Print Edition - 2014-07-06  |  Free the Words

Visual rhetoric

  • Education has become just another product in an unregulated market place
- Shuv Raj Rana Bhat

Jul 5, 2014-The experience of entering a private college or a higher secondary school in Kathmandu Valley these days gives one an impression of visiting a photo exhibition with spectacular pictures all around. One notices that the visual culture of modern times has significantly extended its realm from entertainment and communication to education. Almost all sides of the college walls are replete with images of eminent educationists, college founders and teachers in their best formal dresses.

Attract and please    

A small number of students considered, by the college, to be better than the rest of the students give a perennial company to these reverent personalities on the wall throughout the year. These selected few students are seen to be playing games, receiving prizes, visiting national and international destinations, participating in cultural programmes, preparing mouthwatering dishes or experimenting in the lab with a huge image of the college or board topper with a halo and percentage at the centre. Some schools express their mission and vision visually.

Contrary to this, the vast majority of the students that constitute the student population in the college go unnoticed. They remain buried like minerals in a mine as those on the walls become visible even to a blind eye. What goes inside the class—how teaching and learning activities are conducted and what happens to their future—seems to be of little concern. Teachers, founders and scholars seem to have too many commitments to pay heed to these students’ problems. What does this interest in the visual culture of education suggest?

The way college walls are furnished with the images of students, teachers, founders and educationists makes one wonder whether the educational system has considerably changed with the passage of time. Does the visual medium have the ability to transmit implicit information and knowledge? Does it indicate a revolution in the Nepali pedagogical world? Does the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ also apply to adult learners in the

college?

Whether the answer is in the negative or positive, the photos definitely draw out as many responses as there are respondents. The experience of teaching at a few private institutions induces me to argue that private colleges are primarily concerned with the production of a spectacle, a very impressive and arresting sight for the onlookers rather

than the quality of education. Instead of concentrating on the development of students’ mind through their engagement in creative and critical thinking, they seem to be more image-driven

and focused on outer decoration.

It seems that the prime goal

of education is to attract

and please rather than to teach, enlighten and equip the students with skills.

Market for education

The strategy used to run colleges makes us think that there is no fundamental difference between colleges and markets. Among the college founders and administrators there is a tendency to think that they are the producers and students and their parents the consumers in the edcuational sector. In the business world, once a product is made in the factory, it is brought into the market for consumption through advertisements in the paper or through other visual media. In the same way, colleges advertise their best products or imported products from other educational institutions by means of all audio-visual modes: radios, televisions, hoarding boards, newspapers, college walls, roofs, electric poles and trees. The price of the products also varies considerably like the price of goods in the market as there is no control mechanism.

The producers of advertisements anticipate how consumers will react to certain images and how they can maximise consumers’ desire for their products using catchphrases and images reflecting cultural narratives. In order to meet the expectation of the customers, the producers only show what would possibly appeal to the customers. So there is likelihood on the part of producers to distort reality and construct new meanings as per their wish. There is always the cameraperson to manipulate the images behind the camera. Photography plays a significant role in the creation of images depicting human relations that are used to give products superficial or false meanings.

Culture of commodification

Colleges commodify not only students but also teachers and educational experts. In Marxism, an object is considered to be a commodity when it has either an exchange value or sign-exchange value. Colleges usually use experts in the advertisement to promote their businesses. If they are deployed to impress the educational consumer which is the trend in the valley, they are said to have sign-exchange value. Education, it seems, is meant for making an impression, not for expression.

Some colleges argue that the teachers and experts in the advertisement should not be mistaken for commodities. They are the role models who play a foundational role in education. They contend that learning from role models occurs when learners are actively engaged in the emulation of the model’s education and behaviour. Societal values such as obedience to authority, faithfulness to friends and loyalty to country can best be learned through the mimicry of the exemplary characters. However, when I interviewed certain college students, only a few of them said that they had benefitted from such role models.

We are living in a commodity culture, the era of industrial capitalism. Today everything including the water we drink every day is  a product to be purchased and sold in the marketplace. Under such conditions, education has certainly been influenced by the commodity culture. So in the unregulated marketplace of education, consumers have to be very cautious of the products.

Rana Bhat is a lecturer at the Central Department of English, Kirtipur

Published: 06-07-2014 09:56

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