“It is my responsibility to look after my students”, says Dr. Debajit N. Sarkar

Dr. Debajit N. Sarkar, Principal – L. S. Raheja College of Arts and Commerce, Santacruz, tells Shraddha Kamdar in an interview on student nurturing and development

All it took is a phone call, and the experienced and modest educationist agreed to open up a slot in his busy schedule to set up this interview. He did not make me wait but a minute when I reached his office, and was ready to share his views on student development and nurturing, without having any prior preamble regarding the topic for this interview. No wonder, his students and staff regard and respect him much, and say they have a lot to learn from him.

That’s Dr. Debajit N. Sarkar, Principal – L. S. Raheja College of Arts and Commerce, Santacruz. During the course of the interview he mentions that “I consider it my responsibility to look after the child once he secures admission in my college.” That sets the tone for my afternoon chat with him. Excerpts from the interview:

How do you keep students up-to-date within the limitations of the syllabus set by the university, which caters to a broad spectrum of colleges in Maharashtra?

When you work in the university system, the syllabus is set by the university with the exception of autonomous college, which can formulate their own syllabus. However, there are fewer autonomous colleges. That said, I believe that teachers can always provide additional information to the students. As a teacher, nothing prevents me from sharing my knowledge with the students, when it pertains to the subject I teach.

Everything cannot be linked to the syllabus or be exam-oriented. It has to be related to knowledge. For example, if we are talking about climate change in the class, it is my duty as a teacher to create awareness among the students regarding the current situation, the dialogues on between the developed and developing countries surrounding the topic and discuss the latest happenings with them.

How can teachers motivate students to come to college for lectures, without using the rules and regulations regarding 75% attendance?

Apart from the university norm which makes attendance compulsory, I feel that the teacher can be a motivation in himself. Of course today’s students have all the information at their finger tips owing to technology, but it takes a good teacher to help and enable the students to distinguish between genuine and unauthentic information. Besides, a teacher can guide the students to the appropriate reference books and journals where they can make this distinction for themselves. If everyone downloads everything from the internet, there is no use! A library should be made use of. That’s one aspect.

Secondly, the teaching learning process is very important. When I deal with a topic in my class, I have to impart knowledge and systems which are thought-oriented which is not on the internet or in any book. As a teacher, I constantly question myself, why should a student attend my class? I have to go beyond the books, beyond the dry information on the internet and the syllabus in my domain to motivate the students to come attend my classes.

Of course, here, as educators which can seek the assistance of modern technology by using videos, audiovisuals and so on in class to make the topic interesting.

Should students lean on merely scoring good marks or focus majorly on building knowledge?

You see, this question cannot be answered that easily. Until class 12, the students will be exam-oriented and looking to score marks, because the focus is securing admission into higher degree programmes. In degree college, the focus ideally should be knowledge, but students cannot escape the focus on marks. It is not their fault, the processes and systems are such. Fortunately or unfortunately, grades are important. If a student wants to pursue a higher degree programme, the admission is based on marks. If a student is looking at placement after a degree, the initial screening is based on academic score. So, the students in some way or the other, need to look at scoring well. But that does not mean they cannot build knowledge. Both can be achieved simultaneously! I also feel that getting good grades in today’s day is not that difficult.

I always tell my students that these three years are the best part of college life and they will not get them again. I ask them to behave responsibly and yet enjoy. I say study when you have to and you will be all right. If you happen to cut class, make sure that you cover up!

What do teachers generally expect from students when in class or in college?

Personally, I expect them to not stick only to academics. I feel that every student should participate in extra-curricular activities. They can pick from an activity of their choice from the variety that the college offers. Most colleges offer academic, sport and cultural activities among others. Students should take up this opportunity and use this platform to not only build their talent but also showcase it. Students today have so much to choose from! In my days, debate was the only popular activity!

Talking of skills, how important do you think are soft skills today? Do you think the knowledge of English is essential today?

Soft skills are important. I feel that Mumbai is a global city, and in the era of globalisation where more job opportunities are focussed in the private sector, the knowledge of English as a language is essential for students to march ahead. Communication skills are needed, they cannot be ignored. We should respect the mother tongue and the state languages, but it is necessary to learn functional English. I would go a step further and say that I have noticed, those students who learn a foreign language are better placed with job opportunities, especially in the tourism sector. They can participate in more global activities.

Do students really need to attend coaching classes to secure better marks?

My answer is no. Just last week I had a meeting with my students and their parents, and I posed this question to them. “If your child has taken admission in this college, what is the need for him to take admission in a coaching class?” I feel that I ask that question to myself also, quite regularly. The parents had no answer.

Coaching classes are not required. If a student attends regularly and spends a couple of hours daily on to his studies, he will be able to score as well as he wants. Often, I notice that some students do not approach their teachers for help in a particular subject. In my experience, no teacher will refuse to help a student, even if the teacher calls back the student at a later date, and cannot help that very moment. It is the students who do not ask for help who find the need to enrol with coaching classes. Parents also harbour the mentality that coaching classes will ensure better grades. Students thus get trapped with peer and parental pressure.

What message would you like to leave for our student readers?

When I see my students, I tell them to concentrate on overall development as people and human beings. It is very important. Also, they should learn to respect their parents and teachers. They should have faith in them.

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