Sudakshina Kundu Mookerjee
Analysis of Higher Education System: Curricula
In order to assess the possible outcomes of any new model, it is imperative to analyse the effects of the systems which have been in place so that the short comings may be identified and the problems may be addressed in the new system.
It is a matter of grave concern that Higher Education System in India, has been subjected to experimentations, which may ruin its foundations for several generations to come. In a vast, pluralistic country like ours, a well-planned and holistic Education system should be the foundation for nation building. India is an ancient civilization with the youngest population in the world! In order to convert the burden of our population into our asset, we need to educate and train the youth with pragmatism, in a system that suits our needs. There are attempts to either blindly follow an alien foreign system or on the other extreme, there are tendencies to go back to the so called ancient Gurukuls. None, taken without a change, will serve the purpose. We need to plan without bias or dogma and need to proceed carefully. A robust system can be built up with utmost care, over generations. But it can be disturbed in no time with sudden and drastic changes that are not well thought of. We need to be more pragmatic in our planning.
It is commendable that our country aims for “inclusive education”. This has led to many new Universities and deemed universities, run by both government and private bodies. But how many of them have the infrastructure to ensure minimum standards of education and training? How many of them benefit the local population in mitigating their tribulations? The courses offered must have some bearing to the local needs and circumstances. Are we planning our programmes to help the locals inhabitants to utilize their indigenous resources more efficiently, giving them a better scope of livelihood in their own land without having to migrate outside?
For example, India is basically an agrarian economy. How much emphasis have we put on education programmes in agriculture, pisciculture, horticulture, sericulture or animal husbandry? We have allowed our jute production to dwindle and jute industry to die when they are the most eco-friendly products and have great demand worldwide, especially among the growing demand for eco-friendly products world-wide. Our research and development programmes should include our indigenous resources. Marine wealth of India goes to other countries for packaging. We have very few programmes in food processing and preservation! India has a wealth of historical relics. We do not have the necessary training for preservation of our heritage and turning them into tourist attractions so that the tourism industry can bring prosperity and dignity to local inhabitants. Instead, Engineering colleges are mushrooming in regions where there is little or no industry to provide the much-needed industrial exposure to the students.
The heterogeneous population of India has diverse needs which no single recipe can cater satisfactorily. Inclusion means offering opportunities to larger number of aspirants and definitely as per their capability and aspirations.
If premier Universities have to adhere to only a prescribed syllabus, then they will fail to realize their mission and vision, the focus of national accreditation system. The premier Universities have a different responsibility from the non-premier ones. They promote excellence among a set of students, admitted through strict selection processes. These academies of excellence may act as role models but their curriculum need to differ from those of the Universities who cater to a bigger and more diverse student population. If the focus of the curriculum is only on excellence then employability and development of skill sets of the masses will suffer. On the other hand, if the aim of the uniform syllabus is to make our education system geared only towards employability, then the pursuit for excellence will be thwarted. No single curriculum can therefore fit all.
A case in point is the recently published syllabus of under-graduate studies in general subjects as per the Choice Based Credit Systems (CBCS). Not only the contents are unmanageable in a single semester, they are impracticable, as some of the infrastructure needed for some of the Science subjects, is too ambitious. No ordinary college with limited financial resources will be able to afford laboratories with such State-of-the Art equipment, worth in crores. What is possible for a premier institute with abundant funds, is not possible for colleges with limited physical and human infrastructure. Naturally, such common syllabi will only daunt these institutes.
Further, funds, if available, may provide physical infrastructure. But it will need a consorted effort over a very long time to train the faculty and staff members to learn to handle such modern equipment and pass on their training effectively to the students. Further, most academic institutes have a dearth of teaching staff, for many obvious reasons. Therefore, it often becomes difficult to spare the teachers for the training programmes, especially if they are held during academic sessions, without hampering the teaching learning process. The technical staff also needs training, not only to handle the new instruments, but also to maintain them. All this takes holistic planning. Till such time, it is impossible to do justice to the new curricula.
The next point of concern is the grand plan of replacing the University Grants Commission, a body regulated by experienced Educationists, by the Higher Education Council of India. It is needless to say that the HECI will be dominated by officials who have hardly any academic experience. Over the last few years, there have been many attempts to curtail the academic freedom of the Universities and other Academic Institutions, under the garb of modernization and uniformity in curricula. Curricula definitely need to be updated, but how the course is to be rolled out can effectively be designed only by those who are familiar with the ground realities. It should be remembered that better governance and compliance is assured by decentralization, not by centralization.
If now the choice of designing one’s own curriculum is taken away, then the situation will indeed become grave. The recent effort at rolling out compulsory uniform curricula for both general (Science, Arts and Commerce) as well as technology disciplines, with little or no academic freedom to the Universities, is a case in point. It has only led to deterioration of academic standards of this country, which in the past was known to produce great academics.