When old is not always gold

DILEMMA IN THE CLASSROOM

When old is not always gold

The issue of change in college textbook syllabus always attracts debate, and at times, controversy. Any deletion or addition to the syllabus is cause for many differences of opinion. Not often are changes appreciated.

A similar change is at the centre of controversy in Bangalore University. The subjects in question are Kannada and Optional Kannada, the textbooks of which have often been a role model for many universities. Attempts to revert to the old syllabus in place of the new one have drawn flak from educationists. The issue has now come to the notice of the Vice-Chancellor.

The University takes up a review of the syllabus once in three years. Accordingly, a review was conducted for 2007-2010. The syllabus that was followed for the last two decades was changed, and comprehensively at that. It was curtains for a syllabus that was set on extracts from Kannada fiction and poetry, apart from Halagannada texts. The new syllabus paved the way for theme-based studies such as environmental science, conflict and peace, education and leisure, sexuality, politics of commerce etc.

The new syllabus was an attempt to help students understand society, culture and tradition from a contemporary perspective. An advisory committee comprising luminaries such as U R Ananthamurthy, K V Narayan, Ki Ram Nagaraj, H S Raghavendra Rao, Rahmat Tarikere, Rajendra Chenni, O L Nagabhushana Swamy was behind this change in syllabus. The committee members brainstormed with Kannada lecturers and based on their recommendations, set up an editorial board, with Basavaraj Kalgudi as their Editor-in-Chief.

Litterateur  K V Narayan strongly feels it was a model syllabus. “This new syllabus was so appropriate that the Kuvempu University, Karnataka University and Mangalore University all decided to follow suit,” he explains.

Back to square one?
The committee members are disappointed at the decision to bring back the two-decade-old syllabus for 2010-13.

Writer and academician K V Narayan, in his letter to the Bangalore University Vice-Chancellor Prabhudev, says, “In place of taking the path that makes students feel that the study of Kannada is a burden, it is important that a review of the new syallbus is conducted, and the loopholes identified. The absence of such a review doesn’t seem right. I am aware of the fact that universities have the right to set syllabii on their own; but one doesn’t understand the rationale behind reverting to the old syllabus without conducting a proper review of the new syllabus.” Other professors and editorial board members have also expressed their dissatisfaction in a letter (dated June 21, 2010) written to the Vice-Chancellor and the Registrar.

The letter explains that “the Board of Studies has taken a decision to go back to the old syallbus, without keeping contemporary society in perspective. By choosing a syllabus that includes extracts from literary works that are being studied for the last 45 years, the Board has shown its lack of understanding of the current Kannada literary scene. Their narrow-minded attitude that Kannada studies has to mean learning the language according to genres such as drama, fiction etc is being imposed on lakhs of students. Hundreds of lecturers are being made sacrificial goats in this exercise”.

The letter expresses dissatisfaction that a syllabus that includes a pre-text, supportive text, classroom-based activities, similitudes, contrast and notes has now been ignored. Textbooks that were designed to change the role of a student from being a passive receiver to an active participant, and a syllabus that ensured that students don’t have to buy guides have been rejected, the letter points out, adding that the syllabus was an excellent exercise that ensured that issues pertaining to social minorities and social justice were adequately covered.

There have been voices of protest from within the Board of Studies too. At least three members of the Board have expressed dissatisfaction.

In a letter, Prof M G Chandrashekharaiah and Rangareddy Kodirampura write, “In a meeting held at the offices of the Board of Studies at Jnanabharathi in November last year, a decision was made to make minor changes to the syllabus that was being followed during 2007-10 and continue with it in the future. But now, a complete change has been made, and a decision has been made to revert to a syllabus that is older than the 2007-10 one. One doesn’t know the motive behind such a unilateral decision to go back to the old system.” Another member of the Board, M Govindaiah, has also written to the Vice-Chancellor.

Registrar Prof Ranganath acknowledges that he has received these letters, and explains that they will be passed on the Director of the Board of Studies. After collating their suggestions, the issue will be drawn to the notice of the Vice-chancellor and will be discussed at the Syndicate meeting, he adds.  The Vice-Chancellor was on a foreign tour, at the time of writing this story, and could not be reached for comment.

Students have sought not to take any stand on the issue. Among the teaching circles, however, there is an opinion that with some minor changes, the 2007-10 syllabus should be implemented.

Is there an end in sight to this debate? One needs to wait and watch which syllabus will eventually be implemented.

(Translated by Savitha Karthik)

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