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Learning without regimentation: on compulsory attendance

There is an ongoing debate among students in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, about compulsory attendance. This is not a demand for the right to not attend classes. Rather, the protests against compulsory attendance aim to protect the university’s academic culture, which emphasises that learning is more than just classroom presence. What are the roots of this protest?

First, absenteeism has never been a problem in JNU. Students attend classes across disciplines, not just in their own departments. Undergraduate students complement their core disciplines by attending lectures in allied disciplines at the Masters level. Their motive is the pursuit of learning. Second, there are questions regarding whether the statutes of this university have been followed rigorously in terms of reservations and seat allocations. The circular announcing the introduction of compulsory attendance is considered by some to be an example of an amendment that was not tabled in the agenda of the academic council. This raises concern about the apparently unilateral announcement of the measure. Third, when students and faculty boycotted this order, the university administration is said to have terminated all fellowships forthwith. Could they be unaware that students of this university come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and rely upon their fellowships for basic sustenance including mess food, photocopying services, and book purchases? Fourth, stipulated conditions for drawing fellowships do not require compulsory attendance. In this regard, the administration’s move stands outside of its own rules. Fifth, almost all courses use other methods to encourage and ascertain that students participate in the process of learning, including regular sessional examinations, term papers, class presentations, and continuous assessment in the form of class participation. This is a holistic form of assessment, where students learn without regimentation, and faculty do not waste time marking attendance sheets. Sixth, given that this is a research university, students go on field trips, attend conferences, go to libraries and archives outside campus, as required by their research. This makes it nearly impossible for them to go to the classroom every day.

 

The reason why a university without compulsory attendance has risen to be a premier research institution in the country is because it follows the best global standards in academic research, is creative in its methods, and, most importantly, recognises that academic autonomy is the only way to guarantee independent, thoughtful, and path-breaking research. The fact that compulsory attendance has been imposed points to the danger of bureaucratic centralisation disrupting nuanced and proven practices of academic heterogeneity and autonomy. There is also a risk that such a measure may suffocate the freedom to think independently.

Parnal Chirmuley is Associate Professor, Centre of German Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 7:32:27 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/learning-without-regimentation/article22790947.ece

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