11:00 PM, December 21, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 21, 2009

Teacher evaluation by students

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S. M. Anwaruddin

Teachers, too, should be graded. Photo: Tanvir Ahmed/ Driknews

THE relationship between teachers and students in our education system is similar to what Paulo Freire, a famous Brazilian educator and writer, calls "banking concept of education." In this type of education, a teacher is a depositor and students are the depositories. Students are considered empty accounts to be filled by their teachers. Freire suggests that the dichotomy between teacher and student be eliminated. Both teachers and students should be equal participants in classrooms. A teacher should teach and learn; a student should learn and teach. Thus, Freire's view on education and pedagogical practices is very democratic.
I do not think that our students at any level enjoy this democratic participation in their learning. Freire would tell us to have a "dialogue" between teachers and students, which must be based on "love, humility, and faith" if we wanted mutual trust between our students and teachers. Unfortunately, the existing student-teacher relationship does not seem to be founded upon love, humility, and faith.
In my experience of education through primary school to university, students' opinions matter very little or not at all. For many, one of the key criteria of academic success is whether or not your teachers like you. Students are afraid of sharing their opinions lest they should contradict their teachers. At university level, students in their freshman year vie with each other in order to become the teachers' favourite student. It is also a common practice among students to ask their senior students about what a particular teacher likes in students' tasks and assignments. It indicates that a student wants to work in a way that a particular teacher likes, and earns a better grade.
Moreover, students hardly receive an assessment of their academic performance. What they get for their assignments and exam scripts is a grade. This does not help students at all. They need to know how they can improve. A university student told me that she wanted to know why she received a grade lower than her expectation, and the teacher said: "It needs to be better." But the teacher never explained how the assignment could be better.
What I learned from another graduate student, who was having a hard time choosing her thesis topic, was alarming. Every time she went to her supervisor, he rejected the topic, saying "it is not a good topic." But, unfortunately, he neither suggested a topic nor guided the student through the process of selecting a research topic. These examples indicate a sort of rigidity in teachers' attitudes and carelessness towards students' learning and development.
This is, however, not entirely an individual teacher's fault. It is rather a generational practice. What I mean by generational practice is that today's teachers were students yesterday. They practice what they learned from their earlier generation. Like any generation, they are also handing this practice down to their next generation. This cyclical process of teachers' authoritarian practices, and separating students from the process of effective learning, has many negative effects on democracy and equality. One of them is transmission of authoritarian behaviour to students who will eventually assume crucial social or political roles.
To claim that all teachers are authoritarian will be a hasty generalisation, though some students are shocked by their teachers' behaviour. We have also seen that students have to demand publication of their results. Unnecessary delay in publishing the results has a negative impact on a student's career. Another example of teachers' irresponsible behaviour is teaching fewer classes than required for a course. Many of them are often found involved in political affairs, personal business, private tutoring, or other part-time jobs. If teachers are live models for students, then what do these activities teach their students?
It is not easy to change these practices overnight. Moreover, exclusion of students from the educational process has also become a part of academic culture. As a matter of fact, a young teacher who suffered from this problem a few years ago as a student is now with the teachers. Another obstacle is that human beings are generally reluctant to go out of their comfort zone. Who wants to share power with others? This power-sharing will also incur more work for the teachers because checks-and-balances will make them more responsible towards their duties. We need to change these views if we want to build a truly educated and democratic nation.
Changing any age-old tradition is easier said than done. First of all, we need to have love, humility, and faith. As the architects of this nation, our teachers need to include their students in the educational process. One of the first initiatives in this inclusion should be teacher evaluation by students.
If we believe in democracy, we should also believe that everybody has to be accountable. To whom, then, is a teacher accountable? At present, the answer seems to be the administration of an educational institution. But, how can the administration know about a teacher's performance? The administration is not the primary audience of a teacher!
Teachers' main responsibility is to effectively teach their students; therefore, they should be accountable to the students. The students should be the main evaluators of teachers' performance. Anonymous teacher evaluation by students at the end of each semester or academic year can no doubt help eliminate the vertical power relationship between teachers and students. A few universities have already introduced teacher evaluation by students. This is definitely a ray of hope for a democratic education system.
Now we need an obligatory implementation of teacher evaluation at all academic institutions. For the greater benefit of our students as future stakeholders of democracy and national development, it is important to introduce the proposed evaluation system. The outcomes will be positive and manifold.
First, teachers will be mindful of their job responsibilities. For example, they will teach the required number of classes for each course. Second, they will receive feedback from students regarding their teaching procedures. They may need to change their teaching methods and do further study for effective teaching. Third, the feedback received from students' comments will help them reflect on their performance. And this reflection is the main key to teachers' professional development. Finally, the evaluation by the students will work as a check on discrimination, negligence, and favouritism. Thus, the proposed evaluation system will encourage the authoritarian teachers to change their behaviour.
The administration should quantify and score the evaluation for each teacher and keep the records for future uses such as promotion, tenure, and so forth. Then the evaluation results should be given to the teachers after they submit the students' final grades. Now the teachers will have an opportunity to reflect on their own teaching during the previous semester or year. Thus, every semester/year, teachers will get a chance to work on their professional development.
If we believe that education should be democratic and all of us can learn from others, then, as teachers, we should not have any problem in accepting the students' opinions and judgments. One thing that deserves to be restated is that the anonymity of this evaluation process has to be strictly maintained.
I, therefore, propose that our government make it obligatory for each academic institution to have students evaluate their teachers at the end of each semester or academic year. And by respecting students' views and involving them in an active learning process, we as teachers can serve as live models for students through our words and behaviour.
S.M. Anwaruddin Khan is a Lecturer of English (on study leave) at Brac University Centre for Languages.

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