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The 4-year itch

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The so-called reforms in Delhi University are not merely about the replacement of a three-year degree with a four-year one but about a major transformation in the pedagogic process itself - for the worse. One of the strengths of the existing structure was that it was well integrated into the school system and tended to rectify some of its major weaknesses. Given the CBSE's emphasis on rote learning and multiple choice questions, students did little written work in their senior classes. With its focus on tutorials and written assignments, DU forced students to write, not just at home, but also in class. If the contention was that tutorials were not held regularly, the solution would have been to find a way to enforce their implementation rather than to throw the baby out with the bathwater! The second major strength was its carefully constructed curriculum which encouraged the 'read and learn' process and relied on original texts rather than on 'mug books'. This required more time in the class room with adequate follow up. This is going to be a major casualty of the 'new approach' where complex texts have been replaced by simpler ones, where less time is given per paper in the classroom, where ad-hoc bifurcations have led to ill-conceived curricula.

The current BA programme allows two options - one for the average student and another for the more academically inclined one. While there may be a difference in the curriculum and quality of teaching of the two, in terms of employment eligibility, they both meet the basic government requirement for white collar work. This is important because for middle class families in India getting a university degree for their children is a primary goal. Whether rational or not, this desire cannot be ignored. The new FYUP, with its three point exit system, overturns this in a major way without giving any explanation for why this is being done or by offering a coherent logic for the alternative. Nor does such a system address the difficulties that would be faced by students migrating from one university to another.

FYUP offers students the possibility of leaving after two, three or four years. The logic given is that some students drop out anyway, so let them take home a diploma after two years. The three-year exit would be the equivalent of the old BA programme and the four year option, the old Honours programme.

This attempt at trying to create a hierarchy on the basis of how much time a student spends at the university instead of how intensively s/he works creates a barrier for the poor but bright student. It cuts off access to higher learning unless s/he is prepared to pay at least 33 per cent more. This system obviously intends to weed out those who cannot afford to study for four years before they decide whether to pursue higher studies. This negates the true intent of reservations because the poorer SC/ST/OBC student will be major victims.

The first year of FYUP introduces what are called Foundation Courses. Some are compulsory and some linked to the discipline a student wants to ultimately pursue. The discipline linked courses are watered down versions of what students learnt in the first year of the old BA Programme. But the most objectionable part of the structure is the IMBH (Integrating Mind, Body and Heart) courses each student will have to waste time on. These are a strange amalgam of old Moral Science courses taught in Catholic schools, social sciences taught in Class VIII in school and a bit of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar with some Mindfulness and Deepak Chopra thrown in! It is strange that adolescents knocking on the door of adulthood are treated with such contempt by those who are in charge of framing educational policies. After all, it is in the theatre of real life that a person learns morality and citizenship. Confronted everyday with corruption in the highest places, with authoritarianism in every field, a young person is not going to be inclined to take lectures on how to live too seriously! Students have this brief window for learning in their lives. They need to shift gears for higher learning - not lose them in mindless classes. Besides, the rest of the academic curriculum of the first year is of a very low standard and exists solely to allow students to mark time rather than sharpen their intellect.

Classroom teaching for the rest of the three years is also on a downhill slope. In the earlier annual system, there are 30 weeks of teaching. At five classes per paper per week, there were 150 classes per subject per year. When the semester system started, the papers were split into two and each part was allocated approximately 65 classes per semester. This will be further reduced to 48 under the FYUP. Since tutorials, assignments and attendance have been done away with some strange notion of in-class assessments has been introduced. Students will end up with power point presentations copied from some online source and that will be their internal assessment ! Nothing in this new scheme is well thought out. It is as if a lethal combination of Colonel Cathcart and Dr Strangelove had been handed over the reins of the university.

Pankaj Butalia is a former undergraduate teacher of DU

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