of the colleges and universities across the country, the net amount which a teacher draws is simply amazing considering what they used to draw, say about four decades back.

I knew a teacher who joined as a lecturer at a college about two decades back. The salary which he drew at the end of his first month’s service was Rs. 2,828. He was visibly thrilled while receiving this huge amount of money, which he could draw for the first time in his life. After getting the salary, he met the librarian of the college, who told him that when he would retire after about 35 years his salary would not be less than Rs. 20,000. The young teacher believed that it was a joke as the salary of Rs. 20,000 was simply unimaginable and unrealistic, as well.

Astounding raise

But within about 12 years of his service he was able to draw more than Rs. 20,000 and after the recent pay hike, he is getting not less than Rs. 70,000. The teacher was known to be feeling that the huge amount of money that he is now getting is more than what he deserves for his capability and experience.

The UGC, while announcing the pay hike which would be enforced with retrospective effect from January 1, 2006, had mentioned certain conditionalities for the teachers to follow. As a teacher I am indeed desirous of following all these prescriptions in letter and spirit. But unfortunately, in spite of the best of the intentions on my part, I am unable to do so, owing to lack of interest amongst a section of the students, lack of adequate infrastructure of the college and the limited responsibility which is normally given to a college teacher.

It is not my contention to say that the teachers need to be deprived when others who are serving in various departments of the government are getting a substantial amount of money as their salary. There is no doubt teachers are the backbone of our nation and they deserve to be rewarded, socially and economically. But my agony stems from the fact that I want to teach my students, I want to indulge myself in endless debates and discussions so that they may be enriched and in turn, I may be able to unlearn and refresh my thoughts. This form of intense debate may be able to make the realm of knowledge become fine-tuned to the day-to-day requirements of our society. But cultivation of knowledge, at least in some cases, has become more a matter of “advancement of earning” instead of “advancement of learning”.

The cultivation of knowledge always needs experimentation and infusion of newer thought processes and ideas and often such initiatives meet with serious challenge and opposition. It thwarts the progress of knowledge and it does have a detrimental effect. Many of the newer ideas in the process of modernisation of education may have important social bearing. But side by side it may have certain regressive effects. For example, the introduction of the new (1+1+1) three-year degree course as it was introduced by the universities may be a step in the right direction. But it is seen that once a student passes the part I examination at the end of the first year and gets a university certificate, he or she feels that the visa for sitting for the part II university examination has been gained. As a result, the rate of attendance in the second year class becomes thin and virtually invisible in the third year. In this way, college teaching has become a virtual mockery. We are paid so much and we get so little scope to serve our students in spite of our intentions.

Extraneous affairs

The thin attendance is also due to the rampant practice of a section of students involving themselves in college politics. Students’ politics is now no more related to the day-to-day concerns of our society. Students’ organisations, in order to extend their sway, often resort to distribution of notes containing suggestive answers for the preparation of the university examinations. It is again a matter of agony that many students are more eager to get superlative marks instead of gaining knowledge. This trend is quite discernible even in premier institutions which were once so boastful of their intellectual worth and acumen.

Moreover, the bane of private tuition is also diluting the immense importance of quality class room teaching. Classroom teaching may well escalate owing to intense and dynamic interaction between a teacher and the taught. Once, I was teaching Asiatic Mode of Production. A 1st year student, after listening to me for about half an hour, stood up and said, “Sir, what you have been saying all along is basically a statement of the fact. But what we essentially need is a clarification.” I still remember these words. I am indeed sorry to say that after about two decades such lively, engrossing and touching interactions are on the verge of extinction. So, what I want to say is this, that I want to teach by sharing a lifetime’s acquisition, whatever little I do have. But there are no takers and that happens to be my agony!

The UGC has recommended a high pay structure in order to attract and retain the best talent in the academia, who could become the backbone of our society. It is indeed a great honour to the members of the teaching community. It is indeed their due which they were unable to get in the past. But a teacher’s pride gets satiated once he is able to teach his pupils as a votary of the goddess of Saraswati. But when the goddess Lakshmi takes the front seat in the mindset of a teacher, it is obvious that the goddess Saraswati would move to oblivion. The quality content of education needs to be revitalised instead of laying too much mechanistic emphasis on form.

The author is Associate Professor of Sociology, Presidency College, Kolkata.