rakesh kumar pandey | April 17, 2014
Justification for Change
I am fortunate to have witnessed Dr. Dinesh Singh twice justifying the four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) course, especially defending the introduction of Foundation Course papers and on that I would honestly submit one observation that out of the whole army of defenders that he has, only he could score some positive points on this account. I saw him not only offering reasons for having such a course and papers but also unlike the other marshals of his army, I witnessed him owning an honest desire to introduce these courses. He clearly exhibited a firm belief and confidence in the positive result of this experiment that is currently being undertaken in Delhi University.
I have maintained from the beginning that this time the changes are not merely cosmetic in nature as it was done during the semesterisation when it was only a shift from annual to a biannual examination system. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that even Prof. Dinesh Singh shows no inhibitions in admitting this and on both the occasions expressed his no-nonsense intent to change the way the college education is looked upon in India. My primary worry that the new course would shift the focus of the students away from research and academics met with equally candid admission from him that it was indeed the aim with which the course was primarily designed for. Further, on both the occasions when I listened to the Vice-chancellor I never noticed him feeling even slightly apologetic about the shift of focus that this vision threatens to bring about in the Indian college education system. Now I am clear that the purpose of the FYUP is indeed not to make the students oriented 'only' towards research or academics. Initially I felt as one can make him see reasons for going back to our earlier approach till he offered a winning argument in favour of this shift by pointing out that only on an average a maximum of 5-10 % of the undergraduate students happen to choose academics or research as their career whereas our traditional education focuses completely on them only. Our education system, that probably serves the interests of this minority successfully, fails miserably in carrying the expectations of rest 90 % of the students. Honestly, I see a level of transparency in his arguments that is often missing in the reasoning offered by the other defenders of FYUP.
Foundation of foundation courses
Even while I am feeling agitated on being left out on not being given an opportunity to express myself on the decision of affecting this change in attitude towards the very purpose of our undergraduate studies earlier but at the same time I am also ready to accept any excuse because of the limitation that we also are likely to face while attempting to consult each stakeholder for opinion. For this reason, let me postpone the discussion on the need for this change for the moment and try to investigate whether the course has been designed properly or not for what it has now been aimed at in the first place. Even if I completely agree with his entire contention, the agreement turns into apprehension as I try to analyze and understand how the new FYUP is going to serve the interest of those who do not choose research or academics as their career. His claim that the Foundation Courses would make these students 'employable' is what needs cautious analysis. In both of his addresses he mentioned that a company had came to DU looking to employ the undergraduate students, interviewed around 1100 students but found only three as employable. Now this is a thoroughly incomplete data for me to make out any meaningful inference out of this unless it is shared with us that what all quality/skills were they looking for in the students. Although there is a high probability that the employers were not looking for academicians or researchers in the case in question but just to proceed logically I will assume that the employers who interviewed the students were looking to employ the undergraduates in areas including academics/research.
Even in the absence of the accurate data we can begin the discussion as follows:
In any interview of a general nature, who all can be considered as employable?
Of course the one who is likely to leave an impression in the interaction?
Now how can a candidate impress a selection committee? I would place the following (almost exhaustive) qualities that normally impresses an interviewer.
1. Communication skills (oral and written)
2. General awareness quotient
3. How comfortable is the candidate while using modern electronic tools (handling different kinds of computers/printers, PPT, email, SMS, social networking etc)
4. Ability to think out of box (innovative thinking)
5. Ability to work in a group
6. Ability to lead a group
7. Inclination to do hardwork
8. Knows the importance of observing deadlines
9. Ready to learn new skills as and when required
10. Specific knowledge of the area in which a particular company deals in.
If we look at the points listed above it would be clear that our traditional approach of undergraduate teaching indeed aims at improving mostly only last of these skills. Communication skills that can impress almost anybody on earth is ironically never given the adequate attention in our studies. Here I must state that modern day private schools do give attention to this aspect of personality development and it is true that they stand a fair chance to impress any interviewer. Even if one ignores the last quality listed above, the other qualities make a student smart enough to impress anyone who would interact with them to consider an entry-level employment. Those who have access to modern equipments such as computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, internet usages and vehicle driving would find to have developed a confidence that can help in impressing any interviewer. In today's world if a candidate admits that he does not have an email account then he is most likely to score negatively in any interaction irrespective at the qualities that were being looked at. A candidate who knows how to handle bank affairs, how to deal with government departments, has a fair idea of our legal system and has a basic knowledge of government rules and regulations regarding our tax and civil liabilities and and is aware of our environmental concerns and policies is bound to impress any prospective employer. One who has some basic knowledge of Indian and world history, national and international politics would also stand a fair chance of impressing anyone. Basic understanding of data analysis and interpretation of graphs is also a must for leaving a noticeable impression on the interviewers.
It must also be understood that if last of the above points is ignored then all the other qualities that are listed above and are probably the target of foundation courses can make students employable only for an entry-level employments. On the other hand, even for those who wish to continue in the area of academics and research must also have all the attributes besides the last two to excel in their fields. Further, anyone seeking a mid-level or a high-level entry employment will have to supplement the qualities listed as point numbers 1 to 8 necessarily with the last two qualities listed above.
I believe that all these qualities including some aspect of character building can be best taken up during their school days itself but even at that stage we would be able to cover the above-mentioned aspects of personality development only by offering courses such as those listed below.
1. Basic laws of our land: Dealing with driving and accidents, marriage acts, civil rights and behaviour, women rights and environmental concerns etc.
2. Disaster management concerns.
3. Basic financial awareness: Working of banks, Share markets, investment and insurance products.
4. Basic economy: Indian and international economy, share market and investment strategies, inflation and interest rates.
5. Geography: Basic understanding of Indian and international geographical maps.
6. Political Science: Basic knowledge of Indian constitution and international politics.
7. History : Basic knowledge of Indian history and international awareness.
8. Travel and tourism ideas: Booking and managing individual and group travels for adventure, fun and pilgrim
Foundation Courses seems to me as attempting to cover some of these aspects. Some essential aspects that are listed above have been left out whereas some aspects are given undue attention according to my personal assessment.
Impact assessment and suggestions
I have a first hand experience of teaching Foundation Course papers. I have taught History of Science (formulated for blind students), Information Technology and the Science and Life papers partially. What I can say for sure is that within the limitation of classroom teaching these papers do have certain features to encourage certain essential qualities in the students. But as teachers like us are not trained for these interactions there is a fair chance that teachers would become hurdles in their effort since we are always tempted to teach them the way we know the best and are eventually trained at. I have often found during the interaction with students for Foundation Courses that the students were contributing more in enhancing my own vision on several issues many a times while I could contribute only occasionally and always felt that I could have been better replaced by an internet search engine. On the other hand, the aspects that one intends to cover in a classroom of Foundation Courses can well be embedded into the teaching methods that we adopt even for discipline courses.
As it must be understood that the idea behind introduction of these courses is not to make the learners as experts in these fields but is only intended to make them aware on these issues. It is for this reason because of which I am pretty convinced that it is late to introduce all these subjects at the time of under-graduation. We should have a national policy to include these aspects of studies in the schooldays and if at the undergraduate level students are to be encouraged to learn these aspects then they can best learn these outside their classroom hours. It can be easily found out that a private school pass outs generally would score very heavily on many of these aspects and only students from conservative/semi-rural/rural background poses a real challenge before us. Fortunately key to these kind of personality development techniques lie in the method that should be adopted for teaching these papers. I agree completely with Prof. Dinesh Singh who has repeated himself so many times while submitting that classroom teaching that is mostly unidirectional will never serve the purpose that is required for Foundation Courses. Hence the students must be given liberty of developing these qualities themselves by engaging themselves in some or the other group activities. The college can at best facilitate the process of providing them a suitable environment and leave them on their own to develop these qualities. I would prefer that they are asked to choose four such papers as listed above (one in each of the initial four semesters) excluding the papers that is related to their own area of specialization (honours) but they should be encouraged to consult internet to study these papers. Supplementary materials can be provided on our University website. Students should be encouraged to acquire knowledge on their own for these papers. Online multiple-choice tests can be made available during semester and students should be asked to attempt these wherein they can be assigned the best score out of their two to three allowed attempts.
In addition to this, each student can be asked to choose a single project for the entire duration of two years with a chosen group of 8-10 students preferably from different backgrounds and a teacher (or teachers) should be made available to them for consultation who would ensure that their single project helps them in improving the following skills for sure:
1. Writing skills.
2. Collection of some data from field or from the internet sources.
3. Analysis (tabular and graphical representation and comparison)
4. Conclusion and further ideas for improvement in the approach/analysis.
5. Creation of a working model, wherever possible.
6. PPT presentation before an audience (students and teachers).
This way all the aspects of 'employability' would get covered with a single project without compromising on the development of their specific (honours) skill. Some of these aspects of their personality development can be taken care of during their regular teaching of discipline papers itself. One can think of embedding these aspects into the discipline courses by encouraging the students to give presentation and by involving them in group discussions.
I must admit that unlike during semesterisation this time I tried to engage myself during the syllabus writing but I found that with reduced number of papers and periods for discipline courses we were just helpless in giving adequate attention to different aspect of physics teaching. Just to point out our helplessness I can state here that the computer programming and numerical analysis for which around 11 periods per week for two semesters were being devoted earlier we could now provide only three periods per week for two semesters wherein we have added even micro-controllers into the curriculum. According to the modern requirements we are justified in introducing the micro-controllers but we were helpless in providing the adequate periods for the same.
I would conclude my discussion with a reverse analysis of the data that was cited by our Vice Chancellor. If despite all the attention that we give to the academics and research we are able to motivate only a miniscule component (a maximum of 5-10%) of students towards these areas then what would happen if these aspects are compromised beyond a threshold. Unfortunately, the present FYUP structure is biased heavily in favour of the Foundation Courses. This posses a real danger of disorienting students away from academics and research and a developing country like India can never afford to do this. We must include aspects that were missing in our education but we can not afford to do this by compromising on our strong points. We should never let those students down who join the college to take up academics and research as their career of choice. There is a clear case to look for a wide scale review of this course. I would end this with my last remark that Foundation Courses can at best serve as supplementary courses at the undergraduate level and any effort to make it as the backbone of the course (that is how I will sum up the entire FYUP exercise) will produce students who would find themselves as not ready for any mid-level or high-level employment.
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