The Professor B. Hridayakumari committee has pointed out the problems in running the choice-based credit-and-semester system in the colleges in the State, but says that it can be continued.

The Professor B. Hridayakumari committee, which went into the perceived shortcomings of the choice-based credit-and-semester system followed for undergraduate degree courses in the State, has submitted its final report.

The Kerala State Higher Education Council formed the committee on February 21 to suggest reforms to the system. When it started work, the committee was flooded with hundreds of complaints. Its report paints a harrowing situation on the campuses.

At the outset, the committee mentions in its report why the credit-and-semester system was put to a halt in the U.K. almost a decade earlier. Firstly, the breaking down of knowledge-oriented subjects into small capsules prevented any in-depth study. Secondly, “unnecessary” examinations led to several unpreventable problems.

Fewer teachers

These are two of the biggest drawbacks in degree education in Kerala too. The student-teacher ratio in most foreign universities is 1:20. In India, the University Grants Commission stipulates a 1:30 ratio. But in Kerala, the committee has found the ratio in most colleges to be in range of 1:80 to 1:120, the lowest being 1:50. As a result, it is suggested that this system be experimented with in a college or two where the ratio is 1:30. The committee opines that for other colleges, better and diversified courses should be granted and the annual examination system reintroduced.

The committee has found that two semesters with 90 teaching days each are impossible in Kerala, as from experience, it can be found that only 45 to 55 days of classes take place in a semester. In this background, the committee observes that the semester system has become a threat that is seriously affecting the quality of higher education.

Language learning

In terms of language studies, it is a shocking fact that even the students who have completed Plus Two under the new syllabus have no knowledge of even the basics of the English language. The situation is no different in the case of Malayalam. Many students who have passed out of government and aided schools write the university examinations in a mixture of English and Malayalam. In addition to this, when substandard guides and notes are available in plenty on the market, the whole concept of choice, credit and semester becomes a futile exercise.

The committee agrees with the criticism that the syllabus and the textbooks are not prepared with a comprehensive outlook and do not have depth and integrity on the subject, leaving the students and the teachers frightened by the names of texts given for reference.

A syllabus needs a proper organisation. If the students do not have opportunities to study an inter-related set of subjects, they may have to grope in the dark. This sense of aimlessness is widespread on campuses.

At the university level, the role of language and literature in Humanities subjects should be clearly understood. The approach of the credit-and-semester system, which views language learning as only a means for communication, requires a revamp.

Another important point put forward by the committee is the dimensions of the approach which imposes a package of 30 courses on the students. Though referred to as “choice-based,” the higher education council has deemed any given 30 courses as compulsory for everyone. The committee asserts that some of them, such as methodology courses, are irrelevant. During a three-year degree course, a student can learn 12 or 13 subjects. Decreasing the depth and increasing the breadth sabotage the fundamental aims of higher education. The report says, “The principle of higher education is or should be that it helps a young mind grow into a subject.”

The new examination schemes and grading have afflicted degree education like a malignant tumour. As continuous assessment, as in schools, has been imposed in colleges, the student is forced to complete 30 assignments in 90 days — an assignment every three days.

Continuous assessment, introduced to save students from the stress and strain of examinations, is now responsible for an even severe mental stress.

The students thus search for shortcuts to overcome that, and one method is copying from the Internet or any other source. The teachers are ready to donate grade points freely. Donating marks is corruption. Favouring, threatening or tormenting, anything can happen in the name of internal marks.

We will soon see a time when all students in degree classes will pass with unbelievable and ludicrously astounding marks, similar to the 93 per cent pass in the Secondary School Leaving Certificate examinations.

The higher importance given to internal assessment should be stopped. External examinations, especially annual examinations, should be conducted strongly and systematically. Professor Hridayakumari demands that internal assessment be suspended till the teacher-student ratio reaches 1:30.

Internal assessment cannot be seen as final under any circumstances. The experience in the U.K. shows that even foreign countries are now reverting to annual examinations to avoid malpractice. For us, an objective assessment approach is essential. The committee’s advice to retain the marks system, in addition to grading, is notable, helping make assessments more transparent.

However, the report does not contain solutions for all the issues in the crises-ridden degree education system.

It is true that only the tip of the iceberg has been touched. But the committee report will come as a relief to the teachers who have been rendered aimless with the new system.

We have to underline the fact that it is those glimpses to rebuild the curriculum, syllabus and assessment from the roots which should be pursued in a process of thorough discussions. But curiously enough, the report concludes that the credit-and-semester system should be continued, going against the entire recommendations in it.

Convener, State Save Education Committee