The classroom could become a tougher place for some teachers in West Bengal. More than 40 polytechnics and nearly 50 technical institutes and junior training institutions in the state are talking of allowing their students to evaluate all teachers, laboratory assistants and other non-teaching staff. Although the National Council for Educational Research and Training has from time to time murmured to this effect, this is the first time the idea is actually going to be implemented. In an ideal world, and from the point of view of academic excellence, this is a bold and promising innovation, and could certainly keep teachers and other personnel on their toes in a manner that would be entirely salutary for all concerned. Apart from the obvious monitoring of standards of instruction and assistance, any form of partisanship, cliquishness, together with general stagnation, sloth and unprofessional conduct could be effectively kept in check — if this were to be carried through properly. The last qualifier is all-important. There are many such institutions in Bengal, and most of them are fairly populous. The scrupulous management of such a system would therefore be a complicated affair. It would generate its own bureaucracy, and consequently its own forms of mismanagement and, indeed, corruption. Moreover, the processing of such surveys and questionnaires would have to be done by properly trained and responsible people, who would, in turn, have to be monitored. The students’ feedback on such personnel like librarians and laboratory assistants would also have to be supplemented by the evaluation of other members of the institution who have a better over-all understanding of their responsibilities.
The effectiveness of such evaluation would therefore depend not only on how responsibly such questions are answered and processed, but also on the other forms of evaluation and accountability supplementing such student surveys. It is alarming, although not at all surprising, that standardized evaluation forms and questionnaires are being framed by a politician — the minister for technical education in the state. Having hatched the idea, the government should leave the actual contents of such surveys to people who are more integrally involved with the running of these institutions. Besides, instead of homogenizing the entire process, there should be enough flexibility within the system so that individual institutions could adapt it according to their particular circumstances. But here again the possibility of abuse and anarchy might dissuade some against too much flexibility. As with other systemic innovations in West Bengal, what is ideally wonderful always raises the question of whether it would actually work in these conditions.