By Veda Nadendla:
After spending three years completing a bachelor’s degree and a year and a half trying to complete a master’s degree, I realized that frustration has become a second nature to me, and fight or flight, the story of my life. I thought I’ve been PMSing for four years straight, but now I know why. The very attrition and absenteeism that I am studying to curb, is what I indulge in on a very regular basis, because I just cannot seem to stand being in college. I walked into college with the hope of great learning, and learning it was, to expect nothing more than average.
Are you reading this and feeling that this is the story of your life? Do you also dislike going to college with the very same fervour as I do? I feel you my friend. I write to talk about what needs to change in Indian colleges, and fast. Before brain drain becomes a national threat, it’s time that faculty and management paid attention to student feedback and ramped up the grievance redressal system. We are done being the collateral damage of an uptight and antique education system, unwilling to repaint its structures, let alone rebuild.
If only the following four things get implemented, I will become much more than a guest appearance at college.
1. Abolish Compulsory Attendance
This is just a way of keeping students in class. It’s almost a reaffirmation of the fact that if this rule was not in place, hardly anyone would be in class. No comparisons to how universities around the world function, but the 90, 85 and 75 per cent compulsion to be in class is redundant. This is because many times, even though we are sitting in there, we are hardly interested. ‘The attendance rule’ has also become a way of threatening students and tossing superiority by saying that if you come to class five minutes late, your attendance won’t be marked. So does that mean I can walk out?
Colleges should have an attendance bar of 45% and instead of threatening us, they need to consciously work on a way of making class a more interesting place to be in and lectures, a memorable experience. Nothing can stop me from attending a lecture that compels me to think; give your students the gift of curiosity and intellect, not the grind of mediocrity.
2. Stricter Criterion for Professor Recruitment
No disrespect to the people we so ardently call Ma’am/ Sir, but I believe that Universities around the country need to have stricter criteria for Professorship and a more testing recruitment process. I would much love that the people bestowing knowledge upon me at least spoke to me in English instead of making fun of me for not knowing the state language. It seems that our system is willing to settle for mediocrity. It doesn’t matter who is teaching, as long as the material is covered, right? And this usually happens in the form of photo copies and notes dictation that amounts to mugging up and vomiting on the answer sheet.
Professor recruitment needs to be taken up with some strict criterion; for instance- English communicative knowledge, minimum two years of experience in the field, ability to hold attention, presentation skills, holistic subject knowledge, a dynamic teaching plan and interpersonal skills. This is the person who judges my answer sheets and assignments, who gives me scores that dictate my future, who is supposed to set a standard for me; should my professor not be thoroughly tested for his/her holistic competence too? When students are handpicked through aptitude tests and in-depth multi-panel interviews for admission, it is only fair that their faculty members are the cream of the lot too.
3. Paper and Pocket Friendly Education
Not only are we paying a hefty sum as college fees, we are also spending on numerous handwritten assignments taken up as a way to avoid plagiarism. Then there is a multitude of photo-copies and project review copies that we spend on, not to mention the copious amounts of notes we take. One five subject notebook every semester and nearly 1 kg of paper printed for trash. Figuratively speaking, 1 kg per student, 150 students per department, 8 departments in the college and a total of 1200 kgs of paper; where is all this paper going?
Then there are all those answer booklets. Imagine if we could choose to type end semester papers instead of writing them. Laptops would be an investment, alright, but not only would you be standardizing the examination process and increasing our chances of getting better scores, but also preventing the waste of unbelievable amounts of paper.
Allow us to use our cell phones, tablets and laptops to take notes in class; encourage the exchange of information online instead of taking print outs; allow us to submit assignments through email. That way, the pocket money gets saved and the use of paper gets limited; plus, we can stop being judged on our handwriting and start being marked for the quality of our work instead.
4. Challenging Classrooms not Lives
Many times, being a student is a berating experience, because some of your professors are constantly judging and reprimanding you for being late, for not paying attention, for your handwriting, for the way you dress or even the way you speak. Setting standards is good, but every student is different and as our guides, professors need to respect that. Similarly, respect is earned, not force fed through rules and punishments. Do not set out seeking perfection, set out for growth. Make every class worth talking about even after it’s done, discuss the world with us, ask us about our experiences, involve us in debates about what is right and what is wrong, engage our minds and feed us with a spark for creativity. Encourage us for extempore and discussions, performance based learning and role-play activities; make the classroom a place where we feel like expressing ourselves.
Dear Professors, fortunately for you, this is not just another job. Being a teacher is a paramount responsibility, a responsibility of the future. I am one of those futures, and I refuse to buckle under the pressure to conform; instead I choose to inform you that I want more. Not because I am paying for it, but because I choose to learn and be challenged. It doesn’t even have to be the system, you can change our experience, and just one teacher is all it takes to set the ball rolling. Enter our world and teach us the way we want to learn. We challenge you to challenge us.