Concerning the Process of Selecting College Teachers
The present system of interviews for college teachers in Assam gives a lot of importance to marks obtained by the candidates in examinations form Class 10 onwards, on publications, and a few other things, but not so much on the subject experts’ assessment of the candidate in the interview.
This has certainly had the good effect of stopping all possible interference from any quarters including the college authorities for appointing or not appointing a particular candidate.
Earlier, it was not unusual for certain members of the panel to award excessively high marks to a particular candidate just to ensure that that particular candidate would get the job. This is not possible in the new system.
However, this process is not a full-proof method of selecting the right people for teaching in higher educational institutions. The problem sought to be solved by minimizing the importance of interview performance is the possibility of partiality towards a particular candidate who may have some influence on the interview board, particularly the people associated with the college : the principal, the head of the department, the governing body president.
A candidate who has been working in the college for some time may be favoured over someone who is brighter and more capable as a teacher. In what may perhaps be a worse situation, the favoured candidate may be related to someone in the board. But is it really necessary to minimize the interview marks to tackle such problems?
If the principal has been a Botany teacher, why should he assess a candidate appearing for a post of an assistant professor in English?
The principal may be interested in knowing such things as whether the candidate is likely to stay in his institution for at least a particular period of time, or whether the candidate has good communicative skills, and he can be allowed to assess the candidate in regard to such issues, but is it fair for a non-expert to judge the candidate even in regard to the candidate’s knowledge of the subject?
What is the problem that is sought to be solved through this process of minimizing the importance of the interview? It is the possible partiality of certain members of the interview panel. This problem can be solved without minimizing the marks for the interview.
First, non-experts must not be allowed to award marks for the candidate’s knowledge of the subject. In the present system, all members of the panel award marks for everything. This can be done away with, and only the subject experts should be given the task of assessing the candidates on their knowledge of the subject.
Perhaps the experts called in for assessing the candidate can be made to sign a declaration to the effect that their assessment of the candidate would not involve any unfair or undue favouritism or antagonism. Certainly there is no dearth of experts—university teachers, for example—who merely want the best candidate to get the job, and do not have any ulterior motives.
There are so many reasons why a reasonably good portion of the total marks should be for the interview itself. It is just impossible to be sure that the candidate scoring high marks in various examinations would be a good teacher. Marking systems vary from institution to institution, so marks obtained in examinations cannot be relied on for assessing the candidate’s true value.
There are institutions with a reputation of awarding very high marks and institutions with a reputation of awarding very low marks. Besides, there are people who do extremely well in examinations, get very good marks, but cannot teach effectively.
Also, sometimes mediocre people can score very high marks. The present system has already kept many bright, capable, hard-working and caring people out of the profession, while many with better marks but definitely less capabilities have been rewarded with jobs.
One of Amartya Sen’s very good teachers is reported to have said of another student, “She is quite a serious thinker even though her grades are very good.” Ordinarily, we would think being a serious thinker and doing well in exams and getting good grades as not contradictory but complementary.
However, this teacher is making the important statement that what is important is being a serious thinker, not just getting good marks, and that getting good marks may not (or in the sense of the teacher’s remark, usually does not) mean that the student is also a good thinker.
It may be argued, of course, that all people who get very good marks or grades in examinations need not be mediocre people who have merely learnt the art of preparing well for examinations. Some exam toppers will certainly be good thinkers, too. However, the only way to know if a person is a good thinker or has other qualities suitable for teaching is to have a proper interview (involving significant marks awarded for the interview itself).
Interview experts who are themselves senior teachers are the best persons to judge if a candidate will make a good teacher or not, if a candidate has the requisite qualities for being a good teacher. Does the candidate have the capacity to understand students and their needs?
Would she be able to respond to the varying needs of students with different levels of capabilities? Can she communicate well? Does she have the ability to get along well with young people, without being too familiar with them and without being unapproachable? Will she have the honesty to acknowledge her own weaknesses and does she have the perseverance to study and learn all that is required?
Is she attentive to the needs of the learners? Does she plan her work well? Does she have a caring attitude towards students who may need some extra help? Will she maintain a lively interest in her subject as the years roll by? Will she be innovative? Will she enjoy teaching?
How can these questions be decided on the basis of the student’s marks?
These questions can only be decided by experienced, responsible senior teachers who come as subject experts of interviews. That is why the performance in the interview should be a very important criterion for the candidate’s selection.
Usually, a candidate who gets selected would teach students for decades, so if she happens to be a bad teacher, that would adversely affect generations of young people’s careers.
So, it is extremely important to have a well thought-out process for these interviews. It is also quite unfortunate that despite some rumblings of opposition here and there, this rather whimsical decision of holding interviews with too less marks for the interview has not seen the protest it should have seen, especially from the fraternity of college teachers.
It is also common knowledge that many of the seminars, participation in which gets the candidate marks in the present system, are often organized merely to give people an opportunity to get some certificates that will be translated into marks in the interviews. Presenting papers in such seminars does not in any away actually reflect the candidate’s scholarship.
The same holds good for publications. There are many so-called journals with ISSN registration, by publishing in which the candidate gets the marks required for the interview.
A subject expert in such an interview is merely supposed to award marks for these publications, even if the publications are such that not one paragraph in an essay is devoid of errors of language and shoddy thinking or even total lack of thinking.
It is high time that a meaningful process is evolved to allow subject experts to properly assess candidates.
(Sanjeev Kumar Nath, English Department, Gauhati University, firstname.lastname@example.org)
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