It is rather unfortunate that today’s system of higher education sees a disconnection between two premiere areas of edification, which should always go hand in hand – Teaching and Research.
The other day I was sitting in a cell biology lecture, where (for once!) I was not asleep as my lecturer explained the processes of cell division with the aid of certain slides which he had prepared himself during his research. Here for the first time I felt that the course I am pursuing is not merely theoretical because I felt that for a change, I was seeing a theory come to life in animated form right in front of me.
We all know that our body is made of cells. But it’s not so easy to believe. On one hand, we say that we believe what we see; so why doesn’t that hold true for our subjects as well. We live in institutions surrounded by walls of blind faith, the elements of which cannot be proven practically. And the answers to these questions of ours can be answered through research alone. if a teacher is a researcher, he can present to his students his OWN research and thus be able to express himself better as in this way he would be sharing ideas on something that he knows for a fact exists. This way he would be able to put his point across clearly and convincingly.
Now coming to the topic of Research; it is essentially the act of thinking new thoughts. It is thrilling, stimulating and difficult. Conveying this excitement is an important part of university teaching. But research is useless if the findings are not shared; teaching is the main means by which this is done. Clearly, good research is futile without good teaching.
The present scene however is that in the higher institutions the two wings are being separated. Much of our investment in higher education has implicitly or explicitly placed research outside universities in commercial organizations. Even in case of funding for universities – much of the funds are allocated for research, leaving the teaching laboratories far behind. We have so many conferences where active research is well awarded but there are very few organizations which award active teaching. After independence, seeing the need for R&D – a large number of pharmaceutical companies were given large income tax rebates so that they could work actively in research. However much of the research was not fruitful; and there was looking for patents abroad. At the same time not many students were taught.
Looking at the pages of history, we’ll see that in India the first half of the last century saw tremendous developments of scientific research. Some of the remarkable achievements include those of S.N. Bose, C.V. Raman, M.N. Saha and many others. These scientists were such that they were working and teaching at universities in a yet-to-be-independent India. The beginning of the second half saw the birth of a number of research institutes which were intended to focus on research and not on teaching of undergraduate students. As a result, Research has been concentrated in specialized institutes. The university system is unable to mobilize adequate financial and intellectual resources in support of creative research and development effort. As a matter of fact, barring for some of the “specialized” research institutes like ISRO and Bhabha Atomic Research Center; not many of the institutes have made any significant achievements in research or teaching!
Two national programs are highly talked about these days. These are the summer training camps started by the Bangalore based Indian Academy of Sciences and the Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research. Unfortunately, most such institutions do not have facilities or faculty directly interested in research. Students need to fend for themselves, searching for placements, where ‘projects’ can be validated. The situation is scandalous in the area of ‘bioinformatics’ and ‘biotechnology’, with institutions which charge high fees, providing no facilities for mandatory ‘project work’. Although many of these courses and institutes have received formal recognition and accreditation, academic norms appear to be observed only on occasion.
It’s ironic that today the scientific community feels that the youth lacks exposure in research. The fact that applied research offers lucrative prospects to teachers leading them from teaching into research robs from the students their mentors. Also, that most researchers feel that it is a waste of time to teach and remained locked up in their laboratories leaving students devoid of interaction with them and thus resulting in their hunger for information and knowledge as well as lack of exposure.
The necessity of the hour is to amalgamate the research and teaching wings of academics, such that the students are not just theoretically trained but have the generalization and imaginative skills of the researcher. When top firms recruit any graduates from a prestigious university they are not looking at the information these students can reproduce in exams; they are looking for traces of generalizable skills. Can the student think rigorously? Can the student express himself? Do they know how to ask searching questions? If the student doesn’t have the answer, does he have the imagination to figure out where he can find answers?
I’d like to end with the words of PM, Dr. Manmohan Singh, “The resulting divorce between teaching and research hampers the growth of the spirit of inquisitiveness and enquiry among students coming out of our universities. We need teachers who will inspire their students by operating on the frontiers of knowledge. Then alone can we realize the full creative potential of our students.”
[Image Source: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/ias/annualprogramme/regionalism/images/research.jpg]