University Of Delhi
Subject: Examination Reform and Curriculum Restructuring.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
Interviews and Quantitative Methods; Case Studies and Comparisons;
Hermeneutics and Positivism.
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 ?
Individual vs. Social Needs, Why be Good ? Values and ethics;
Diversity of Values, Universality of basic values; Modernisation and
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
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’
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.
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
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.
Reader in History,
Zakir Husain College
University of Delhi.
Residence: D14-A/2, Model Town, Delhi-110009
Phone: Res: 65470370.