-Sri B.V.Raghunandan, SVS College, Bantwal
Talks never tire of reforming the curriculum, evaluation and the quality of output of Higher Education. Every time, one comes across such talks, the hopes rear their head that better days are ahead for the system. But, a keen observer will only tremble every time the talks rear their head. He has become a cynic as every single effort in the past only moved the evaluation system from one level of depravity to a higher level of depravity. The competition is never found wanting in pushing down the system towards an abyss from which there can be no return. The tragic state of affairs has reached a level that most of the educationists who should be evaluating the system with the critical eyes of a scholar have welded their mindset to a unidirectional system of plagiarizing the system of some other country with no relevance and no debate about its validity. All those who support the system are progressive educationists and the people who criticize are branded as conservative or old fashioned people.
Very often, we come across the criticism of the British Education System and the derision that is showered on Lord Macaulay. Most of the positive aspects of the present education system are those that have not been changed until now. The scientific approach made to determine the workload of the teachers and its adoption by most of the Universities is one such example. One shudders to think what would have happened if it were to be decided by the present educationists, who are academically uncivilized barbarians. If one pauses to think about the quality of products turned out by the universities in 1950s and 1960s, the quality of the scholarship of most of our national leaders present the stark contrast to the products of the present day university system. The likes of Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose, Tagore, Sardar Vallabhai Patel can only be a product of fiction or imagination. To think that they did not have any of the modern day training content like HRD, Soft-skills, Executive Communication, Leadership Camps, Yoga and Meditation, Career Counselling automatically creates the question how was the quality made. What might have been the evaluation system that ensured such a high decimal excellence (of course the word excellence was not used as widely as it is now). Surely, the evaluation system also must have contributed towards the quality of output from the colleges and the universities.
Not quite long ago, the educationists were very much aware that all examination related work was mechanical and would sap the creativity from the teaching faculty. Therefore, the examination work was entrusted to Tutors appointed for this purpose in non-science subjects and Demonstrators in science subjects. They undertook all the examination work under the guidance of the regular faculty. A conscious effort was made to reduce the evaluation work of the regular faculty. Such a system looks silly in the present day as most of the teachers are engaged in evaluation work most of the time under the semester system. Even the UGC, the highest facilitating body in Higher Education had the audacity of declaring that the evaluation work is mandatory on the part of teachers. However, it is heartening to note that some of the prestigious institutions like National Law School of Indian Universities are bringing back the Tutors System. Making the faculty to engage in the mechanical activity of evaluation for most part of the academic year and expecting quality only evinces the ignorance of the thinkers and administrators.
Repeatedly, we witness the concern about the falling standards in the writing ability of students and faculty. However, the will to understand the requirement for improving the writing ability is universally absent. It is always assumed that all the educationists know the changes that are to be made in the examination system. There is a Mac Donald type mindset for reducing the size of answer in examination. Everyone is fond of suggesting shorter questions on the ground that the evaluation would be easier or there would be better uniformity in the award of marks. A further academic perversion is to move towards objective type of questions. No one even tentatively ask the question whether long answers improve the writing ability or the short answers. In all examination reforms, the easiness of evaluation and the administrative convenience decide the change. It is never the improvement in the quality of students or honing their skill-set. The argument is always that objective types of answers are easy to value. Furthermore, it is argued that we can move towards computerization of evaluation and early announcement of results.
The system that existed may not be within the knowledge horizon of the young faculty. To put it within the level of their awareness, it is necessary to travel back in time and start at the genesis of the evaluation system. During 1975-77, when I was a student in the Post Graduate Department of Commerce at Manasa Gangotri, Mysore, Prof. J.K.Irani was fondly remembering the system that was no longer in existence. During his student days, the Graduation level question papers and Post Graduation level question papers had a distinct variation. All the Graduation level question papers contained essay type questions and the students were required to answer five questions out of ten questions. This was uniform to all the universities so that the pattern of question paper was universally known to everyone. This was the system under which most of the senior faculty of the present day obtained their degrees. At the Post Graduate level, question paper was vastly different in effect, but in form, it would look like not much different from the Graduation level question papers. At the PG level, there were ten questions, but the instruction in the question paper was to answer not more than five questions.
Not many will understand the effect of this difference, unless we explain the meaning of the instruction. An undergraduate student has to answer compulsorily five questions to target the maximum marks. At the PG level, the students can answer any number of questions, between one to five. If he attempts one question, it carries 100 marks, if he attempts two questions each question carries 50 marks, three questions carry 33 1/3 each and four questions attempted will assign twenty five marks each, and the final five questions will allot 20 marks each of the questions. What a splendid system of evaluation to ensure the writing ability of the students and what versatile teachers must have been there to evaluate such papers? The intellectual mind that invented this system and the minds that accepted the system comprised the faculty of that time. Leave alone acceptance of the system, it is better to avoid counting the number of minds that understand the beauty of such a pattern of question papers.
Someone came on the scene, who wanted the PG and UG to have the same pattern of question papers and successfully ensured that the writing ability of UG and PG students to be brought on par. In other words, the PG studies were reduced to the level of the UG. He or they might have thought that they have improved the system vastly by making them uniform, without the sense to understand that they were at two levels of academic development. It is the same process by which, the standards are being brought down with every change that we are making pretending that we are improving the system. Different levels of study require a different system of examination is a wisdom long forgotten by everyone. At every level, there is a tendency to make the examination uniform. More of it can be taken at a later stage.
Dr.J.K.Irani wanted to retain a remnant of the old system, knowing fully well that he could not follow for all the subjects. Students in the final year M.Com were offered the opportunity of writing dissertation on a topic of their choice. This was regarded as special and so all the students were not compelled to take up dissertation. It was made clear that the students who would like to pursue their Ph.D programme after the completion of their PG course could opt for dissertation. For all other students, there was a General Essay Paper. Assignments were given throughout the year on varied topics concerning business and industry. In the examination, ten questions were asked and a student should attempt one question and write on that for three hours. In this system, Prof.Irani focused on two points: work involving intensive efforts like Project Report or dissertation should be assigned only to a limited number of students and not for all students in the class as no institution has sufficient number of faculty to monitor the progress of preparation done by all the students; the second was to ensure the improvement in the writing ability of the students by asking them to write the lengthiest answer stretching for three hours. There are many courses that make Project Report compulsory for all the students never bothering to determine the amount of time that should be spent by the faculty in guiding the students or how many faculty are there in the institution and also how much time is needed to evaluate the project report to award the marks.
To retrace our steps to the problem of making the examinations at different levels uniform with no logic, rhyme or reason, except for the administrative convenience, there is an increasing tendency to make the answers short. From 16 or 20 marks questions, there are questions that requires half the length with 8 marks, quarter length carrying 4 marks, 1/8 of it carrying two marks. There are also questions carrying one mark each. Then again, there should be no need for writing the answer. Give the objective type with multiple choice questions. There is no need to prepare for the examination. As life is subjected to chance factor as in ‘Kaun Banega Karodpathi’, the university question paper can also be such a chance effort. Objective type questions were never part of education system. It was designed only for conducting competitive examinations for the recruitment of employees. Organisations including banks conducted the examination at the national level. Therefore, the evaluation must take lesser effort and naturally the objective type was suitable. Moreover, they believed that the colleges and universities, by not following the objective types of questions, would ensure certain level of writing ability on the part of the students.
The entry of objective type of questions into the academic world is also not by a logical thinking; but only through a myopic understanding. In 1970s, PUC was affiliated to the respective universities. It was appropriate as only the universities can transform the students from the text book oriented system of high school education to the reference book oriented curriculum of university education. Again, administration is easy with each university taking care of the PUC in their affiliation jurisdiction. Then, a PUC Board was created with the argument that when the students compete at the state level, the differences among the universities do not offer a level playing field. But, the same Board started conducting a Common Entrance Test (CET), effectively disbelieving the PUC Certificates and marks cards issued by it. Where was the need for another examination, if the same body conducted the PUC examinations? There would have been some meaning, if PUC was offered by the respective universities. The arguments could have been given that different universities have different evaluation system and therefore the CET. Again, it had to be conducted at the state level. Evaluation took a lot of time. However, admission to medical and engineering colleges cannot wait for such a long time as the evaluation of CET papers required. The managements of these institutions wanted the multiple crore of rupees of capitation fees from the students as quickly as possible. The solution is anybody’s guess. Objective type of questions crept into the academic world to make the evaluation and tabulation process easier and less time-consuming.
At the degree level, the credit based semester saw the introduction of the system for the unwanted subject of Constitution introduced for all the degrees. One can see majority of the students out of the examination hall in 30 to 40 minutes. For other subjects and streams, it is not long before that objective type of questions will make their presence. The farce is not these developments, but it is the adoption of objective type of questions at the national level for the National Eligibility Test (NET) conducted by UGC as the additional qualification fora teacher or for the purpose of starting on a Ph.D Programme. The first serious issue is to whom the examination is to be conducted. It is for the students who have extensive knowledge on a vast number of topics with no intensive knowledge on any topic (not in the not more than five questions system discussed earlier). Faculty in the colleges prepare for one or a few topics in each class with intensive knowledge. Once accustomed to the system, their competence is to prepare intensively for a few topics. For them, if the objective type or any type of examination is conducted, wisdom dictates that those who fail in the examinations qualify and those who pass definitely disqualify. As this is not acceptable, the examination is also a wasted effort.
Not to be second to anyone in this respect, the universities introduce entrance examinations and course work for people who want to carry on a Ph.D programme. Again, there is not even an iota of intellectualism whether the examination and course work is appropriate at that level of study. Even the system of Ph.D, which we have borrowed from the USA has converted the programme into a one-time affair of conducting a statistical survey of a convenience sample. No earlier effort is needed before the programme and no continuity after that. It was amusing to listen to a Ph.D awardee, when she was felicitated by a subject association. She declared that she had no reading habit earlier and she did not know which books to refer. It was only her Guide who enlightened her about the books to be read. She also advised that everyone should have the experience as it gave the habit of reading. This was from a faculty who had put in a service of not less than 15 years in teaching (of course, with no reading habit). In Europe, an experienced faculty can submit the teaching material used by him to an expert committee appointed by a university. If the material has originality, the doctorate gets conferred. Such an arrangement connects teaching in the college and the Ph.D programme instead of making the degree isolated from teaching.
Not following such a system is a folly by itself. Adding insult to injury, and examination is conducted for all the aspiring candidates. To make matter worse, course work is made essential. They have to sit in classes and listen to the lecture of a set of prescribed topics. No one is questioning the fact that the time spent in the class room is the time taken away from research. Therefore, it is likely to reduce or convert the Ph.D programme into a class work and an examination. It is like an adult suffering from malnutrition getting advised by the doctor to go back to feeding bottle practice to gain what has been lost in the childhood. To further make it outrageous, give the suggestion that the adult must lie in a cradle and should start getting bottle-fed. The examination and course work are nothing but the feeding bottle and the cradle. What makes it further outrageous is, that no faculty is raising objection for the relevance of the system, but only want flexibility in doing the course work. No one feels that he is insulted to go back to the class work, where his own student in the UG who has joined University as a faculty may become the teacher. Nobody questions the relevance of a new examination introduced. The effort is made only to dilute it or make a superficial change. Otherwise, blame the failing candidates for not having the requisite quality.
Examination is desirable only at the entry level. What is needed afterwards is training of different types and varieties. Examination maladministered will yield the wrong results and create the negative effect on the employees. There are no training programmes for the faculty after their joining the profession. Managements do not even think about it seriously. Universities have become examination conducting agencies. Therefore, they show the least interest in developing the faculty in the affiliated colleges academically. UGC is obsessed with FIPs and Conferences. Every programme has to be a mega-event involving many lakh of rupees with dubious outcome. There is virtually nobody who is concerned with improving the reading and writing ability of the faculty and enhancing the subject knowledge. Even if the workshops are conducted by the Subjects Associations, either they are not deputed on the reason of disruption of the classes or they have no desire in attending the workshop. What the system of examination has failed to do, could not be corrected by the administration of higher education also. A teacher getting his qualification from a bad examination system is like a virus. It will go on multiplying by dividing or splitting itself. The total erosion of quality of the output of higher education is a direct outcome of the cause. The malaise can be corrected by understanding and adopting what has been directly or indirectly suggested through the glimpses of the past.