Education Plus

How good is the semester system?

By and large, semester system is perceived to be better than the annual system in institutions of higher learning since the students could be kept busy all through the year.

The system, indeed, intends good. But, to the chagrin of the student community, it is not fool-proof at the last hurdle; shortcomings in the valuation process are what rankles them.

Instances of faulty valuation are all too common in the affiliating model of the Indian university system. For instance, during the course of centralised valuation in one of Tamil Nadu's reputed universities, an economics teacher realised that he had evaluated a Microbiology paper only while totalling the marks. Ironically, students become the casualties of the system. The teachers are not to be blamed entirely since they are apparently given unrealistic targets by the universities that accord priority to sticking to the examination schedule. The universities, as things stand, are less worried about the validity of the system.

The issue was discussed threadbare at the recent meeting of the Senate. The university, based on the observation of several members that a hurried evaluation on the part of teachers due to poor turnout in valuation centres was the cause for such mistakes, made it mandatory henceforth for colleges to depute teachers for valuation duty.

But the decision again has consequences for students, according to college principals, who find it simply impossible to manage the institutions when teachers go en masse for valuation duty on working days.

Where does the solution lie then? The heartening factor is that a definite pattern has emerged. The system continues to be a success in unitary universities and autonomous colleges where the institutions are able to conduct examinations and publish results in an organised way as students are in manageable numbers. It only means that the semester system is not at fault, but it just does not suit the affiliating model of Indian universities, former vice-chancellors acknowledge. It is time Indian higher education institutions adapted themselves to the requirements of the semester system or reverted to the annual system, they advocate.

According to P.S. Manisundaram, the first vice-chancellor of Bharathidasan University, the concept of semester system borrowed from American universities has failed in India. In the American system, the system is workable because the valuation process is entirely an internal affair. When it comes to implementing the same system in affiliating universities, the load on students and teachers become enormous, said Prof. Manisundaram who was the Syndicate Member of the University of Madras in the mid-1960s when the then vice-chancellor, A.L. Mudhaliar, introduced the semester system only for engineering programmes as a pioneering project. But, even before the impact could be determined, the rest of the universities followed suit.

It is now better for universities to revert to the annual system by restructuring the courses accordingly, said Prof. Manisundaram, reasoning out that for one hundred years till the semester system was introduced, the annual system was a success. In fact, for B.Sc. Honors course, candidates had to take the examination for all the papers only at the end of the third year. There is no reason why the universities should not get back to the annual system since it would also expand the duration of teaching-learning transactions. The teachers would be in a position to take part in the centralised valuation work in large numbers during the summer vacation, Prof. Manisundaram explained.

Adaptation to the semester system, according to P.K. Ponnuswamy, former vice-chancellor of Madras and Madurai Kamaraj Universities, can be made possible in the real sense of the term only in the event of the higher education system restoring faith in internal valuation at the level of individual colleges. He wondered how a system that believed in the teachers' capacity to teach could desist from extending the trust for valuation.

In any case, with the right checks and balances to rule out scope for bias or nepotism, internal valuation could be made reliable. Also, when teachers value the papers of their own students, they, in all probability, would not compromise on the duration meant for teaching-learning transactions. The bottomline is that affiliating and semester system never go together, said Prof. Ponnuswamy.

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Printable version | Nov 20, 2020 12:49:48 AM |

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