Science teachers meet on Semester System

Document based on the discussions of the Meeting of Science Teachers held in Miranda House at 3:00 pm on Tuesday, 17 November 09. (Participants: teachers of Zakir Husain, Matreyi, ARSD, DRC, SGTB Khalsa College, Miranda House, Hans Raj, KM College, Ramjus, Gargi, Keshav Mahavidyalya and Maharaja Agrasen College.

The Proposed Model of Semester System at the UG level

The Vice Chancellor has asked for feedback on the proposed model of the semester system at the UG level preferably by 20 November. The proposed framework completely redefines the Honours degree. From the documents regarding the proposed model, it is clear that there is going to be a huge pedagogical shift for the science departments. The practical component is going to be redefined totally.

The fact that most of the departments have not called General Body meetings to discuss the implications of such a drastic change or have directly gone into syllabus revision is a serious concern to the teaching fraternity.

In the absence of any formal forum to discuss the proposed model of the semester system, the science teachers took initiative and organized a meeting to discuss various aspects of the model.

A large number of science teachers from various colleges met at Miranda House on 17 November 2009 to consider the proposed model and the feasibility of the semester system at the undergraduate level in the Delhi University. A threadbare discussion of the proposed model was done.

Following observations were made regarding various aspects of the proposed model and the manner in which this change is being organized.

Suggested time frame

  • Time limit for sending the feedback The draft proposal was put on the website only on 4 November 2009 and 20 November was declared as the ‘preferred date’ for giving feedback. This is rather a short period for organizing meetings and collecting serious feedback. In some science departments syllabus revision has started (as the college teachers were told that ‘semester is coming’) taking away the opportunity from teachers to deliberate on the proposed model. It also shows that the VC’s office is giving contrary directions to HODs.
  • No time to think! The proposed model brings in a huge pedagogical shift for sciences. The  scheme of tutorials, which existed till early eighties, is being proposed again. In the new format,labs are being proposed as part of the theory. For all theory modules on the other hand syllabus has to be shed. In some departments it is also a question of reducing the number of papers.
    The shift to semester system requires a full fledged redesigning of courses. A mere mechanical‘cut and paste’ of the papers currently being taught would result in not only dilution of the degree but also of any academic purpose of this ‘change’. To set a deadline of March 2010 without caring about the ‘quality’ will be detrimental for the system.

Information is incomplete!

  • Last date of admission and transfer to another course For science departments these dates are crucial. If we close the admissions early, the seats may remain vacant. (Even with the present calendar, colleges fail to fill all the seats in the science courses.) And if the last date of admission is going to be till the mid of the first semester, then we fear that the number of students who will fail to cope will increase.
  • Distribution of Major, Minor and Elective papers across the six semesters The last page of the document does not give any information about this. The information is important tounderstand how the Minors (choices) will be offered to students of other Departments.
  • Format of Internal assessment and its contribution to the ‘marks’ It is important for us to understand what will be the format and weightage of the internal assessment scheme. There is no information about this in the document.
  • Weightage of papers: with labs, without labs For the science teachers it is important to understand the weightage of each component. It is perquisite for designing syllabus. It is also important information to strike balance between theory and lab.
  • Sample size Though a minor error in this entire blunder, the fact that the authorities forget to give the information about how the data for ‘possible Minor’ was collected or what was the sample size tells us the seriousness with which this reform is being perused.

Problems in the model

  • Purpose is lost! The proposed model fails on all the three counts: flexibility, interdisciplinarity and mobility.
    If the 3-4 papers, (supposedly ‘elective’) consist of the compulsory Environmental Studies Paper and a compulsory paper on Computational Skills plus a language paper, there is little choice there for students.
    There is no built in scheme to suggest possibility of mobility of student within the system or outside.
    The fact that an Honours student will be pushed to take another subject as ‘Minor’ and study six courses there takes away the student’s choice of deciding the extent of the exposure. At the same time, this scheme of imposed ‘minor’ takes away the chance from the student to study a ‘third’ subject of choice or as required by the ‘Major’. There is no flexibility in the system on this count. For some subjects, this scheme of ‘Minor’ is at the cost of the “Major’ and this is certainly a dilution of the Honours degree.
    There is no hint of running optional papers. This again is cutting down the choice a student can make.
    All this hints to only one thing: the date sheet is deciding the choices students can make!
  • No external exam for labs
    The calendar suggests that there are no external examinations for the Lab work. This is of serious concern to the science teachers. The external examinations are important in not only maintaining a uniform standard but also in deciding the importance the student will associate to the lab. It is rather strange that where as in the proposed model the theory component will be centrally evaluated; there is no such provision for the lab work.
    This also hints to only one thing: time available to fit in exams is the only guiding factor!
  • Labs as integrated part of theory modules
    At the undergraduate level, the procedures of the experiments certainly require more than two hours. So for us the scheme has to be 4 Th + 1 Tut + 3/4 Prac. It is also common knowledge that the number of meaningful experiments associated with different theory modules is not uniform. It will be, therefore, difficult to justify 3 or 4 periods associated with each of the theory module.
    This is a huge shift for us and has to be deliberated upon. The present framework where the labwork is correlated to the theory papers but is a separate paper gives much more flexibility.
  • Time for Summer Projects reduced The new calendar has a reduced summer vacation – from having two or two and a half months (after the exams are over) in the present annual system to less than two months in the new calendar.
    The new calendar which is already in place in the Departments has resulted in a reduced possibility for students to go for summer projects. The reduced time is of even more concern for an undergraduate student as the time needed to do anything concrete is more for them. Going for summer projects is a very important aspect as it gives them a flavor of ‘research work’ going on in the country. Exposures of these kinds at an early stage are essential if we want to draw students towards academics especially in research.

Feasibility & Desirability Debate

  • Students need time The proposal appears to be entirely silent on how the students from relatively ‘backward’ educational backgrounds are expected to cope with a university examination within four months or less of joining. From the proposed model, we can see that the rate at which the course will be covered in sciences will increase. This will leave students very little time to do self study.
    Anyone who has taught an undergraduate course would know that many talented students from the marginalised/depressed/rural/Hindi medium backgrounds may take time to adjust to requirements of university teaching.
  • Scenario of ‘No Teacher’ Increasingly in sciences we see that it is hard to find ad-hocs / replacements. In the proposed model, the rate with which the course has to be covered has been increased (4 classes +1 Tut per week). The rate at which a teacher will miss classes for a course in case of even a short leave is perturbing. The semester system does not leave scope for fixing extra classes.
    Are we going to get replacements when we go for orientation and refresher courses or will we be denied any such leave?
    How are students going to cope with this in a ‘centralized examination scheme’? It is a very important aspect and has to be answered before we go for this overhauling.
  • Tutorials in sciences This scheme existed till mid eighties and DUTA has demanded itsrestoration. It is a welcomed scheme which should be incorporated in the annual system (as it is not system specific scheme). It is unfortunate that colleges have not yet developed or have not been able to develop infrastructure to facilitate this important aid in teaching- learning process. As a result the tutorials in the colleges are being held in corridors, stairs, auditorium, staff rooms or in any space enough to accommodate few people. Appropriate infrastructure should be generated for it.
  • Time tables If students are to do substantial number of courses across different subjects, then the time tables of different departments have to be coordinated in a manner that these courses across subjects cannot run at the same time. Anybody familiar with college timetables will know how infeasible this is going to be.
    In colleges, we are facing a problem of acute shortage of lab spaces and lecture theaters because of the expansion. Everybody knows that though the number of students is going to increase even next year, colleges will be able to create spaces only after three to four years. We cannot strain the system further by changing the framework which is working well and with which we can still cope in our present circumstances to a system which will add to the demand of spaces.
  • Can we do it? We have serious apprehensions about the University being able to conduct the evaluation and declaration of results in one month’s time, that too twice a year. An examination oriented system will put severe strain on teachers who will have to spend almost their entire vacation in correction of script, leaving no time for research or other academic engagement.

The proposed model on B. Sc. Program

  • B. Sc. Program: In the proposed model for B. Sc program, we are going to the old scheme: out of 24 courses, 18 will be from the three subjects they choose (6 courses from each stream) plus 6 Electives.
    We are glad to see that finally authorities have realized that the recent restructuring of B. Sc. Program had overburdened the student, making the course undoable and unattractive. We will like to point out that we can reformat it to the old scheme (as being proposed now) even in the annual system as has been demand of the teachers and students.

The deliberations which lasted for nearly two hours also included the following points:

  • The examples within India where semester system is running well are PG Institutes (JNU and Hyderbad University) and IITs/Engineering colleges. Features common to these institutes are: these units are small, autonomous and generally residential. The students they are catering to are much more homogeneous than the students coming to us. These features are essential for running a unit successfully in semester system.
  • The rushed exercise shows that this is not a pedagogical one. The proposed model has nothing for the following stakeholders: students, teachers and administrative staff.

The opinion of the teachers that has emerged after discussion is as follows:

The semester system at undergraduate level will destroy time tested and widely acknowledged courses of the Delhi University, particularly in the science departments. Analysis and repercussions of the model proposed requires considerable time. Therefore, we demand that the introduction of semester system be deferred till the teachers complete their deliberations on the subject.

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