What seemed like a lifetime in the making, after studying in a rigorous school regime and surviving it, I was finally on the verge of starting my college experience. Until this point, I had been like any other Indian child, with parents who stressed on how important taking up science and maintaining good grades in every exam was, and teachers who said the words ‘joints’, ‘engineering’ and ‘IIT’ a bit too often.
One thing, however, which every student hears and is made to believe in, is the unbridled freedom college life supposedly brings with itself. For most students, college is portrayed as a utopia. A safe place where they’ll be provided with the opportunity to come in contact with similar and conflicting ideologies from what they believe in. This promises to further broaden their scope of knowledge and understanding and help them embrace this new-found notion of freedom in thought as well as action.
However, everything is surprisingly not as it seems. In recent times, the debate regarding how free our campuses really are, and if there is a need to change certain frameworks such that it allows for a freer environment, has cropped up amongst the student community.
In my first year itself I realised that although our engineering college was seemingly a place of relaxed rules, a place where students were encouraged to rely on themselves and their ideals more than a strict authority breathing down their necks, it was still caught up in the same cogwheels of repressing the expression of individuality among students. This was, in many ways, a fault of our archaic education system which lacks flexibility and often favours things taught in the classroom to things learnt through experience or instinct.
For example, in a particularly important subject in our course, the way to score good grades was to accurately reiterate the notes our professor had given in class. Any deviation from the same resulted in the deduction of marks. This isn’t restricted to just one instance though, and has been a common practice amongst many professors in different institutions.
There are other rules that are a major cause for concern as well. The compulsory attendance rule for example, which mandates a 75% attendance as a determining criteria for a student’s eligibility to sit for exams in many colleges. This rule has come under harsh criticism from the student community in recent times and with good reason, since it is seen by many as an attempt at curbing the student’s freedom of choice regarding which classes they prefer to attend. The implication of this rule is that students end up attending classes simply to pass the attendance criteria and often ignore the real purpose: learning.
In the long run, this harms them in two ways. One, they come to rely on private tuitions instead of building a much-needed rapport with their college professors. Two, since the students only want attendance; they don’t pay complete attention to the lessons being taught in class. This often discourages professors and results in them not putting in the required amount of effort in experimenting with new teaching techniques to make the lessons more interesting. The subjects of circuit theory and electronic instrumentation, for example, despite being some of the most complex and important classes saw a lack of attendance as well as attention in students attending those classes, due to this rule.
The gender ratio in our college is also a matter of concern since in an average class the ratio of boys to girls was almost 30:1. This is primarily due to the fact that girls are often assumed to be more proficient, or better suited, for humanities and not engineering. Although most companies nowadays are striving to break this mould by encouraging more women to join in positions predominantly assumed to be suitable for men, the stigma is far from being resolved.
Another form of discrimination present in college hostels is the the moral policing that women have to go through. Their hostel has stricter rules when it comes to staying out at night, and they have to return to their hostel by the prescribed timings. While the men’s hostel has this rule too, it is mostly relaxed. Even at the time of the college fest, this difference in rules for boys and girls is obvious and in place.
All in all, even though colleges are supposed to be places where an individual’s freedom (whether that of speech, equality, knowledge or any other sphere) is encouraged and given importance, they are just as stunting at times as the world outside. As an engineering student who has grown up believing in this rumour, it brings a sudden and profound disillusionment at times. There have been instances where students have demanded better job opportunities through the establishment of a placement cell but have been repressed and silenced by the college authorities with threats of being failed in their exams. Many students have lost a year due to the 75% attendance rule, and it introduced subsequent complications in their career later as well.
In my opinion, our college, as well as other engineering colleges, have to embark on a path of visible change in its policies so as to allow students the freedom to grow and become independent individuals.
1) The compulsory attendance rule must be abolished. Instead, students should be encouraged to approach their respective teachers with any doubts regarding their course material or request for help both inside and outside class, as well as voice their grievances if they have trouble communicating with their teachers. This will ensure a better response from both sides and make sure there remains no scope of miscommunication between the students and teachers.
2) More importance must be given to the development of soft skills among students as the lack of it often hinders them from voicing their opinions clearly, both in college as well as in their respective workplaces later on.
3) Girls should be encouraged to take admission in larger numbers, paving the way for more women working in engineering jobs later.