Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Labouring To Undeceive

In July 2013 Delhi university plans to launch its four year program. This is scheduled to transform higher education as we know it. Instead of a three year undergraduate program which provided an optimal education that was also value for money, a time intensive and cost intensive education is now being introduced in its stead.   In fact, India is probably one of the very few countries in the world where a liberal university education did not until recently exacerbate student debt for a lifetime. All this is set to change for the worse when the gloves are pulled off and the four year undergraduate program is set into operation. The federal structure of the university will collapse and individual colleges will stand or fall by the wayside.  Higher education is now going to be of a longer duration and much much costlier.

Until this academic year, students could choose to study a range of disciplines and get a degree after three years, in science, commerce and humanities. Alternately, by opting for Honours in a specific subject alongside interdisciplinary credit courses that the university offered as part of syllabus revision, a student could go off into various career trajectories, ranging from post graduation, law civil services, management and so on. Students under the annual mode of examinations in the three year graduate program traveled far and wide and excelled in universities all over the world in post graduate studies.

 Suddenly, this system that had served us well for over 80 years, despite being plagued by systemic problems such as lack of infrastructure and overcrowding , is being disbanded and a four year program, ill-conceived and unprecedented in its violation of National Education Policy Guidelines  and academic procedures for syllabi making instituted at the university is being pushed into place. This has been masterminded by the current Vice Chancellor who is supported by the ruling party which is hurriedly divesting itself of its role in education both at the school level and at the level of the university. A large number of teachers have been left out the process of discussion and dissemination which should form an integral part of the academic life of the university. It is doubly disturbing when one recognizes that it is these teachers who are expected to carry the teaching burden of the four year system at the undergraduate colleges.

 For those parents and students who believe that teachers do not teach and shirk work, it is time to point out that  teachers are not  protesting over the increase in work or asking for better salaries.  In fact, the semester system has shrunk teaching time, over the last two three years. So those of us who take teaching seriously are really talking about a system that is unfriendly and will be a deterrent to teaching and learning.  At undergraduate colleges we are all grappling with overcrowding in the classrooms and lack of infrastructure in terms of rooms, laboratories, reading spaces in the library and so on. For the last few years, no permanent posts have been filled in the university. More than half of its teachers are employed in ad-hoc or guest lecturer capacity. This is true of every discipline taught at the university. Contract jobs in lieu of the stability of service conditions cannot be the carrots and sticks dangled before young people in search of a vocation or academic\career options.

 While doing very little to address all this, the university has embarked upon a four year program in which students no longer have the option of leaving the university at the end of three years, to pursue  life options. Instead the university is embarking upon subjecting them  to  compulsory foundation courses under the pretext of interdisciplinary learning. School education   under the 10+2 scheme has been geared to choosing disciplines and directing students towards their chosen streams. To suggest that students need mandatory foundation courses is to undermine India’s schooling systems in their entirety.  

Eighteen year olds who come to the university prepared to learn a subject or a discipline of their choice are being told that they are not ready for it. They have to take eleven compulsory foundation courses which are a far cry from the range of choices offered in American universities that the FYUP is pretending to model itself upon.  The university provided interdisciplinary credit courses to students even in the annual mode.  In place of these well researched and carefully worked out options, dumbed down, compulsory foundation courses  can contribute very little to developing  student interest.

Disturbingly, the FYUP  has indiscriminately hacked away at course content so that whatever Discipline I course the student does over four years,  s/he will know far less about the discipline when compared to students who  studied the same specialization under the three year program.  The truncation of syllabi across all Discipline I courses, the dumbing down of interdisciplinary courses  into scurrilously constituted foundation courses of  dubious pedagogy and the addition of one extra year at the university  now  ensures  four years with far less learning and teaching.  

 All the courses across the university report a drastic reduction and truncation of syllabus content. This incidentally is the feedback coming in from teachers who have been roped in to revise the syllabus.  No university in the world can hope to have a pedagogy which is not built upon the ferment of ideas and debates. To summon a few teachers and bulldoze them into fixing curriculum is an indication of intellectual and academic bankruptcy.  The only places where rules and procedures can be overlooked are within functions held privately inside of families. Unfortunately the university administration is behaving as if it is engaged in some elaborate marriage proceedings  which  authorize it to restrict the entry of invitees. What has been set in process is a  dilution and attenuation of academic standards  and integrity that  is deeply disrespectful of the  spaces  real teachers occupy.

Students who could  earlier join a Masters program at the end of three years after graduating with Honours  will now need to wait a fourth year for a baccalaureate with Honours to do a Masters Program at Delhi University. The FYUP is being touted as an opportunity  on par  with international systems for students who cannot afford to study abroad.  In fact, what it guarantees is a downsizing and down grading of all existing national standards.  It must be remembered that we are a poor country with a burgeoning student influx.  The proposed fourth year will be of little use to the student who does not wish to specialize in a particular subject in the first place. S/he has the option of leaving at the end of the third year.  What will be the value of this three year degree anywhere in the country or in the world? No answers are forthcoming on this. 
 Students need to analyse whether they need  such vocationalization at centres of liberal learning. Again, when most postgraduate courses  in Indian Universities  ask for a three year graduation program, exactly how does it benefit a student to do four years at Delhi University where the syllabi  itself has shrunk noticeably?

Alienating serious teachers in the workspace and undercutting serious teaching methodologies can benefit neither  teaching  nor learning.  Small classrooms crammed with enormous numbers of young adults with no real choices cannot be the future that is being promised to India’s young students.   Instead of ensuring a nationwide debate, the MHRD  has ministers making public proclamations to the effect that they are going to stand by and watch the university collapse in order to facilitate self-financing in higher education.

1 comment:

  1. This is very scary indeed. Hopefully, it will collapse soon, without wasting too much time and resources. And yes, the ad hoc and guest lecturer trend is so putting-off!Is this only for cost cutting ?