Living and Learning at the University: Studentspeak
By Saiyem Iftekhar
A student steps into the university with ‘great expectations’ and greater dreams. Rooted in a popular idealism around the ‘luxury’ of higher education, the university lures as much as it cures the waywardness of adolescence into not only the superior attainments of one’s own dreams, but also into thoughts about mankind at large.
As students of education, our courses seem to insist that the university is a place for amassing intellectual and moral values, along with vocational ones. Why then does our experience with the ‘real’ university seem so different – both from what popular wisdom brought us up to believe as well as what our textbook lessons continue to profess? Why is it that university education today focuses disproportionately on the development of cognitive and vocational skills, to the exclusion of critical practices of learning altogether? Why is it that the affective domain of human personality remains untouched to a large extent, and university education only becomes a factory for turning out individuals who become a tool in the hands of corporate elites for perpetuation of socio-economic disparities?
Why is it that a senior official at my university emphasized on a public occasion the need to start “job-oriented” courses, while deprecating literature and philosophy as those which do not fetch good jobs? I’m a student of pure science and I want to pursue life sciences for higher studies, but how and why should that mean that I stand a better chance at “jobs” than my friends studying Hindi literature? Or, have the life sciences too become inadequate for the job-market? Why do I sense attempts, on the institutional level, to simultaneously discourage the spirit of scientific temper among students? A cockeyed address by a Professor from BHU, who was invited as speaker at the Teachers’ Day function organized by the university administration, was a testimony to this. He regressed all the principles of human physiology in his speech, laced with examples from Vedic science. If both scientific temper and philosophical inquiry are to be sacrificed by the university, what “job-oriented” courses is the university meant to be offering?
Why have the last couple of years at my university seen not just an open disdain for courses that don’t fetch jobs, but also a gradual shrinking of spaces for dialogue and discourse, an active discouragement of creativity and dissent in the name of an “alleged politicisation” of the campus? Why do I feel a growing gap between students and teachers in the attempt to uphold the “guru-shishya parampara”? Why has the university canteen – which earlier used to be an adda of quality discourse between teachers and students – now become a two-tier compartment with students and teachers separated by the painful invisibility of hierarchies?
If the university were to become the space for a higher moral quest, why must basic amenities like accommodation, transport, libraries, and laboratories remain in such a substandard state? For a mundane example, why is there only one bus and a van for more than 250 students who have their classes in different shifts? Regardless of repeated requests from students, why does the university administration pretend as if these daily problems are issues not worth a hearing? Can the higher goals or ideals of life be realized if we are left fighting for the most basic necessities? Why is it that even the course we are enrolled in – the dual degree integrated B.Sc. B.Ed programme – is being run for the past three years without getting recognition from National Council of Teacher Education? The present VC has taken a resolute stand on this, but may we still hope to graduate from this lofty ideal of the university with a degree that matters to the not-so-lofty world of everyday reality?
Although the university has been functioning for 7 years now, why is a permanent campus still lacking? Why is the infrastructure on a central university campus so gravely poor that a single 30×25 hall functions as an all-in-one physics, chemistry, and biology laboratory? Furthermore, this hall also houses pint-sized cabins of three Junior Research Fellows. There is regular paucity of equipment, chemicals and specimens in the laboratory. Students are taken to another rented campus 100 kilometres apart, once in a semester for 2-3 days, to complete their practicals. On the previous academic visit, students were even asked to bear their transport and food expenses on their own and thus subsidise the university’s infrastructural failures, while the registrar ruefully lamented of “lack of resources”. Students who have opted for the life sciences stream in the B.Sc. B.Ed. programme continue to suffer due to dearth of teachers. There is only one teacher appointed on a regular basis at the campus where classes take place, while others visit as guest faculty once in a while.
If these are all problems that can be easily solved if the VC personally meets student bodies on a regular basis and the administrative staff give up their “baabu” attitude, why does my university shun the ‘easy’ in order to talk about ‘difficult’ goals of life and ‘development’? I was certain to find answers within the university to all the difficult questions troubling me for years, but my university has only left me with questions about the simple things in life.
I wait for the answers still.
Saiyem Iftekhar is a third-year undergraduate student at the School of Education, Central University of South Bihar, Gaya.
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