Why Forcing College Students To Attend Classes Just Doesn’t Work

Posted by Bipasha Nath in Campus Watch, Education
September 27, 2017

As a fresher in college, the idea of full attendance seems like an easy task. Elaborate plans are made to give equal weightage to every task (academic or otherwise) in the daily planner. Many diligently follow this timeline for many days – months even (if not more) by a select few. But as one begins to explore oneself afresh during their three to five years of college, there also begins the difficulty in maintaining a balance between academic interests and what qualifies as ‘extra-curricular’.

With a greater interest in activities apart from classroom discussions and assignments comes the greater expectation of flexibility on the academic front. Institutions, while rejecting the statement that ‘marks are the ultimate goal in a student’s life’, also reinforce that very idea by assigning grades for attendance. By the same logic, losing out on five marks that are awarded for full attendance in many colleges, means a drop of more than 1% in the overall score.

In a country that is so competitive and desirous of the ‘perfect’ student, the pressure that springs out from this becomes too difficult for many to manage. Take, for instance, Sushant Rohilla’s suicide case, where Amity University failed to show leniency on attendance issues – which, even though it ultimately became a contested cause for detainment, still highlighted the effect it has on students. Instead of being informative and strictly knowledge-enhancing, education is now becoming mechanical. It is not as much about the learning as it is about the supposed illusion of knowledge distribution.

Arbitrary Regulations?

Shanbari Agnihotri, a graduate of Delhi University, talks of the arbitrariness and falsehood of attendance regulations wherein “the category of ‘number of classes held’ in the Statement of Marks are often modified to suit the professional requirements a professor has to fulfill. By extension, the number of classes attended by every student is also altered as per convenience and favouritism. People engaged in extra-curricular activities end up getting hurt by the system as they lose a significant amount of marks just because they did not have more than 65% attendance.”

Riddhima Sinha points out the hypocrisy of college officials in handling issues like attendance. She says, “The college expects good quality performance at events organised by Societies, which require aggressive practice strategies. But at the same time, they don’t want students to miss classes, which comes across as rather ridiculous.”

Interestingly, however, attendance rules differ massively from one college to the other within Delhi University itself. So while Ramjas College favours students so much so that attendance, or the lack of it, only gets highlighted on paper, there are colleges like Lady Shri Ram College where students have often been detained for low turn-out in classes.

Ilina, a Jawaharlal Nehru University graduate, makes a crucial point by stating how attendance-free institutions can make greater scholars, as students have the academic freedom to test their limits and experiment with their knowledge base. “The method of teaching in JNU,” according to her, “is such that it induces responses rather than just imparting lessons onto them in a mechanical fashion. This freedom is based on the understanding that students need the space to explore to be able to produce good scholarly works. The teaching methods break boundaries – students in specific departments are free to collect their exam questions and write the paper elsewhere. Flexibility in spaces, therefore, also plays a major role in captivating the minds of students, thereby compelling them to attend classes regularly, despite there being no attendance structure in place. Such academic experiences are quite liberating, so to say.”

Armaan Malick, a final-year student at IIT Kanpur, provides a similar insight regarding his university by speaking on how ‘there is no compulsory attendance in most of the courses’. “I agree that the other IITs are more strict as compared to the Kanpur branch – because if there’s no attendance policy, it is impossible to have more than 60% of the students attending classes regularly. But here, turnout is often surprisingly high under these circumstances because attendance is voluntary, and not because it is officially forced on us. Also, lethargy on the part of students demotivate teachers and hampers their performance as well – something that affects fellow students in a massive way,” he says.

Attendance – Helpful Or Not?

On the other hand, Ahaana Chhabra, a Master’s student at Ambedkar University, Delhi talks of how wonderful it is to have an attendance schedule in place ‘because of the sort of interactive classes you have at the university’. “So, if one were to analyse how much progress they have made in a week with the texts assigned for a particular paper – and also in terms of their personal understanding of topics – they would have to come to class rather than not attending any. Perhaps, missing classes, especially in the first year, becomes a reality because not every subject has the best tutors. So, if you wake up for the 8 AM classes – and the classroom discussions end up reiterating what you have already learnt in school, or if the tutors refrain from teaching systematically – then there is hardly any incentive to come for the classes. But the idea should be to encourage students to attend college – without there being a penalty for non-attendance.”

While it can also be argued that compulsory attendance up to 65% or 75% ensures a sense of stability – and of consistency to an extent, as it ensures a methodical approach to teaching – it often backfires on those who participate actively outside college premises. The moment there is a forced imposition of rules and regulations with no outlets through which one can make exceptional cases, it creates such a strong authoritarian structure that breaking away from its clutches causes massive setbacks.

Students need the freedom to decide which direction they wish to head towards. They need the opportunity to make informed, conscious decisions. They need to be able to understand their strengths and limitations – something that only can be achieved by a healthy collaboration between academic knowledge and outside experience.

Note: All names have been changed on request.

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