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Dr. K.N. Panikkar
Dr. K.N. Panikkar

The restructuring of degree courses has stirred a hornet’s nest in academic circles. Vice-Chairman of Kerala State Higher Education Council Dr. K.N. Panikkar talks to G. MAHADEVAN on the new regime

Even as universities in the State prepare to offer a restructured graduate programme, there is still opposition to the scheme from various quarters. In an interaction with The Hindu Educationplus Dr. Panikkar provides the Higher Education Council’s take on issues relating to the restructuring scheme.

Excerpts from the interview.

There is an allegation that the new undergraduate programme does not give adequate importance to the study of languages.

This basically stems from an inadequate understanding of the programme as a whole. The study of languages is provided at two levels—first, as common courses and secondly, as specialisation.

In the case of Malayalam, for instance, in the first category there are four courses related to Malayalam language and in the second, there are as many as twelve courses. Apart from these students can also opt for four complementary courses related to language and one from the open courses. In fact, the new structure provides greater space to language learning with an altered perspective. Instead of viewing language learning exclusively as a study of literature, it advances a more comprehensive view by which students acquire the ability for precise and creative use of language, by situating it in the larger social and cultural background. The idea is to generate the intellectual ability capable of enriching the knowledge content of the language along with its creative use. However much literature is a crucial influence in moulding the social sensitivity, the study of language should necessarily address other components of language. It is high time that we critically look at the present mode of language teaching, which is primarily a legacy of colonialism. It used language component as a vehicle of ideological and cultural hegemonisation.

It is argued by some that the new programme would weaken specialisation and thus adversely affect the quality of higher education.

On the contrary it would strengthen specialisation. Undergraduate programme is a combination of general and specialised education. Its aim should be to intellectually equip the students to undertake higher learning and research. In the contemporary academic conditions knowledge is produced at the intersection of different disciplines. It should be evident that inter-disciplinarity is possible only if the students are exposed to multi-disciplinary knowledge. The essence of the new programme is to open up such a possibility, although in a limited manner. In the present academic climate that is the road to specialisation. I think those who are critical of the new programme have not been sensitive to the changes currently occurring in the academic field.

Wouldn’t it have been better to first introduce indirect grading and then move on direct grading?

The indirect grading is no grading at all. It is only conversion of marks into grades. It has all the weaknesses of awarding marks.

Grading is a superior system in as much as it groups the students in categories, rather than determining the exact position in a scale, which is a very difficult and sometimes irrational exercise in most disciplines. Grading could also iron out the disparities in academic measurement brought about by the differing nature of presentations in different disciplines.

The State government is yet to appoint teachers in colleges so that existing sanctioned vacancies get filled. Without this how can a credit and semester system (CSS) work?

The filling up of all vacancies is necessary not only in the context of the CSS, but for the general efficiency of the system. The HEC has tried to impress upon the government the need to take urgent steps in this matter as a necessary condition for the success of any reform of the system. We had several rounds of discussion with the Finance Minister and the Education Minister. The government appreciates our view point and has accepted our suggestion in principle. As a consequence the government has already sanctioned the appointment of about 1,000 teachers.

However, teachers for the courses sanctioned during 1998 to 2001 are yet to be appointed. Steps are on to achieve it. Currently workshops are being conducted to determine the number of teachers required for these courses. This exercise would be over this week. Hopefully appointments would soon follow.

Though the regulations speak of committees at various levels to tackle student grievances, there is no mention anywhere of any penal action against a teacher who is found to have willfully engaged in harassment in the name of CE?

The present experience is not of victimisation but of overindulgence. The tendency appears to be to award near maximum marks to almost all students, regardless of their academic performance. However, there is possibility of victimisation in internal evaluation which should be reckoned with.

Apart from a three-tier grievance redressal mechanism, which the HEC has suggested, the real remedy is to make the evaluation transparent. The students should also have access to the answer book after the evaluation. As far as penal action is concerned each institution should evolve its own methods of control for violation of professional ethics.

Did the HEC “rush” the degree restructuring programme through the teaching community with little training, particularly for preparing question papers and for evaluating answer scripts under the new system?

There is considerable misinformation on this count. The HEC had started discussions, consultations and orientation programmes from April 2007. The scheme was discussed twice with teachers’ and students’ organisations, with Principals’ Council and representatives of Managements’ Association. The discussions were held with the non-teaching staff as well. About 150 workshops were conducted in different parts of the State with experts drawn from both within the State and outside. A large number of the teaching community was thus drawn into the preparation, which was a massive effort, unmatched in any other part of the country in matters of educational reform. Apart from this the report on restructuring the undergraduate system and all minutes and discussion notes regarding that were also published on the HEC web site.


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