Which is more important: Teaching or Research and Publication?
by Bikika T. Laloo, Meghalaya, India
The article discusses the duties of teachers with emphasis on the teaching and research activities of university teachers. It tries to explain both teaching and research duties and to find out whether teaching or research is more important. The conclusion is that while research and publication are necessary, the primary duty of teaching should not be neglected.
A teacher, whatever professional name he or she may be called by, performs one basic function - teaching. Thus what is expected of a schoolteacher, lecturer, reader, professor or instructor is that he or she teaches, and teaches well. An ideal schoolteacher today, would be a graduate with a professional teaching degree (B.Ed., M.Ed.). A college lecturer is expected to be a postgraduate, preferably a doctorate degree holder, with a B.Ed. or M.Ed. degree and a N.E.T. qualification. Where a teacher in the university is concerned, apart from his/her being a postgraduate having a N.E.T. qualification, (preferably with B.Ed. or M.Ed. degree), it is also taken for granted that he/she is either a doctorate degree holder (even a post - doctorate degree holder) or is in the process of acquiring his/her doctorate degree. Added to these qualifications, college and university teachers are expected to continue research and publish results of research from time to time throughout their careers.
Let us now take the case of university teachers specifically. What is required of them has been mentioned above i.e. to teach, to do research and to publish. The question arises - which is more important - teaching or research and publication? (Research and publication are taken together as, what are usually published are results of research - although not all research work may be sent by the researcher for publication.)
The teachers should ask themselves - "What were we hired for?" "What are we paid for?" "What do the students attend classes for?" In the study, 'Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation,' a reference has been made to the importance of teaching, ".....faculty are hired and receive their paychecks for doing one thing, teaching...."(1) It thus goes without saying that teaching is the basic or primary function of all teachers. Most Universities in India lay stress on the taking of forty lectures per semester by each faculty member - added to which are the seminars, tutorials and time spent in guiding the students in their post-graduate and doctoral dissertation work. If the rules are followed to the 'T', the teachers will have fulfilled their primary function to a great extent. They can even expect the products of their university to rank amongst the best in the country.
Research and Publication
Forty lectures per semester, seminars, tutorials and guidance to students? What ideal teachers that would make them! But what of the quality of their work? Do their qualifications automatically make them good teachers? Are they to give their students, year after year, the same information that they themselves had learnt as students? Surely the bulk of knowledge would have grown over the years since they were themselves students? Surely there is a need to keep up-to-date on the latest developments? After all, this is the 'INTERNET' age. Here is where the need for research becomes important.
Research for a university teacher involves working towards an M.Phil., Ph.D. and if he or she so desires, a post- doctorate degree. Apart from this, he or she (having acquired a doctorate or post-doctorate degree) is expected to continually seek information in order to keep-up-to date in the field and to improve teaching skills or to get his/her work published in a prestigious Journal. This is also a type of research.
The first type of research is necessary because a doctorate or post-doctorate degree is expected to be attached to the other qualifications of a university teacher. It is taken for granted that a university teacher has a Ph.D. degree or is in the process of acquiring one. Such a degree is of course also important for getting promotions with their corresponding perks - not to speak of the prestige attached to the "Dr." tag. Thus university teachers devote a lot of their time towards attaining this higher degree. Unfortunately, they devote so much of their time towards this end that their basic or primary duty is neglected - to put it mildly. "Faculty .... are placed in a position where they often neglect their teaching and advising activities in order to attain professional recognition needed for advancement. It is the students who usually suffer the most..." (2) A study of community on campus by the Carnegie Commission for the Advancement of Teaching showed that students, especially those at large research universities, often suffer from the faculty members' need to devote most of their time to research and publishing in order to succeed."(3).
Some teachers are not satisfied with just one Ph.D., they even go for a double Ph.D. But does the 'Dr.' tag attached to one's name automatically make one a better teacher? From experience,(as a student) one found that there were a few (not many) teachers with a string of degrees attached to their names who could not 'come down' to the level of the students. They were happy to wax eloquent on a topic for hours just to show how 'clever' they were - boring the students to death in the bargain. Viewed from this angle, working towards a Ph.D. can be said to be a selfish pursuit.
The second type of research has its benefits. Some findings of a study (4) are that: active researchers are apt to be livelier teachers and more current in their fields; research connects you to the profession; active research and excellent teaching go hand in hand.
A publication is usually a result of research. Biggs and Bookstein (5) opined that research is important whether or not it results in publication. Results of research are sent for publication in Journals -(the more prestigious the Journal the better), they are read out at conferences and other types of meetings allowing for exposure and visibility of the writer, often even leading to their receiving awards etc.
However the type of work being researched and published is also to be analysed. In the study mentioned above, one respondent felt that only "theoretical papers on significant issues' would impress him, another expressed "some skepticism about publication per se but affirmed the value of works with potential for practical application."(6)There is the danger of a teacher publishing sub-standard work just for the sake of publishing or for the sake of his/her name being seen in print. Who would read or benefit from such work is a question that needs to be considered.
On the other extreme there are those teachers who prefer to 'rest on their laurels.' Having ensconced themselves in this profession, they feel there is nothing more to learn but consult their old notes and face the students confidently - and then at the end of the month take home the fat paycheck. A senior lecturer had her desk clear of any reading material. There was nothing on it for that matter. "I had read enough when I was doing my Ph.D. - I want to have nothing to do with books or journals now - I just read a little before going to class - most of the time I don't even need to prepare," she said. There are quite a few like her. (This comes from the writer's personal experiences - it is not a generalisation.)
Some lecturers don't consult the library much. They don't seem to feel the need for casual reading of newspapers and newsmagazines - not to speak of even browsing through journals in their field. Research is not a word that can be associated with them. "I have finished my research," they say, referring to the work they had done to acquire their Ph.D. degree.
So which is more important - teaching or research and publication? As has repeatedly been mentioned above, the primary duty of a teacher is to teach and this is to be his/her first priority above all else. They owe it to their students. Their duty does not end in the classroom. They need to interact with the students even outside - in connection with the research being done by the students. So if the teachers themselves do not do research, how can they help the research students? It would be ideal if teachers can extend their interaction with the students to the development of their overall personalities (through moral, religious and physical education).
Research and publication should help rather than hinder teaching. "Research wouldn't necessarily improve teaching, but it would tend to strengthen it - to bring currency...,"(7) For example, in a field like Library and Information Science where knowledge is ever growing, the need for research cannot be over-emphasized. Also, sticking only to the 'traditional' is no longer feasible. The 'in' term is 'interdisciplinarity.' In the same study mentioned above, one respondent felt that, "You get better faculty [and] more creative and more useful scholarship if you're interacting with people from other disciplines." Another respondent declared that the sharpest faculty members " participate in the academic world - publishing beyond the journals of the profession."(8)
To conclude therefore, teaching remains the top priority. Research and publication are important - particularly research for keeping up-to-date and teaching better rather than for personal glory. But research and publication should by no means be done at the risk of neglecting the primary duty of teaching.
- Seldin, P.: Changing Practices in Faculty Evaluation, In "Evaluation of Faculty in LIS Schools," Journal of Education For Library and Information Science(1991) vol.32, nos. 3/4 (Fall/Winter) p.212.
- Campus Life: In Search of Community. Ibid. no. 1
- Biggs, Mary and Bookstein, Abraham, "What constitutes a High Quality M.L.S. Program? Forty Five Faculty Members' Views," Journal of Education for Library and Information Science (Summer 1998) vol. 29,no. 1, p35.