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  On Higher education
  To the Vice Chancellor

Prof. Deepak Pental

Vice Chancellor

University Of Delhi



Subject: Examination Reform and Curriculum Restructuring.


Dear Sir,


While browsing the DU website recently, I came across your invitation for suggestions on examination reforms from teachers and students of the University. I also gathered that you have already appointed an empowered committee, under the chairmanship of Prof. Kiran Dattar, to examine the issue at length and suggest reforms.


For both these timely initiatives, I compliment you sincerely and seek your permission to list here a few measures which may be considered by your team while addressing the challenging task of examination and curriculum reform. Indeed, you may be pleased to know that in the preceding two years, I had tried to actively associate with the task of restructuring the B.A. Pass program both in the designing of the new foundation and application courses as well the discipline papers redrafted by the Department of History despite initial opposition from some quarters.      


While some important breakthroughs were achieved last year, specially, with regard to the revised B.A Program yet, the revised Honours curricula, in my opinion, have left a number of issues unaddressed while the final exam procedure still cries out for a major overhaul.


It is in this context that I shall submit a few suggestions now, some of which are ‘practical’ and of short term relevance while others are more fundamental and meant for greater deliberation.


Regarding the evaluation process:-


1) The job of paper checking must be considered an essential part of our duty and distributed equitably among all teachers rather than forced/ offered to a few.


2) Question paper setters must be asked to write out model answers for all questions set by them and discuss and modify the same with assistant examiners before the process of evaluation of answer scripts of the final exam begins to ensure maximum uniformity in the marking patterns adopted by different evaluators specially in Humanities and Social Science disciplines.


3) The amount of choice between questions in Humanities papers may be reduced a bit in order to encourage more comprehensive study of topics by pupils.


4) The introduction of some ‘objective type questions’ (carrying 20% marks roughly in Humanities papers) would also encourage students to acquire a broader grasp of their disciplines and discourage rampant tendency for selective memorization of borrowed or photocopied notes among them.


5) Paper setters may also be requested to set questions in such a way that different categories of students are in a position to answer them according to their respective capacities. For example, having two parts to a question covering descriptive and analytical skills respectively helps in rewarding brightness as well as diligence more clearly.


6) The system of internal assessment and marks for attendance, introduced last year, has increased the workload of teachers considerably. Yet, it is highly desirable for the dent it has made in the problem of absenteeism among both teachers and students. However, needless paper work and stacking of answer scripts is entirely avoidable and may be handed over to college offices to enable teachers to concentrate more energetically on their primary  task which has taken a blow under the plethora of rules thrust upon us lately.


7) Lastly, we may also think more boldly, now, about the possibility of showing  evaluated answer sheets to examinees; not  only  because students need to learn from their mistakes but also because  this might be the best way to promote greater seriousness and accountability in evaluation.  And, though  this raises the difficult issue of disputes over  assess­ment  yet,  a way out may be found in shifting from  the  present marking pattern to three broad gradings for all answer scripts in terms  of fail, pass and outstanding. This is likely to  mitigate excessive concern amongst students for marks and lessen the scope for  disputes  over assessment too.



Regarding Curriculum:-


Sir, as a teacher, I have often wondered if the existing rigid boundaries between disciplines in our undergraduate courses really help us in addressing the diverse educational needs of adolescents in a holistic manner. Classical liberal education assumed that training in select disciplines is sufficient to hone the mind like a tool for varied applications in life. However, such a presupposition 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 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.

Within the present system too, efforts can surely be made to sharpen the diverse faculties of students (all of whom are not of academic bent) through various extracurricular activities. Yet, the excessive weightage attached to examinations and final curriculum  puts considerable constraints on all such attempts. In this context, restructuring the curriculum and the evaluation procedure itself assumes added significance.


What should a sound curriculum for undergraduates aim at ? Perhaps ‘knowledge’ which would ideally be ongoing and catalyse all round development of personality rather than disembodied information reproduced in an annual examination. In a curriculum for such ‘knowledge’, learning through labor and social work would be as significant as texts and classroom lectures; morals, physical fitness and economic independence considered important too besides the inculcation of rational thinking and literary sensibilities.


In this light, along with academic training, career building and self reliance of all pupils ought to be a concern of higher education.


But the problem of gainful employment would never get solved in our economic milieu so long as we keep producing, in the Macaulyan mould, job seekers rather than job creators. Hence, the introduction of application courses in the final year of the BA and B.Sc. programs is a welcome step. I would indeed suggest that similar options should be introduced in honours courses too which orient students to the world of work before they leave college and make them think of self employment too instead of running after a handful of government jobs for decades and getting frustrated in the process.


Project work among cooperatives/ NGOs, writing biographies of self made men and women etc may also help in the planning of such application courses. Similarly, application courses in writing of children’s books, toy making, tourism, journalism, horticulture etc may be picked up by colleges according to their student composition and locality and faculty resources. The University may help by allowing the entry of more guest lecturers for this purpose.


Further, in order to pursue education as holistic development of personality rather than assuming that exposure to academic courses automatically equips students for assimilation of knowledge from all relevant areas on their own, the University may also consider setting up some useful short skill building courses/ modules in appreciation of arts, music and serious cinema, offering first aid in a an emergency, self defence, health care etc. These short modules may be offered by guest lecturers for interested students from all streams on optional basis in afternoons or early mornings and need not be seen as full academic papers for the revised BA program only.


In a society where parents and the community at large have not been able to introduce these fields of knowledge and skills to our growing generations, the same may be contributed, with a little additional effort and much appreciation from the community, by our undergraduate colleges in particular.


It will be useful if marks for these courses as also for NCC and NSS (emphasising community interaction, social work, mobilization and leadership qualities and above all, the sadly neglected area of interpersonal skills) are also included in the final result of each student, giving due recognition to the diversity of talents in our pupils rather than restricting such recognition to ‘academic’ subjects alone. Pupils from lower and lower middle class backgrounds may specially benefit from such a broader conception of education and evaluation.


To promote the vital habits of self learning, a module on old and new sources of knowledge including the web and reference books in libraries may be designed and offered to all college students in the first year itself.



Turning the leaf here, I would now submit for your kind consideration, sir, a proposal for the introduction of a mandatory paper in Human Sciences for students of professional streams (such as engineering, medicine and management) as well as science and commerce courses, who otherwise remain largely detached from social and cultural issues in the prevailing pedagogic framework.


Centres of excellence such as the Massachusette Institute of Technology and our own IITs have acknowledged the significance of such a synthesis and have had compulsory papers in humanities/ social sciences for their students for a long time. However, in the absence of a directive for a mandatory paper of this nature (distinct from papers in the English language), the rich possibilities of enriching professional and science courses with a small component of philosophical and historical knowledge has been generally ignored in our country.


While specialisation may  be unavoidable today in higher education yet, the pressures for specialisation itself may be seen as an important reason  for some mandatory exposure to other forms of knowledge  too in  higher education. And, above all, specialization in certain disciplines would be balanced with some papers aiming at a holistic exposure to ideas, concepts and methods of different disciplines simultaneously.


In the following paras, I shall venture an outline of one such foundation course incorporating the major insights, concepts and perspectives of several disciplines in an integral manner. But, before submitting such an outline, it may be relevant to also briefly highlight some of the assumptions which underlay its conception.


While pondering over the structure of such a foundation course, I soon felt that in its development, it is as significant to note what it should not incorporate as it is to say what it should. Since the following course aims at a foundation for a better and a more informed choice of pupils regarding their subsequent field of specialization and also seeks to offer an integrated view of ideas and categories some of which may never be offered to them otherwise (as from subjects like logic, psychology and aesthetics which few schools offer), the thrust was on selecting vital concepts articulating major processes in society (such as power, stratification, culture and psyche); the evolution and typology of each process and its emerging trajectory today and interrelations with others. Information for its own sake was avoided, jargon minimized and theoretical and methodological insights sought to be presented in simple form.


To illustrate my approach here, I may point out that my own discipline of History does not figure in the following outline as a separate category but is sought to be woven into the exposition of themes such as breaks in scientific paradigms or the story of democratic and socialist movements in the face of emerging apparatus of power since the onset of modernity.



Human Sciences: A Foundation Course for Science, Commerce, Management and Technology Students.


A List of possible topics:-


Individual and Society-An introduction:  The peculiarity of being human; physiological, intellectual and emotional oneness of  the human  race; Uniqueness of individuals: Various theories of  personality; society and its primary institutions.


Primary  social groups: Family--the basic unit of society,  Types of families-- the emerging trends; Kinship structures: some  case studies; Other intimate associations: friendship and romance; the importance of peer groups, neighborhood and interest groups.  The metropolis  as a specific cultural space. Leadership, roles  and status in formal and informal groups. 


Socialisation  and  Deviance: Socialisation and the  life  cycle; Agents  of socialisation; Variations in socialisation  practices; Conformity,  deviance and control: Recent Trends;  Everyday  Life and Social interaction.


Culture--and  its  various conceptions; Elements of  culture  and their  interrelations;  Cultural  diversity;  Universals  amongst cultures;  Integration,  the dominant ideology  and  subcultures; Major cultural institutions: Language, folklore, religion, education,  ideologies and mass media; Life and  Culture:  Some case studies of pioneers in politics and statecraft.


Social Stratification: Systems of stratification; Is  stratification universal; Social mobility in closed and open class systems; The  middle class in modern times; Stratification by caste,  race and  ethnicity;  The social construction of  gender  and  women's rights  movements: Achievements and failures;  Stratification  by age: a demographic shift and policy responses; Stratification  in the world system: Colonial and neo-colonial relations.


Population,  health  and environment:  World  population  trends; Environmental  issues and responses; Perspectives on  health  and illness.


Politics,  government  and the state: Characteristics  of  states; Types of contemporary states; the rise and growth of nationalist, liberal,  democratic  and  socialist politics  in  modern  times; Individual  and  collective rights:  Questions  before  pluralist politics today;  Types of democracy; Who rules ? The  elites  in USA, Britain and India; Political parties and voting in India and USA;  Political  pressure groups and movements; Politics in  the international domain: The UNO and US hegemony in the post  Soviet era; global military expenditure and weapons of mass destruction; Efforts for a world without war.


Work and economic life: The division of labour: the developed and the underdeveloped worlds and their contrasting economic indices; primary secondary and tertiary sectors of production: the  changing  pyramid; Corporations and corporate power; Trade unions and industrial conflicts; Unemployment, women and the informal economy; The state and the economy: various perspectives.


Social  change  and contemporary challenges: Theories of  social change;  The role of revolutions and social movements;  Modernity and  its  implications;  Current changes and  future  prospects: Technological advances; The globalising of social life:  economic and cultural integration; the growth of non state actors;  Modern urbanism and cosmopolitanism.


Research in Social Sciences: The scientific method and limits  on ojectivity; The scientific approach: illustrations from laboratory and everyday life; limits and critiques of science; The peculiarity of social sciences; Common sense and the sociological imagination;  Major theoretical  and  disciplinary perspectives;  Central  issues  in social theory; Social policy and social sciences.


Methodological  Tools: Interviews and Quantitative Methods;  Case Studies and Comparisons; Hermeneutics and Positivism.


Aesthetics:  Notions of subtle and vulgar in artistic  creations; some  illustrations  from 'popular' and 'art' movies,  music  and literature; Have great artists been good (to others) humans too ?


Ethics:  Individual  vs. Social Needs, Why be Good ?  Values  and ethics; Diversity of Values, Universality of basic values; Modernisation and values.


Suggested  Readings:  Perry Anderson, Passages from Antiquity  to Feudalism; Atkinson and Atkinson, Psychology:  An  Introduction; T.B.  Bottomore, Sociology: A Guide to Problems  and  Literature; James  Gould, Classic Philosophical Questions; Anthony  Giddens, Sociology;  Andre Beteille, 'Sociology and Common Sense' in Economic and Political Weekly, 1995.


Possible objections to the proposed course and clarifications:-


Who will teach such a multidisciplinary paper: If the University cannot find 80 teachers out of its highly qualified staff of 8000, after appropriate workshops and refresher courses, it would be both surprising and embarrasing indeed. Even if all colleges are not in a position to offer the new course to their pass course students, at least some may be allowed to do so to begin with.


Will students be able to follow all this: It depends entirely on the level at which we wish to pitch the discussions; at the present, in fact, most students are quite contemptuous of the low intellectual demands that most Humanities courses make on them and even do pretty well in exams without regular studies. On levels, one may recall that Marx and Engels explained dialectical materialism to semi-literate workers; Dewey has written a highly readable introduction to Philosophy for all. The present course is concept centric but targets everyday processes of life only and aims at sowing some important categories and insights in undergraduates’ thinking.


How will so many issues be compressed in one paper: Again, it largely depends upon the level at which we wish to pitch lectures. This paper tries to be broad in terms of concerns but not intense on details. I myself had the opportunity to teach some of its topics at the Law School of Indraprastha University last year and could easily cover each of the major sets of issues such as power, culture etc in single sessions of double lectures there.


Where will we find readings for this course: this wont be much of a problem at all. The core issues such as stratification, socialization, culture, power, methodology etc are well summarized in most good sociology primers by C.Wright Mills, Bottomore etc. Sections on ethics, aesthetics and science etc are accessible from introductions to theory and philosophy as those by Terry Eagleton, Gould etc. Of course translation and new writings in Hindi will have to be produced afresh.



Lastly, I would like to offer, for your consideration, a suggestion for a revolutionary overhaul of the adult education cell of the University to confine it not just to literacy programs but as an experience in extended learning or a return to learning through lighter post graduate courses of various types for retired people, housewives, people on leave from their regular jobs and so on. While a number of our elders would find it difficult to sit with undergraduate students, our existing post graduate curricula are too rigorous and uninspiring for them. Yet, there is a huge untapped clientele for exciting ideas, discussion and learning for which we have not designed an institutional answer yet. The work of master academic activists like Raymond Williams and E.P. Thompson in Britain  perhaps came nearest to this dream.


Regarding Infrastructure:-


A resource center with educational and recreational facilities and an excellent library and browsing facilities may be developed gradually by the University in the center of the city catering to the needs of undergraduates who have not been provided with best facilities within their colleges.


All rules and regulations of the University regarding admissions, reevaluation etc may be posted on the website along with useful guides for different procedures. The website may also be used to present syllabi, results, faculty achievements etc with continuous updating.


Students suggestions on courses and teaching should be invited and syllabus restructuring made an ongoing process with one mandatory GBM of all teachers called by each department at least to review reading lists for courses each year.


Here, it may not be irrelevant to add that despite the progressive and egalitarian values shared by many teachers in colleges and the University, our systems of higher education are perhaps the most undemocratic and hierarchic of all modern institutions. Whether the goals of learning are better served by the unaccountable and non transparent authority enjoyed by university professors over pupils in post graduate and Ph.D. courses may be a matter of dispute. But that there is room for more access and participation for the student community in curriculum design and the evaluation process can not perhaps be completely denied.


Unfortunately, despite some meaningful alternatives offered by indigenous thinkers like Gandhi, Tagore and Zakir Husain, the colonial tradition of valorizing the reproduction of specialized knowledge in a three hour final exam/ practical and a total divorce between professional and humanistic learning have continued to haunt our education system till this day.


That some of the above mentioned suggestions may help in addressing this issue, is my humble hope.




Devesh Vijay,

Reader in History,

Zakir Husain College

University of Delhi.


Residence: D14-A/2, Model Town, Delhi-110009


Phone: Res: 65470370.

E-mail: deveshv@sify.com



Date: 2/1/06