Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Some Thoughts on the Pedagogy of Semester System at Delhi University

[This brief note was published in CRITIQUE, Vol-1, Issue-3. Critique is a Quarterly brought out by the Delhi University Chapter of New Socialist Initiative (NSI)]

- Nandita Narain

Semesterised exams can work only if exams are set and evaluated internally (as in the USA, IIT's, JNU, where the numbers are small and the Universities are more or less residential). DU is more like the affiliating Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, which have an annual exam system. In our case, especially given the great variation in standards, a lowest common denominator kind of Board exam every four months would only promote rote learning and dumb down the whole system. Neither would the best students have the time to go beyond the exam requirements, to explore, experiment, innovate, critique and learn to think independently, nor would students coming from weaker sections students have time to catch up and be able to face that Board exam. Everyone loses. 

In their tearing hurry to implement the semester system in all courses, which obviously allows no time for consultation and deliberation, the DU authorities have come up with the novel ‘solution’ of snipping syllabii in two! This, more than anything else, betrays a complete lack of understanding of the pedagogic process. Any serious teacher knows that the time taken to cover a syllabus is not linearly distributed. Concepts and foundations (many of which are often not even mentioned in syllabi and exams) take much longer than their applications. Besides, given the great diversity of faculty as well as student population, there can be no uniformity or agreement on the quantum of syllabus to be covered in the short period of three to four months.

My best students take about six months to begin to figure out what Analysis is about, as a result of which I can never complete more than 25% of the course by December. If we have to teach 10 novels in a year, we don't complete 5 by the end of four months! Once students learn how to read, analyse, critique and express, it goes much faster for they are on the road to becoming autonomous learners.

Currently, under the annual system, we have a judicious mix of external annual exams( with 75% weightage) and internal continuous term wise assessment along with a house exam in January (with a weightage of 25%). Just a few years ago, with the active cooperation of teachers, reforms such as counting of concurrent subjects and introduction of inter-disciplinary subjects in the first year were introduced. Instead of reviewing and re-inforcing these reforms, why are the powers-that-be throwing them all out and replacing them with an ill-thought-out scheme of dubious academic worth?

Right now, despite all the difficulties, we are still able to produce some students who can hold their heads high in any walk of life in any part of the world. But, if these four-monthly Boards are forced on us, we will end up producing generations of students with crippled minds. What is the point of churning out students whose growth is stunted, who are unable to question, critique and think independently? 

In the race to semesterise, the kind of subversion of statutory and academic processes, manipulation and intimidation that we are witnessing is unprecedented in our University. 

Without so much as a fig-leaf of academic justification, the University administration is imposing the new 'system' on the academic community of DU slavishly, at the behest of elements from outside the University with little or no understanding of academic processes. 

In doing so, the Vice Chancellor and his team will go down in history with the dubious distinction of having bartered away our hard-won academic autonomy, compromised all academic and democratic space within the University and become willing tools in the hands of forces that have a vested interest in the destruction of the intellectual capability of our country. 
Nandita Narain teaches Mathematics at St Stephen's College, University of Delhi


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