Look into complaints on edu reforms

The semester system persuades to dilute the curriculum in a manner whereby the syllabus is covered in 3-4 months.

When Human resource development minister Smriti Irani recently invited school children to her office for their inputs on international students’ day, there was a chorus of demand for bringing back examinations for Class X which was replaced with Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation (CCE)  a couple of years ago. The main complaint of students against CCE was that it did not prepare them well for the competitive examinations and those faring well feel de-motivated because the grading system does not reflect their actual performance.

There is a lot of dismay among the majority of members of academic community about the latest reforms being implemented in higher education under the Ministry of Human
Resources Development’s (MHRD) 2013 Rashtriya Uchchattar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) plan and as a part of the 12th Five Year Plan.

Compulsory transition to a semester-based academic calendar, more autonomous institutions, regular revisions to curricula, the implementation of a choice-based credit system, introduction of continuous and comprehensive student evaluations, cumulative grade point system, and new marking and grading schemes are the reforms suggested.

The RUSA reform initiatives include a minimum of 90 teaching days per semester spread over 18 weeks with clear definitions on the duration of instruction, assessment and end-of-semester examinations for evaluation. A full-time load of five courses per semester at the undergraduate level would equate to about five contact hours per day or 25 hours per week, for a minimum of 450 hours per semester.

The rationale of imposing the semester mode was premised on the ground that it is an antidote to lackadaisical teaching attitude of the faculty. It is argued that the new system will provide freedom of choice for students in terms of flexibility of choosing from various combinations of inter-disciplinary subjects available to them in the form of major and minor courses and credit transfer to other universities. An added advantage is the intense and continuous engagement of faculty and students in a semester mode throughout the year.

The semester system, in effect, betrays social justice which all political parties claim to adopt while making policies or asking for votes. While on the one hand, governments of every hue have promoted reservation in higher education for the weaker sections of society, on the other, by insisting mindlessly on the semester system, the space and time required for these sections to catch up and compete on even terms with the dominant sections, is taken away.

What the reservation system makes possible, the semester system effectively undercuts and defeats. The semester would give little time to be settled down in time.

By withdrawing subsidy in higher education, the new system allows higher education institutions to generate their own revenue. Accordingly, professional courses are introduced in these institutions at the cost of basic sciences, social science and humanities. Autonomy creates centres of excellence and elitism amidst mediocrity and deprivation.

In a market driven economy, where education is bound to be treated as a commodity and every output carries a utility value for the market, the new system would necessarily be incompatible.

The aspirants of the new system disconnect themselves from larger socio-economic and political processes of society. Self-reflective students, who understand the subject through participation in microcosmic social processes like colleges and schools, maintain an organic relationship with society at large and become “democratic citizens”. The student by gearing themselves for examination at the end of semester would miss out on other curricular activities.

Mode of teaching
Students with a specific way of learning in school will get ample time to get used to the annual mode of teaching. To achieve the desired end, syllabus is framed suitably. A well thought out syllabus with annual mode of teaching is best suited for traditional science and social science subjects if the goal of education is to attain substantive rather than shallow, knowledge.

The current system persuades to dilute the curriculum in such a manner that syllabus is covered within 3-4 months’ time. The tendency to introduce market and policy oriented courses, such as public administration, public policy, foreign policy and to discard the core analytical subjects is another trend. The core theoretical subjects require that students are engaged throughout the year to internalise theory. This makes them more critical of what is happening around the world.

Semester system will not give students the opportunity to develop a perspective as there will be no time for extra reading. In many courses, the syllabi is simply bifurcated. This lacks internal logic as the current continuity and sequence has been developed consciously over time.

The syllabi in many courses are being passed in haste, thus ruling out reform. The calendar for co-curricular activities has been disrupted. Semester exams force students to avoid co-curricular activities. Teachers do not get enough time for research as more time and energy are consumed in conducting exams, evaluating scripts and preparing results.
(The writer teaches at Christ University, Bengaluru)

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