As the first semester of undergraduate programmes under the newly introduced choice-based credit and semester system winds up, the principals, teachers and students collectively feel that the system was introduced in haste but the university authorities feel otherwise.
The end of the first semester may be an apt time for a review of the choice-based credit and semester system introduced by the University of Calicut for its undergraduate programmes in the current academic year. The university authorities are apparently joyful at the happy ending of the first semester though the first semester examinations began after a delay of a few weeks.
But the principals, teachers and students of colleges – the three major stakeholders in the new academic system – are not all that happy. There is no two opinions among them about the efficacy and relevance of the semester system. But there is a certain consensus that the academic reform was implemented with haste.
“There should not have been such haste on the part of the university authorities. The system is excellent and will certainly pay its dividends. But it should have been implemented after careful planning and addressing various problems,” said Fr. Devassy Panthallookaran, principal of St. Thomas College, Irinjalakuda.
It was in response to a directive by the University Grants Commission (UGC) that the universities in the country started preparing to shift to credit-semester system at undergraduate level. Following the UGC directive, the State Higher Education Council too asked the universities to introduce the academic reform within three years.
While the University of Kerala watched cautiously, Calicut University went ahead by implementing grading system as well as choice-based credit and semester system from June this year for its B.A., B.Sc.,B.Com., and B.B.A courses.
According to C.L. Joshy, Syndicate member in charge of the academic reform, the university launched the new system with enough preparation. Consultations were held with all stakeholders, including students and parents. Orientation programmes and workshops were held for teachers of all faculties before launching the new curriculum.
But most teachers and students we spoke to said there was not enough preparation on the part of the university. “Of course, there are some teething problems. They may be the initial difficulties usually found in any new system. Had we got more time, we could have addressed them,” said Sushama P.M., principal of Government Arts and Science College, Kozhikode.
Ms. Sushama is, however, hopeful that the teething problems could be solved by next academic year. But Fr. Panthalloorkaran is not. He says it will take at least three years for the system to prove its effectiveness.
Some college principals have found fault with the university for failing to stick to the academic calendar.
“First they fixed the examination for November 2. Then it was postponed for different reasons. Now the impending bus strike too is threatening to delay the examinations further,” said Fr. Jose T.M., principal of Christ College, Irinjalakuda.
According to Fr. Jose, the examinations are likely to lag till the Christmas vacation. “Such a situation may delay the beginning of the second semester in January, causing further lag of the programme,” said Fr. Jose, adding that students losing a year because of course lag is a national waste indeed. “It is unfortunate that we don't have academicians thinking on that line,” he said.
Another criticism raised against the choice-based credit and semester system is that it offers hardly any choice to students. Teachers were initially ecstatic about the introduction of a choice-based system. But their enthusiasm disappeared on learning from the university authorities that “statutory technicalities” did not permit any change in the subjects, particularly subsidiary subjects.
“We could hardly change the traditional subsidiary papers, though we expected much more,” said Rajan Vattoli, history teacher at Government College, Malappuram. “There is no choice at all.”
The changes introduced by semesterisation and breaking up of modules have not brought about any major structural alteration to the degree programme, said Mr. Rajan. “The change is only in nomenclature. The degree course has now become the degree programme. Each paper is now called a course.”
Students and teachers alike have faced some difficulties as the university failed to provide study material for some courses on time. There has been considerable appreciation from teachers for the core papers. “But there should have been enough study material,” said Mr. Rajan.
Teachers have raised concern about the competitiveness of the students in meeting the challenge in finding the study material on their own. “We don't know how far students can respond to it. But the system is good,” said Mr. Rajan. Another teething problem was the lack of clarity in some courses. For example, the university could provide the syllabus for the ‘traditional tourism' course only in September though classes had begun in June. Some teachers admitted that they had to finish the module rather hurriedly without either getting them or offering the students a chance for any analytical study.
There was criticism from some quarters that the examination for the second course of ‘critical reasoning' in the common subject was “too light and sub-standard”. According to the critics, the questions were of school standard.
But university authorities tacitly agreed that the examiners knew the problems faced by the students in the beginning semester, andtherefore, they did not want to pressurise them with heavy questions.
College authorities are concerned about the timing of course modules. Even when they agree that most modules are easy, they are afraid that they will not get 90 working days for a course in a semester as envisaged by the university.
Considering the situation on Kerala campuses, a college will get 60-75 working days for a course. This, according to most principals, will not be sufficient for the completion of a course, especially when various extra-curricular activities take place on a campus.
There is a feeling among the teachers that they are burdened like never before. Some of them have been forced to work on holidays to meet the requirements.
Teachers who joined colleges with teaching experience at higher secondary school level are conversant with the grading system, but the senior college teachers are not.
Unlike the indirect grading system followed for the SSLC and Higher Secondary courses, the university has introduced direct grading, reducing the scores in a course to a five-point scale (A, B, C, D, E). The overall grade of a student will be measured in a seven-point aggregate scale (A+, A, B+, B, C+, C, and D).
"This kind of grading, which is proven to be scientific and advantageous to students, will do away with minute variations in evaluation," said Dr. Joshy. The three-year B.A., B.Sc., B.Com., B.C.A., and B.B.A. programmes now have six semesters comprising 30 to 35 courses, and each semester covering five to six courses. A student has to acquire 120 credits for successful completion of a bachelor degree. Each course will offer up to four credits. The university will offer extra credit or zero credit for extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. But they will not be counted for the mandatory 120 credits.
The new system has four kinds of courses—common courses, core courses, complimentary courses and open courses.
There are 10 common courses for BA, B.Sc., B.Com., BBA and BCA programmes. They can be chosen by the respective faculty from a pool of 12 courses offered by the university. The course on environmental studies is mandatory for all students.
The common courses and the complimentary courses (formerly the subsidiary papers) is done in the first four semesters. The last two semesters will be exclusively for core courses. Two of the core courses in the final year will be open courses.