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On Curriculum

  To the Chandhoke Committee

The Principal

Zakir Husain College

J.L.N. Marg

New Delhi-110002.


Ref: Letter from the B.A. Hons. Review Committee dated 11/2/03.


Dear Sir,


You may be pleased to note that with regard to the above letter forwarded to us on 24/2/03, a number of colleagues from History, Philosophy, Hindi, Political Science, Sanskrit and English departments met in the college on 4/3/03 and again on 5/3/03 to discuss the problems afflicting B.A. Hons. Courses in the University today and outlined the following remedial proposals which we now wish to submit for your comments and for forwarding to the concerned committee for further deliberation.


While there was a consensus on most of the proposals in our meetings, some drew diverse responses and need for further deliberation was recognised. Indeed, it was felt that as per the schedule given in the letter, very little time has been left for deliberation on such an important issue. Further, it may have been useful if names of other members of the empowered committee had also been mentioned to facilitate maximum exchange of ideas between the teachers who would teach and the committee from the beginning.


But given the delay in the revamp exercise (and approaching annual examinations), further postponement of the restructuring process may not be advisable. Hence, we propose that the committee may consider calling some urgent inter-college meets of teachers in the available fortnight in March instead of planning “visits to the colleges” separately.


A number of serious problems seem to plague college education in general and honours courses in Human Sciences in particular. These may be identified as: 1) rampant absenteeism (specially amongst third year students), 2) casual attitude to university courses which are now increasingly pursued by many students along with parallel (more ‘professional’) courses in computers, media etc., 3) a highly flawed and suspect evaluation procedure in which, not infrequently, students obtain good scores without regular studies and more unfortunately some report poor scores despite good knowledge and effort, 4) the very design of our examination process which encourages rote learning for regurgitating textual knowledge in an all important three hour final exam and 5) the pathetic inadequacy of our honours and pass courses in inculcating a sense of independence in addressing future challenges after three years of college education (except amongst pupils of some elite colleges whose prospects remain bright more due to their family, school and social linkages than to what they actually learn in classrooms).


In this scenario, the initiative taken by the Vice Chancellor to consider these issues through empowered committees is most welcome indeed and we look forward to a bold and rigorous attempt at a radical restructuring of course options as well as evaluation procedures under the leadership of Prof. Neera Chandhoke.


In fact, our college has participated in the process from the beginning and before we list some of the suggestions mooted at our earlier meetings, it needs to be mentioned that we have also been extremely concerned about reported moves from the government towards a dismantling of the university system through progressive hike in fees, introduction of contractual jobs, beginning of obscurantist courses, delinking of colleges etc. in recent years. In this context, we wondered what value the present exercise may have. It was felt that any attempts at academic reforms should go hand in hand with stiff resistance to this onslaught on higher education.


Classical liberal education (in its Macaulyan avatar), on which our pedagogy still largely rests, seems to assume that training in any select academic field may itself hone the mind like a tool for varied applications in life. Not only the indigenous Gandhian model but also Soviet, Maoist and Freirian approaches to education had very different perceptions of the meaning and scope of learning in general and the place of work and students’ own life experiences in it.


Moreover, the central assumption of liberal (in this case, colonial) pedagogy seems to have been never verified in our society and is made suspect particularly by the plight of most graduates who not only fail to find sufficient employment for themselves after college but rarely seem to carry over the love of reading or the critical attitude towards cultural and social issues at which liberal education aims primarily.


Amongst the major problems, the group was particularly concerned about the failings of the examination system under which  learning  has been  reduced more or less to a hollow ritual even while  evalua­tion  of  students remains highly arbitrary, if  not  unfair at times. At a time when several postmodern thinkers have drawn pointed attention to power/ knowledge linkages, it appears particularly ironical that the evaluation procedures in our universities should be so undemocratic and secretive. Following suggestions were mooted to revamp it for honours courses in particular and other papers in general:-


1) The introduction of some internal assessment of pupils to be made by teachers actually teaching the courses preferably through limited marks (roughly 25%) awarded jointly by the department concerned for each  student on his/ her overall  performance  covering attendance, tutorial work  as well as extra curricular activities during the year.


2)  With regard to the external exam, which has its own importance, it was suggested that paper setters must write out model answers and  dis­cuss and develop these with their assisstant examiners before the latter begin evaluation work rather than just discuss orally or indifferently countercheck a few answer scripts.


3)  The increased element of choice between questions in  several Humanities  papers  may also be reduced a bit in  order  to  encourage students to cover their courses more thoroughly. Although, empha­sis  shall also be placed, more so in such a pattern, on  setting questions in such a way that all categories of students can clea­rly understand them and yet answer according to their  respective capabilities.  Similarly, the possible inclusion of at least  one set of `objective type questions' in several subjects in  Humani­ties  too,  can, without affecting the preparation  of  the  more important `essay type questios',  go a long way in encouraging  a wider  understanding of subjects by students and  discourage  the unfortunate tendency, these days, for a highly selective  memori­sation of borrowed notes mainly.


Another suggestion offered was that students should be instructed to answer at least one question with the the provisio that questions 1-10 answered would be evaluated in proportion to the time. This would at least provide a level playing field for the student who delves deeper into a discipline, as well as one who has a wider knowledge.


4) Lastly, we might also think more boldly now, about the  possi­bility of returning the evaluated answer sheets to the  examinees after a gap, since the student, after all, must have a chance  to know  his mistakes and thus improve upon them. This is likely  to promote  the much needed seriousness in evaluation work as  well. It may be desirable to make the latter a compulsory part of  each lecturer's paid duty, in such a pattern of evaluation. To avoid disputes over assessment, it was suggested that broad grades rather than exact percentages may be awarded.


Regarding course options it was generally felt that the present compulsion of two subsidiary papers whose marks are not included in calculating the final scores may be done away with. Instead, a foundation paper in the first year in principal methods and approaches to social enquiry incorporating the major insights from less understood disciplines e.g. logic, humanistic psychology, studies on social stratification, forms of power, and perspectives on culture/ ideology must be offered to all honours students.


An alternative suggestion was that honours students should take up 4 credit courses with no restrictions on the choice of subjects from those offered by the college. The present compulsory language papers should also be subject to this choice.


But a contrary view was expressed by some literature teachers who stressed that two compulsory language papers should continue.


A third view was that if the number of papers cannot be increased then one of the language papers may be made optional with a course in information technology, computers and a comprehensive introduction to the use of library offered as an alternative choice specially to help students from less privileged schools where infrastructure for IT etc is often lacking. While present subsidiary courses may be replaced by one methodological paper and one pertaining to the world of work.


The suggestion in listed issues regarding linkages with the world of work was particularly liked by some. (In our bigger meeting with students also maximum interest was expressed regarding this possibility). In the honours stream, students could be easily asked to do project work in the final year in any of the following fields depending upon their inclination and specialization: journalism, translation, social work, running of small businesses, etc. with possible linkages with institutes outside the University or interested guides and teachers within our system. Such project work may not be fully professional but would aim more at generating an attitude and respect for independent work and also reflect on knowledge gained in books.  


One of the members was strongly opposed to this so called ‘vocational’ being compulsorily introduced in this way. She suggested that the ‘vocational’ papers could at best be part of the choice of 4 credit papers.


The contrary view, however, was that courses regarding the world of work may not be narrowly seen as ‘vocational’ or inferior. In fact they may enrich the knowledge component of the honours courses too by integrating the work and field view of our society with the text or the class room view.


Secondly, the career concerns of pupils of this age group shall not be ignored at all. By being indifferent to them, in fact, our teaching may remain insensitive and also fail to elicit full interest of such an age group.


By making one paper in ‘work’ mandatory for students in third year we may well be able to help generate an attitude for self employment (when required) as well as offer guidance for prior preparation for finding a vocation possibly in areas like NGOs, cooperatives, agri-business and entrepreneurship (starting a school with a bank loan instead of looking for a teacher’s job) and other emerging streams listed above which move beyond the rat race for scarce white collar jobs for which the colonial educational apparatus trained us largely. Thereby we may succeed in producing some more activists, innovators and entrepreneurs who would give jobs rather than seek jobs.


While the primary responsibility of such training may undoubtedly be of vocational institutes yet, given the acuteness of the problem (newspapers this month also carried numerous reports of suicides by educated unemployed youths), revamped honours courses may make a small effort to ameliorate the situation by introducing one mandatory paper orienting pupils to the world of work and entrepreneurship in relevant to the present political economy.    


These new papers would obviously require fresh training and some new appointments. While refresher courses for existing staff in some of the new suggested papers may be tried, new recruitment and funding should also be asked for. An extra increment for those who undertake teaching new papers from existing staff may be a good incentive helping in developing the skill pool in the university.


In the same connection, it is suggested that students may also be encouraged to pursue at least one module per academic year in extra curricular fields such as nouveau art, care of environment, gender sensitization, music etc which may be assessed and grades awarded on students’’ project reports may also be mentioned in the final degrees. Modules of this nature in fact may be floated by some teachers on the basis of their respective hobies and students may attach with any teacher (depending on his facilities) irrespective of the college where they are registered. Such teachers in turn may be allowed a small allowance per student from the university.


In this connection, the university may also consider establishing a major resource centre in the middle of the city housing computers, a major library, theatre, multimedia, educational kits, occasional seminars and symposia and interaction facilities for students from all colleges in general.