The ghost of autonomy is haunting the Indian education system currently, looming large like an impending dark shadow which can pounce and devour it anytime. Students in Delhi University in the recent years have been used as guinea pigs for all kinds of experimentation – from the three-year programme, FYUP (four-year undergraduate programme) to the Choice Based Credit System (CBCS). Higher education in India is getting more and more inaccessible to students from the lesser and underprivileged sections of the society with passing time.
With the rise of Hindu right-wing in the country, we see an assault on the freedom of expression, freedom to ask questions, to dissent. Banning “300 Ramayans”, removing texts from the English Literature syllabus which approached the idea of nationalism critically like, “The Shadow Lines” or “Home and the World”, vandalizing seminars, banning films, et al. Along with this, there is a constant effort to throttle subsidised education and commoditize and privatize it; however, if we look at the recent years, we see how the semesterization in DU was where it all started. It is the parent of the child called commodification of education.
Semesterization was “imposed” in 2010 for the sciences and 2011 for the arts and commerce. The syllabus that needed to be covered in a year was now shrunk to six months (which includes almost only four months of classes). In the annual system, evaluation of exam scripts was done over a period of almost two months, now double the scripts would be evaluated in less than half the time.
The semester system introduced different evaluation methods, pedagogy, teaching-learning process, interdisciplinarity, et al. Teachers had to now focus their time and energy more on evaluation, preparing awards, checking absenteeism and tracking students. This was the time which should have been used to improve the quality of teaching, research, and stirring young minds out of the lull of status quo complacency. Teaching became more exam-oriented with internal and external exams scheduled back-to-back. In such a system, things hardly sink in. Real learning takes time.
Learning not just for the sake of jobs and submitting our human will to mighty companies and factories but learning in the true sense of it, becoming sensitive humans who ask important questions and want equal rights, opportunities, and representation for all. For all of this to happen, it requires time, headspace to question, think, discuss outside the classrooms and help each other grow. Shrinking the learning time of budding, ripe and teeming brains in their most crucial years to less than half the time had already done the harm. This step worked mostly against lesser privileged students from Hindi and other mediums who find it difficult to cover the syllabus in English which is a clear denial of social justice. Students from this section need a relaxed scheme and extra time to fully understand, comprehend and process the study material. Semesterization works more in favour of well-equipped English speaking advantageous lot (to further climb up the social ladder but become automatons in the process).
Semesterization, thus, set unrealistic targets for both teachers and students to achieve. The intention was to reduce education to sticking to the status quo-ist examination schedule. It was a concept borrowed from American universities which failed in India.
Students and professors in Delhi University had protested against semesterization. Dharnas and classes were held in the open, outside the Vice Chancellor’s office. The resentments were of grading system being introduced which was ambiguous and nontransparent. The earlier confidentiality in evaluation got done away with. Evaluation became disinteresting and lethargic, the hiring of professional evaluators who evaluate an impossibly large number of papers for a hefty sum not really caring about the quality and value of what went in the answer sheets from the students’ side and there being no centralized control anymore, the system of declaration of results also gets messy and confusing. The system became completely opaque. What was it trying to hide?
After the introduction of semesterization a large number of students began to fail. Biswajit Mohanty argues in Semester or Disaster, “The Semester system prepares automatons that would very likely disconnect themselves from larger socio-economic and political processes of society, not ones who aim at building self-reflective students who understand subject through participation in microcosmic social processes like colleges, schools and maintains an organic relationship with society at large and become what Martha Nussbaum calls ‘democratic citizen’.”
Semester system also encourages rote learning, concentrating on mugging up and getting done with the syllabus as soon as possible which creates a huge disconnect between the society and students.
University authorities had imposed this system in the most undemocratic ways, brazenly authoritative manner by violating all procedures of the university laws, as was also in the case of the imposition of FYUP, and now CBCS. To understand where the Indian higher education system is headed in these dark times, I think the first step lies in identifying what went wrong, when and how was that executed. Well, semesterization, I feel is where we can start.