Teachers in colleges and universities have always been accused of getting too much leave. Some years back, the University Grants Commission had come up with a fixed number of hours for ‘direct teaching’ per week, making, tutorials, practical classes, seminars and administrative work additional to these. Teachers had protested then that classroom teaching is only a part of their daily work. There would be no time for preparation, let alone research and self-improvement, whether to meet conditions for promotion, to write research papers or even to teach better. The same arguments would apply in the case of the new proposal to get teachers in higher education to go to work six days a week instead of five. The West Bengal government is very keen on this, as though the higher education ministry is certain that teachers do no work unless forced to. Reportedly, vice-chancellors at a meeting of the state higher education council offered the leave provisions of teachers as a hurdle to implementing the choice based credit system for students. It is disturbing that teachers’ need to have time to study and work on their own is ignored. Yet State authorities, who cannot be called academically minded, insist on research. Teachers with little or no research experience cannot be the best guides for students. Learning is not magic. It is not amenable to the whims of mandarins either.
Hours and days can be worked on, but it is the attitude to higher education that is alarming. An abysmal incomprehension, as well as an indifference to learning, excellence, the demands of a scholarly life and a teacher’s work have led to agenda-driven interventions in higher education. The level of ignorance can be gauged by the reported remark of a Bikash Bhavan official, who said that if school teachers can manage a bigger workload without an extra day off, so can teachers in higher education. This shows an absence of the slightest notion of the difference between school teaching and higher education, and a total lack of awareness of the ‘invisible’ work behind a lecture, more so in the semester system. To make the time at the workplace fruitful while ensuring the accountability that the government pompously demands — does it know how a teacher’s accountability is measured? — each higher studies institution should have a well-equipped library with online facilities, workspaces for teachers, clean bathrooms and refreshment centres. Duty is not one-way traffic.