Jul 15, 2009 Letters
In the debate on the relative roles of research and teaching at UG, it would be constructive to avoid the temptation of assuming that I was advocating in my letter (UG should emphasise teaching, not research. SN and Kaieteur News, July 7) that UG should opt out of research altogether. UG should not. Settled!
My position is not based on an either-one-or-the-other model, but on a sliding scale with research at one end and teaching at the other. As research and teaching are competing for the same set of finite human and other resources at UG, the question becomes where on the scale we place the marker.
In my letter, I used several lines of reasoning to show why teaching should be given higher priority. I pointed to (i) the demand of stakeholders (employers, etc) for quality graduates, (ii) the low demand for research outputs from potential consumers, meaning government and the private sector, (iii) the serious opportunity cost incurred in pushing research over teaching, and (iv) the changing goals of higher education.
To advance the debate, I wish to respond to several points made by SN (in its editorial of July 12, titled UG) and by letter writers. Firstly, it is a misassumption to suggest that a university (or tertiary institution) is the only place where research could be done. Research is also conducted in specialised research centres and in R&D labs in industry. The role of research centres is particularly relevant to Guyana, because the country has established several, such as NARI, CARDI, IAST, and NCERD. In addition, in regulatory agencies, such as GGMC, EPA, and GFC, research is also done. Research centres, of course, enjoy the advantage of applying dedicated resources to one specific objective. The country may be better served by upgrading and expanding this network of research centres and by streamlining research nationally to allow UG to also serve its other critical functions.
Secondly, we must keep addressing this issue in the Guyana context. And in Guyana today, the bigger obstacle to national development is not the incapacity to create knowledge, but the inability of the majority of the young population to apply knowledge. The mass of students at the secondary and tertiary levels, who are incapable of reasoning, analysing, comprehending, communicating etc., could only be termed a national scandal. We need to focus our hard-pressed teaching resources to turn this nightmare around. More than anything else, the country needs a massive injection of resources into teaching at all levels. It would be a greater failure on the part of the university to produce incompetent graduates than to produce small amounts of research. While teaching does not enjoy the international glory and the honour as research, it would be a folly to determine our priorities in this way.
Thirdly, it is true that lecturers can keep abreast of their field by engaging in research, and that good research can lift the standard of teaching. We can therefore add this point in the pro column for research. Whether it significantly shifts the balance is another matter. Bear in mind that academic staff can also keep updated by reading the latest journals in their fields, by attending conferences and training workshops, and by serving on technical committees.
UG must continue to do research. But it must not do so to the detriment of the more important responsibility of educating persons to be problem-solvers, critical and creative thinkers and change agents.
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