Semester system: boon or bane?


When it comes to the semester system, the stakeholders - students, acade-micians and college mana-gements — admit that it has its own merits, but feel that it could have been designed better to accommodate non-academic activities and enhance deeper learning.

According to teachers, one of the main advantages of the semester system is that it reduces students’ burden. An academic year is divided into two terms called semesters.

For example, if there are 10 subjects to study in a year, then it's equally divided for the semester. According to students, though this has helped them to prepare better for their exams, in-depth knowledge of subjects is missing.

“In the semester system, there is no connection between semesters unlike in an annual system,” said Pranav P Deshpande, studying 7th semester Electronics and Communications UVCE. He studied under the annual system till Class 10 and moved on to the semester system in his engineering course.

“In the annual system, there is complete knowledge about the subject. But, in the semester system, students tend to read what appears only for the exam. Hence, deeper knowledge about the subject is missing. Semester system is good if the question paper is more application-oriented, demanding each student to learn more about the subject,” he added.

Sharing similar views, Anirudh P V, another 7th semester engineering student said that there will be a lot to study even at the end of the semester. “By the end of four months, there will be at least 6-7 text books to study. However, as an engineering student, one gets acquainted to the system,” he says.

Admitting that the shift from annual to semester system wasn't easy, especially in the first and second years of engineering, he said, “In the semester system, you get only four months to complete the syllabus. Due to paucity of time, teachers will be unable to complete the syllabus and students will be forced to leave out some chapters. But, if the semester system is designed well, it can lead to some firsthand experience in the industry.”

Agreeing to this, K N Raja Rao, advisor, RVCE added, “Semester system can prove to be very good if classes are held as per schedule. According to the University Grants Commission (UGC), it's 16-18 weeks in a semester but we get only 14-16 weeks. UGC also recommends 50-52 hours of course work but we do not get so much time. However, from the students’ perspective, it is good as they will be able to concentrate better on the subject and perform well.”

Prof M S Shivkumar, principal of Atria Institute of Technology, said that semester system was introduced way back in 1967 in Mysore University for engineering courses, where he happened to be one of the students of the very first batch.

“Semester system gives less time for extra-curricular activities but it’s fine as the focus is more on the course in engineering. But, in general education, it's cramped,” he said.

On the other hand, B S Srikanta, principal, RBANMS, feels that in general degree courses, it's more of a burden on teachers as they may not be able to complete the syllabus and there is less scope for extra-curricular activities.

Srikanta, a task force committee member constituted to study the semester system for Bangalore University, said that at the time of introduction, it was decided to have four-month semesters when teachers would get four hours per subject per week. Simply put, in 16 weeks, a teacher would get 64 hours to teach a subject.

“Syllabus was designed in such a way that the workload for teachers was 60 hours per semester. But the duration of the semester was reduced to 90 working days — three months.

So, a teacher is left with 48 hours to complete 60 hours of workload. The schedules are so tight that teachers cannot even afford to take leave,” he explained.
Srikanta pointed out that a teacher cannot do ‘anything more’ than cover the syllabus.

“They won't be able to do justice to the subject. Many teachers have expressed their unhappiness with the way the syllabus is covered, but they are helpless.

It's important to go out of the syllabus to create interest among students. Though I have brought this to the notice of Bangalore University officials at various platforms, not much has been done in this regard,” he complained.

According to him, the university should either reduce the syllabus or increase the duration of semesters. “The division of syllabus is not done in a scientific manner. The main objective of the semester system is to introduce different papers and different topics to increase students' knowledge.

We need to prepare students for the job market but the syllabus coverage is purely exam-oriented. This system has hampered the meaning of true education,” he added.

John J Kennedy, dean of social science, Christ University, has a different explanation to give. “Both the students and teachers find the semester system easy as they don't have to prepare the entire year for the exam. However, in the annual system, students have the tendency to take it easy.” he said.

He agreed that to a certain extent, extra-curricular activities have been affected. “But the question is how much extra-curricular activities are we looking at? These activities should complement and supplement the academics.

That’s why they are called extra-curricular activities. The quality of such activities is more important than quantity,” Kennedy said.

Expert Speak

Prof M S Thimmappa, former vice-chancellor of Bangalore University, said that it was during his tenure that the semester system was introduced for degree courses affiliated to the university. Taking a cue from premier management and technical institutions like IITs and IIMs and following directions from the UGC, the university, after deliberating for two years, introduced the system in the academic year 2004-05.

“There should be constant feedback from students so that teachers can take corrective measures. You cannot have the new system in the old structure,” he said. He suggested multiple choice question for the semester system. “It needs a different question paper pattern so that paper evaluation is quicker and teachers get extra time. The course should be made more practical. If not, it will end up becoming more system-oriented than student-oriented,” he added.

According to K Balaveera Reddy, former vice-chancellor, Visvesvaraya Technological University, “The semester system has many advantages. For instance, in an annual system, you will have to study 10-12 subjects at once. But, in the semester system, subjects are divided equally. In the semester system, students have to be on their toes. They have to be focused.

They cannot relax here. Initially, there were complaints that the semester system affected extra-curricular activities, but now, colleges have learnt to deal with this issue.”

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