With a Kerala government plan, arts and science courses may escape from being poor cousins of their professional counterparts, writes G. Mahadevan

Come October, the Higher Education Department will roll out a slew of initiatives intended to give a qualitative boost to arts and science education in Kerala.

Among these will be a scholar support programme to provide off-classroom coaching to select students, a college infrastructure improvement programme and an infrastructure upgrade programme for “heritage colleges” and those which can be developed into centres of excellence.

The scholar support programme will be implemented in government colleges affiliated to four universities in the State. Preparatory to the programme, the department conducted a “result-analysis study,” based on marks or grades, revealing that the performance of students in arts, Humanities and languages left much to be desired.

Student skills

“Though some students performed well in English, the study found a general weakness in listening, speaking and writing skills. Similarly, many students across the State were found to be deficient in critical reasoning, in being able to write analytically about contemporary issues…” an official associated with the programme told The Hindu-EducationPlus.

Another “discrepancy” noted by the study is the marked difference in grades awarded by the University of Kerala and those by other universities in the State. “We found that the University of Kerala had awarded low grades or marks, while the other universities were more liberal,” an official said.

The recent online admissions to postgraduate courses of the University of Kerala had to be redone after a trial allotment found that students from other universities bagged many seats in colleges affiliated to the university. Eventually, the university corrected this “imbalance” by providing 10 per cent “institutional marks” to applicants who did its degree programmes.

For the scholar support programme, each college will be allowed to choose six subjects and 50 students to give special coaching after class hours and during weekends. Each university will be allowed to choose 10 subjects. The programme envisages such training for 10 hours a semester. Teachers in individual colleges will act as resource persons. Close to Rs. 1 lakh has been given to each college for the programme.

P.K. Velayudhan, Additional Director of Collegiate Education, said the department was planning workshops to train teachers on how to handle these additional classes. Detailed guidelines would be issued.

ASAP

The department has initiated talks with institutions such as the National Stock Exchange and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for running the Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP) it recently launched in the State. The programme, aimed at equipping educated youth in skills much sought after by the job market, will be implemented alongside Plus Two and degree courses.

A 300-hour-a-year skills enhancement module will be at the heart of this programme, which will have a strong presence of industry personnel. A note on ASAP sourced from the Education Department stipulates that 55 per cent of the course work will focus on practical aspects of a skill.

Each student will study a mandatory 180-hour module in communication skills and information technology.

“The skill modules are being developed in association with industry bodies such as the Confederation of India Industry, the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India and the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM). Memorandums of understanding in this regard have been signed with NASSCOM and the ICAI already.

The basic framework that is proposed is to have a system where the industry will define the curricular objectives of ASAP, vet the training modules prepared as per the curricular objectives, provide resource persons for training the students, provide the internship (55 per cent practical inputs) and concurrently evaluate the students,” the note reads.

While initially ASAP will focus on hospitality, IT and IT-enabled services, retail, health care, banking and finance, more sectors such as hotel management, hospitality management, pain and palliative care and retail will be added later.

Emerging Kerala

The Emerging Kerala initiative scheduled during the second week of September may have sessions devoted to quality enhancement in higher education.

S. Rajeev, Director of the Asian School of Business, who chairs the Kerala State Higher Education Council’s committee on university-industry linkages, said he was working to bring over experts in quality enhancement in engineering education to the conclave. The need of the hour, Professor Rajeev said, is to find out what industry needed from potential employees and to see if higher education can provide candidates with those very skills. The final report of the committee on university-industry linkages will be submitted to the council soon, he added.