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Millennium Post

Dinesh Singh, please come clean!

Much like the ‘hysterical woman’ of the 19th century – in other words, the woman who, in flagrant violation of the idealised Victorian norms of docility, emotionality, dependency, strict chastity and gentleness, presented the strange challenges of argument, intellectual and sexual curiosity, lack of homeliness, independence of spirit and enquiry, as well as the not exactly the resultant fallouts of depression, anxiety and stress – in present times, the ‘academic’ is being increasingly slotted as the hysterical other, who must be disciplined and cured by an educational system that is becoming an authoritative structure of knowledge management rather than knowledge production.
 
That the flaws were in the skewed perception of femininity that was the basis of the increased diagnosis of insanity among the 19th century women, and had nothing to do with any accelerated incidence of female madness during the time, was, of course, painfully established by later feminists and psychosocial scholars alike. Similarly, the current protestations – staged by the lecturers and professors at various levels and disciplines within the University of Delhi against the ghastly imposition of the four-year-undergraduate-programme, without as much as any effort at discussing it with the teaching fraternity – are being maligned and discredited as the raging madness of a community that the administration would like to be shown as a bunch of lazy nincompoops, whose only ambition in life is to draw a hefty salary from the University Grants Commission, without putting in the required number of hours, days, weeks, months and years into what they call effective ‘classroom teaching.’       
 
While the University administration, basically represented by a bullish vice-chancellor in Dinesh Singh, and the union ministry of human resource and development, represented by a glib Shashi Tharoor and an almost invisible Pallam Raju, consider the overhaul of the DU undergraduate programme as a much required step in the right direction, thousands of university professors, lecturers and even the ad-hoc teachers have summarily condemned the imposition. On 12 May, the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) convened a general body meeting (GBM), wherein it unanimously rejected the FYUP and demanded removal of the VC. Over a thousand teachers at various levels and streams in the University of Delhi gathered in Ramjas College campus and issued the official disapproval of the new system.
 
It is interesting to note that several of the senior professors, particularly those in the humanities stream, who were present at the 12 May disparagement of the FYUP, were the ones who spearheaded the restructuring of the curricula in the year 1999 and rejuvenated a decrepit and dying syllabi that had not been updated for decades. One wonders if the university administration is suffering from an acute case of memory loss, because no lazy nincompoop, who is uninterested in classroom teaching and is uninvolved in the further development and fine-tuning of the curricula, would go through the unimaginable hassle of demanding and successfully bringing about such a mammoth change in the texts and contexts of university education.
 
The DU administration has done a hatchet job of stretching a three-year system into a credible four-year one. Despite the VC’s repeated admonitions against the teaching community, the latter’s main opposition is principally to the haphazard and unscrupulous manner in which the curriculum has been redesigned, without any regard for the massive heterogeneity in the number of subjects studied and students pursuing different streams.
 
Conveniently, under the new system that in all probability will be implemented from July 2013 onwards, the first year of the FYUP would attempt a one-size-fits-all pattern with 11 foundational courses that will be compulsory for every student of the university. While it being dressed up as an ostensible ‘democratisation’ of the university, in reality, it will be a rehashing of the high school syllabi, with several references to the NCERT text books that the students had anyway gone through while preparing for their secondary and higher secondary examinations. Hence, the so-called one extra year that the student will be forced to spend at the university, supposedly to bring them at par with ‘global standards’ (read the time-frame for an American liberal university education) will be not even a notch comparable to the actual levels of university education in the top educational institutions of the world. Further, the whole debate on flexibility under the new system is utter hogwash, as the only plasticity that will be available under FUYP will be at the triple exit points – those at the end of two years (resulting in a diploma), three years (bachelors with diploma) and four years (bachelors with honours) – and not in terms of wider range of subjects on offer, nor in terms of combination of subjects that one can read at various levels. Mostly, the compulsory foundational subjects in the first year will be a big deterrent for the students, whose higher secondary syllabi had already demarcated a differentiation and quasi-specialisation in terms of choice of stream – as in science, humanities or commerce depending on individual inclinations and marks obtained. In addition, the 18 taught courses and two researches papers that will be offered under Discipline 1, will only be available from the second year onwards, thus limiting the study of one’s subject of choice and eventual specialisation to three years, and not four.
 
It is because of these and several other discrepancies in the actual curricula, along with the insurmountable number of texts from various disciplines crammed into the limited period of eight semesters, which brand the FYUP such a disaster in the making. Instead of any coherent and inclusive designing of the syllabi, that takes into account the actual availability of teachers and their areas of expertise, a regressive top down approach has been adopted to turn university education into an assembly line production of a three-tiered outcome. This will result in an even more hierarchised higher education system, which will perpetuate, with even greater efficacy, the existing divisions of privileges and access. Clearly, the idea of the university as a public sphere and a space of production of creative dissent has been supplanted by a monstrous definition of the university as a factory for producing dubious executives faking British and American accents and keeping intact the bubble of a rising India.
 
The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post.
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