Most first-year students lag behind in subjects crucial to software development and code writing

On the face of it, the recently-declared first semester results of Anna University may seem to be one of the best in the recent years. But, on closer inspection, they reveal a worrying trend. Most students who failed have not been able to clear two subjects — mathematics and computing — considered very crucial to software development, code writing and logical reasoning.

While Anna University recorded a pass percentage of 69, many self-financed colleges in the city have recorded just about 40-50 per cent pass result, with most students failing in mathematics and FoC (Fundamentals of Computing) and some in engineering graphics.

“Seventy per cent of us come from biology background. Many schools in rural areas do not even offer computer science as a stream for class XII students. When we come here, we find that people from bigger cities already know basics of programming,” says A. Vinothan, a student of the College of Engineering, Guindy, who hails from Erode.

Students here study physics, chemistry, English, mathematics and engineering graphics, besides, FoC in the first semester. Computing has five units, three of which deal with peripherals of computers, binary and decimal code that are already taught to students who take computer science in class XI. This year, nearly 69 per cent of the first year students at Anna University come from various rural places across the State, a number that has been increasing over the years.

“The fact that some of the questions were unexpected, if not difficult, is also a reason for the poor performance,” says G. Gunasekaran, Principal, Meenakshi College of Engineering. As many as 170 of 362 students in the college couldn't clear the exams. Of these, 70 failed in fundamentals of programming logic alone. “Our students have applied for re-evaluation. We hope to improve the results,” he says.

There are other reasons cited too for the poor performance in computing. For instance, R. Aruna, a first year student had, with the help of her coaching class trainer, compiled a ‘question bank' of 5,000 programs but could not manage to clear the test which had 60 per cent of questions on software programs and 40 per cent on theory. “We were told we will be given marks for steps and syntax, even if the logic is wrong. Looks like we weren't,” she says.

“You can ask them to write a program that counts all numbers from 1 to 100 but the moment you ask them to count all even numbers from 1 to 100, it becomes a difficult question because it is not from the ‘question bank.' Students and teachers should be encouraged to think logically and not just mug up programs,” says A.K. George, professor, Anna University, who teaches computer science.

The dire shortage of lecturers to teach maths and programming in many self-financed engineering colleges also seems to be affecting the results. “Most senior professors refuse to teach first-year students because they are all one bunch and yet to be segregated into branches. The best among the trained resource persons are sent to the ‘top' branches of engineering,” says C.K. Ramamurthy, a senior mathematics professor in a self-financed college.

Experts note the importance of identifying strengths and weaknesses of students, especially those from biology backgrounds, those from rural areas or with vocational degrees as soon as they enter college. “We map the students' performance in class XII and compare their performance in unit tests and start with remedial classes soon after. Keeping a tab on faculty members' performance is also important,” says R.K. Kumar, Principal, Velammal Engineering College, that recorded a 96 per cent pass result. “If these gaps are identified earlier, the student does not lose his confidence, which is very important for him to perform,” he says.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012