DU Beat in Conversation with Deepak Mehta

DU Beat on the occasion of Teacher’s Day is in conversation with Professor Deepak Mehta of Ashoka University, read on to find out more.

Saanjh: How are teachers coping with the online teaching-learning process?

Prof. Mehta: Well, I don’t think that you are going to get a uniform response. But I can only speak for myself. So one of the first things when you are doing online teaching in the social sciences, is that you don’t get face to face contact.

It’s virtual. And much of teaching relies also on reading non- verbal cues which are absent in this form of teaching.  You don’t know how your teaching is being received by the students, especially in big classes. I learned actually in this process, how to equip myself with a blackboard and use the computer properly, as I started to get used to virtual forms of instruction and communication.

Teaching loses its immediacy when it shifts online. I think that online teaching is going to persist, even after the virus is over. In the sense that some courses may go completely online because it makes sense for universities to cut costs.

Saanjh: Accessibility has been a huge issue when it comes to online teaching. Can universities do anything to make this process more inclusive? If yes, what should they do?

Prof. Mehta: Yes, they should because universities can’t be kept closed indefinitely and we don’t know how long the virus is going to last. You can record all the lectures, and distribute the recorded lectures. But, that raises issues of privacy and the integrity of the teacher-student relationship. If it’s entirely impossible that at some point the universities will have to invest in online resources, something else will have to be done. In Ashoka too, you get students from remote areas – so what we do is record the lectures.

Now, what happens then to evaluation? That’s the other thing. We will have to find different means of evaluation.

Saanjh: Our heavy reliance on technology, as we are seeing in this pandemic, might have long term impacts on the teaching-learning process, that we aren’t even sure of currently. Could you think of some consequences of this?

Prof. Mehta: I am sure there are some unintended consequences, but since they are unintended, you can’t know about them right now. All technology is a kind of prosthetic device- to say- an extension of human beings. But as things are changing, the human might become the prosthetic of technology. Technology might one day limit us when it comes to writing, speaking, etc.
From technology as a prosthetic to technology as an iatrogenic- diseases that are induced by medical exams in hospitals-it can start producing its effects and illnesses.

Saanjh: What do you think is the “ideal relationship” a professor and a student should share? Or to make it more personal- what kind of relationship do you share with your students?

Prof. Mehta: A relationship between a teacher and a student- is that of theft and betrayal. A student must use their teacher’s ideas and then betray them. They must betray the ideas they have taken from their teachers and mould them in a different way. As a professor, you must always strive for finding that one kid in class who has the potential of being better than you.

Saanjh: Could you name one teacher who has impacted your life?

Prof. Mehta: So I did my history from Kirori Mal College and my M.A., M. Phil and Ph. D. from Delhi School of Economics. I had so many good teachers, who continue to inspire me. My supervisor for my Ph. D. thesis, Jit Uberoi, Veena Das, and Andre Beteille. When you are stuck and in doubt, you go back to your teachers. I would also like to wish my teacher Jit Uberoi a very Happy Teachers’ Day, his birthday is also round the corner.

Saanjh: What do you think of the attack on intellectuals and academicians that are taking place today concerning the arrest of Professor Hany Babu?

Prof. Mehta: Let me just say that the hollowing out of universities did not begin in this regime, but DU Beat on the occasion of Teacher’s Day is in conversation with Professor Agnitra Ghosh of Kamala Nehru College, read on to find out more. previous one. The university as an institution was devalued back in UPA 2. What this regime has done is to take it forward. I don’t see much hope for a public university as a place for critical thought today. From the point of view of free speech, I am not even convinced that the university even wants to resist this. 
But on the other hand, Delhi University has survived the partition, even the emergency. I am sure it will survive this clampdown on dissent. You can still see isolated incidents of critique and dissent. It actually must survive, because where else will the next level of bureaucrats come from? 

Featured Image Credits: Ashola University

Saanjh Shekhar