Epic fail

The UGC's test for entry-level university teachers reveals sexist and condescending assumptions

The University Grants Commission has made some outrageous errors of judgement in framing its examination for teacher aptitude in the National Eligibility Test (NET). One of the multiple choice questions asked: "At the primary school stage, most teachers should be women because". This is a patently disputable assumption, and the choices provided were all problematic, steeped in sexist stereotypes. The idea that women teach children better than men is probably drawn from the observation that, in many homes, it is a woman's responsibility to provide early nurturing, to teach a child how to learn, and introduce elementary ideas. This is not because women are especially talented at it, but because men seldom take it up with enthusiasm. That women "know basic content better than men" is equally condescending. The unspoken extension would be, women teach children better with basics, so that men can take over at the higher, more evolved levels? Another choice, "can deal with children with love and affection", is also about freezing gender roles, where women share and care and love, while men compete and prod each other to greater achievement. It is a crass reduction of human personality into two types. The most appalling suggestion, of course, was that women make better primary school teachers because they "are available on lower salaries". Even if it was the wrong answer, it is incredible that it was even articulated as an option by the body that regulates and oversees higher education in India.

The NET was devised as an attempt to standardise measures of quality for entry-level teaching staff. It is no surprise that this aim has been undercut the aptitude test speaks for itself. The questions are clearly open to subjective interpretation. Several of the answer options provided could be credibly argued in an essay, but they may or may not be what the test-setters had in mind. Some of the analogies are bewildering for instance, "bee-honey, cow-milk, teacher-?" The options are: intelligence, marks, lessons, wisdom. The test reflects the unexamined prejudices of those who drafted it.

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