Teaching-learning process in colleges


IT IS heartening to see young engineering students articulating their views about and expectations from their college education. Their concern for the quality of our higher education system is evident in the articles published in Open Page over the last few weeks. In fact, they have initiated a debate on the teaching-learning process used in our colleges. All the student-writers were unanimous in suggesting a flexible curriculum that allows students to explore the subjects on their own. In the article `Paradigms in engineering education' (January 7), the writer feels that high percentage of attendance required (85 to 90 per cent) for the undergraduate courses does not take into account the individual needs. In the article `Learning by exploring' (January 21), the writer alleges that the system undermines self-confidence of the students by encouraging rote learning as against independent thinking. He laments that they hardly get any time to think. This is cited as a major reason for the lack of research orientation and entrepreneurial abilities among our graduates.

Diverse backgrounds

From my experience, first as a student and now as a lecturer, I feel the following factors need to be considered to put the issues in perspective. First, the composition of a class in general. Irrespective of the type of selection process used, any class is basically a heterogeneous group of students coming from different backgrounds, with diverse needs and aspirations. Many of them select a course based on the recommendation of parents and others. We can find students who do not think beyond the examination. Some of them expect simple `notes' to be given, that too for the most frequently asked questions. And there is a minority with bigger aspirations. Then there is the vast `middle class.' An institution has to walk the tight rope to serve them all. In fact, the diversity is more an opportunity than a challenge. Because learning is a collaborative process. Every student is a resource and can contribute to the learning process. That is the reason most of the reputed institutes give marks for class participation (CP). That being the case, attendance cannot be made optional. Even a seemingly insignificant non-verbal cue from a student can make an impact on the teacher. And the mere physical presence can influence the dynamics of the classroom. Second, the syllabus and the subjects. Normally the subjects follow a natural sequence from known to unknown, from basics to advanced, from parts to whole. Thus the teaching-learning becomes a step-by-step process. So attendance requirement in terms of percentage of classes attended becomes absurd. How does a student decide whether to attend a particular hour or not? Most of the undergraduate courses are designed in such a way that after graduating, a student can specialise in a field of his choice at the postgraduate, M.Phil., Ph.D., and post-doctoral levels. Then the suggestion that the students must be left free after one year of lecture classes, at the undergraduate level, does not make sense. We must find out the causes for the feeling that attendance requirements are high. This reflects poorly on our institutions. More so on the teachers. In the age of internet, it is better to reduce the number of class hours and to make students undertake more application oriented assignments and projects, individually as well as in groups. Today teachers are not the only source of information and in this context they need to redefine their roles. That means lecture method has to be downplayed and efforts have to be made to involve all the students, particularly the brighter ones who can play the role of teaching assistants and student-mentors. But that requires a lot of creativity and attitudinal and structural changes as the students rightly point out. >