Thursday, February 19, 2009

The issue of student evaluation

In India, the Sixth Pay Commission for government employees, including university teachers was implemented recently. About ten years ago, the Fifth Pay Commission was implemented. I remember both at that time and now, the issue of student evaluation has cropped up. It has also led to severe protests and a lot of heartburn among the teaching community in India.

Around four months ago, I was discussing this issue with one of my seniors in the university, where I work. This person has been quite active in the teachers' movement and the teachers' association in the university. I remember telling him, "I think its a pretty good idea to let the teachers be evaluated by the students." However, he told me, "No, Roomy, you don't understand. India is not a mature democracy and this can be misused throughout the country."

So, I fell silent. When the University Grants Commission wants to enact something, it applies all through the country. However, I remain quite intrigued by this issue. I can understand that India is not a mature democracy in many ways and that a number of extraneous factors could influence university and college administrators to harass teachers. At the same time, there are other thoughts that swim through my mind.

I understand that student feedback plays some role in US universities. I know we would say that US is a matured democracy. So, it is. However, I also know from a number of my friends and colleagues, who have taught in Saudi Arabia, that student feedback, whether formal or informal, is considered important there as well. I don't know if Saudi Arabia is a mature democracy. It is a monarchy. Thus if student feedback could work in some ways both in the USA and in Saudi Arabia, I tend to feel it could work in India too.

I can understand the fears and the apprehensions. It is quite possible in India for 3-4 students to be swayed in a class of 50 and it is quite possible for the university or college to take action based on those 3-4 cooked up complaints. However, it wouldn't be legally tenable and would go against rules of natural justice.

I would like to hear more views on the subject. I am sure if student evaluation is accepted, then it should certainly be accepted properly, with clearly spelt out guidelines.