New Age Challenges of Teaching Undergrads

By S Radha Prathi, Dec 21, 2016,

Teaching at the undergraduate level is increasingly becoming a challenge even to the most enterprising, enthusiastic and experienced of teachers these days. Barring a handful of undergraduates, most students are hardly ever interested in the course. For most urban youth, it is a passage of rite to be fulfilled before they enter the world at large to pursue their vocations, businesses, jobs or personal lives.

Lecturers and professors both old and young who had gathered at a national seminar seemed to be speaking in one voice on their pet subjects. They began with the most sacred ritual of marking attendance which gains sacrosanct dimensions especially towards the end of the academic year.

The UGC insists on a minimum of 75% attendance requirement before taking up the prescribed examinations from time to time. Every student who falls short of the mark, unable to get a proxy or have the means to circumvent the problem, makes it a point to be there towards the end.

These students add to the nuisance value in the classroom because they are unaware of what is transpiring in the room and that naturally keeps them diverted. Interestingly, they are the ones who come up with ideas of having special classes in a bid to step up their attendance quotient.

These days, the courts stand testimony to the increasing numbers of affidavits filed by erring students suing colleges for depriving them of the attendance that would have enabled them to take up examinations.

Attendance has been boiled down to the level of being physically present in the campus. Never mind if you are late, distracted or have misbehaved in the lecture hall. A couple of medical certificates and wedding cards genuine or otherwise have the powers to set matters right.

Neither the students nor their parents seem to be unduly worried about the learning curve that could have shot up if discipline and diligence were employed. This act  is nothing but a sterling example of how colleges inadvertently nurture downright carelessness laced with rudeness which gains legal validation because of obscure processing.

Gone are the days when lectures were interrupted by garrulous youth and giggly girls who indulged in small talk or biting into a morsel of food during the serious hour. These days they are otherwise occupied checking or sending messages on their cell phones, that is if they are not playing or shopping.

If they are asked to deposit their instruments outside before a guest lecture, each one will take their own sweet time to make “suitable arrangements” before taking leave of their external organ for an hour or two.

Internet age
Taking down lecture notes is passé, because graduating youngsters believe that everything worth learning can be found on the internet. Necessary course material can always be bought, photocopied, scanned or stolen if necessary. Most pupils are not interested when there are relevant digressions from the topic because they do not figure in the scheme of the portions prescribed for examinations.

On the one hand, they want to be treated like adults when reprimanded for permissive public behaviour; on the other, they want to be spoon fed with the exact mark allotment for each question.

It is ironical to note that the youth of the world which believes in worldwide networking do not make an attempt to see the interrelated nature of subjects which can go a long way in shaping them as sensible and sensitive global citizens.
The harsh truth is students no longer learn to gain knowledge but to earn degrees. They attend college for the frivolous social ambience and not for getting a panoramic on various subjects. Politics, groupies and sectarian views have substituted the secular outlook.

Examinations, mark sheets and certificates have become passports to the first jobs which are usually procured through campus interviews. Hence, it is no wonder students are becoming increasingly removed from the teacher-taught equation. They have forgotten that being a graduate is not about procuring document, it is about graduating to a higher phase in life and emerging as a better human being who has some expertise over the chosen subject.

Matters will improve only if we are able to instill a love for learning in the young or just devalue degrees of the ones who do not measure up to display basic knowledge of the chosen subject and show evidence of etiquettes demanded of a graduate.

Faith For Instant Gratification

Today we live in an era of electronic communication, supersonic transportation, instant noodles, fast food, all in one devices and foldable gear. These achievements of man are but indicators of his desire for instant gratification. Man incessantly dreams of his wishes coming true.

While some of them are contented with day dreaming, there are others who work towards achieving their goals. Long before man fantasised about the genie of the lamp, friendly spirits, elves and angels who granted wishes the divine mother manifested herself as goddess Nimishamba at the behest of her ardent devotee.

People throng her temple which is on the banks of the confluence of the rivers Cauvery and Lokapavani and make their wishes fervently.

Mythology reveals that sage Mukthaka was performing a Yajna alongside the Sangam on behalf of the reigning king Sumanaska for the well being of the citizens of his kingdom. His spiritual endeavour was constantly disrupted by two demons called Jaanu and Sumandala.

The helpless sage beseeched the mother goddess to intervene and help him surmount the obstacle. The goddess who could not bear to see her fervent follower suffer
appeared before him within a minute.

She was geared up for the battle with her trident and a rattling ‘damru’.
Even before the sage could make his plea coherently the demons were slayed by the goddess with her trident.

The sage was struck by her instant response to his prayer. He beseeched her to stay on and bless her other devotees who sought her help. People, who came to the goddess with faith, redeemed their wishes within a minute. They started referring to her as Nimishamba –the mother (who fulfils wishes in a) minute.

The legend may sound like a fairy tale at the outset but a little introspection will reveal that God helps only those who help themselves. It may be noted that sage Mukthaka made an earnest attempt to perform the Yajna. He sought divine help only when he reached his wit’s end.

The fact that the Goddess came to him within a minute speaks of the unique rapport between the worshipper and the worshipped which stands on the twin towers of infinite faith and compassion respectively.

The presence of lord Shiva in the name of Moukthikeshwara or the one who delivers salvation in the temple premises of Nimishamba is symbolic of a loftier message.
It is a reminder to man that he must transcend the level of using faith and devotion for instant gratification and seek eternal truth and salvation – Mukthi!