A term as Teaching Assistant

In June, 2018 I finished assisting on a course on Public Finance for master degree students at my home institution – National Law School. Time spent on delivering this course has been a useful opportunity to observe higher education learning and teaching. This post is to gather key takeaways from this engagement. Moreover, it seems that we have a persistence of a set of legacy problems with higher education in India which the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) Bill, 2018 attempts to tackle. For instance, lack of credit based system for the award of degrees. In the MPP program at NLS, we observe the enormous difference it makes to students who are working on the side or have other interests to pursue. It cuts the crap of having a student to repeat an entire year if she fails in even one subject.

A takeaway from Public Finance course is that students respond positively – almost always – to instructor enthusiasm and effort. This seems to be an obvious point about learning, however, it appears that many instructors seem to overlook how crucial this is. Often times, their lack of energy turns detrimental to learning outcome and they do not even realise. Course faculty in public finance course is a former civil servant with several years of teaching experience as well. Students responded well to the commitment and energy he brought to the class. It mattered that he was genuinely driven by a desire to help students learn the finer details of theory and practice of public finance, often times drawing from his extensive experience in the government. For other areas of the discipline he plugged in practitioner’s perspective by inviting relevant people to speak to the class.

In India, we bemoan the lack of good teachers and that such teachers are hard to retain. The perception is that they leave for better opportunities in universities and research institutions abroad. What we do still have are committed teachers who are trying to improve learning outcomes in higher education, one batch at a time. Facilitating their work and the courses is the least that university administrators can do. At NLS, I see this shift happening. The program in public policy is improving its course quality by complementing instructors by the way of resource and managerial support. In the classroom, improvisation and moving with the times seems to be necessary. Learners now respond instantly and often times very well to technology mediated processes. This is where Indian universities seem to have fallen behind.

As I write this, I am back from a week at Oslo Metropolitan University, where with a team, we are developing courses for the years ahead. This muti-national, multi-university effort is to develop courses relevant to contemporary global themes like work inclusion, employment, urbanisation and urban poverty. These courses will be taught at the participating universities as well as offered as a MOOC also. The idea is to move to next generation of teaching and learning at these universities than finding these institutions losing out or becoming irrelevant with their stand alone, silo-like classroom programs which tend to get limited in their worldview and content. We see that across participating universities, a key determinant of learning outcome has been instructor involvement. It is her energy that the course rides on. Admittedly, this also gets demanding on all those responsible for delivering the course.

So, while we continue to look at infrastructure deficit in Indian universities and underfunded research in various areas of STEM and liberal arts, I’d want to record this note for one thing that does seem to be going well for India – teacher commitment, across all levels of education. From K-12 to university.


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