Learning needs more emphasis, says AICTE chief

ONE of our team members ran into Prof. R. Natarajan, chairman of the All-India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) at the serene IIT campus, last weekend. The genial academic answered some quick questions, as he came out from a seminar on `a model credit-based semester system' to be introduced in engineering institutions countrywide.

Question: Professor, it is good to see you back in Chennai. What's new at the AICTE?

Answer: A lot of initiatives are on. Such as our plan to introduce the credit-based semester system in the next couple of years. But before that we want to create an awareness among senior administrators of engineering colleges on the need to have a CBSS. That's the purpose of this seminar.

What is CBSS?

The credit-based education system is an alternative to the conventional system. We want engineering programmes to be flexible to meet the changing scenario. There is too much emphasis on passing examinations. We want more emphasis on learning. Give students the appropriate credit for the material he or she has learnt. A degree is given based on the total number of credits earned by each student.

Why is CBSS required?

An engineering programme should cater to the fast-paced, the normal as well as the slow learner. Students need more alternative courses within each programme. The system has continuous assessment rather than semester-wise exams, pass/fail syndrome. A student is assessed continuously through scheduled and surprise tests, assignments and term papers. Instead of marks, we give grades, expressed as A,B,C or even numerical systems on a, say one to 10 or one to seven scale.

Does CBSS have any great advantage?

It sure does. Grades are accepted by institutions in the country, helps learners to cross between open and formal programmes, facilitates life-long learning. Marks are difficult to interpret across country boundaries. Students have more choice of electives. Grades are also easily accepted internationally. Several institutions worldwide have done it successfully. Today it has become imperative, especially in a post-GATS scenario.

When will the CBSS be implemented?

Our idea is to first make it voluntary for institutions and universities within one year. Later we can think of making the CBSS mandatory. But we need a consensus. That's why such awareness programmes, as the one held today helps. Two such workshops were held last week at Kharagpur and IIT-Mumbai. This is the third. Once we have the recommendations of all the meetings, we can think of ways to implement CBSS.

We are pursuing a lot of other initiatives to promote design, innovation and experimentation in engineering education. We will come out with details as we go by. Also, we want to protect the interest of Indian students, who are attracted by foreign universities. Non-standardised courses, spurious institutions are all causes of concern. We are looking at legislative mechanisms that can regulate entry of foreign universities. We are also standardising the admissions to PG courses nation-wide.In the case of undergraduate courses we have done it and achieved speed and transparency of admissions. It can be done for PG admissions also.

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