DU a guinea pig for UG curriculum reforms

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DU a guinea pig for UG curriculum reforms

Sunday, 16 June 2019 | Anish Gupta

Higher education in general and Delhi University in particular have witnessed a lot of changes in undergraduate study pattern during the last eight years. Starting with a shift from annual mode to semester mode in 2010, semester mode to four-year undergraduate programme (better known as FYUP) in 2013, FYUP to again semester mode in 2014, and semester mode to “choice based credit system” (CBCS) in 2015. Latest in the loop is ongoing revision of all undergraduate courses in Delhi University based on UGC’s learning outcome-based curriculum framework (LOCF) for the 2019-20 academic session. All the departments concerned have been given three months to complete this process. Interestingly, all these “reforms” have been announced all of a sudden and implemented in the very next year of the announcement.

However, the purpose of this article is to draw the attention of Delhi University’s undergraduate curriculum revision committee (2019) towards some issues related to ongoing CBCS pattern that requires immediate attention.

As per the University Grants Commission (UGC), CBCS provides “a ‘cafeteria’ type approach in which the students can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, undertake additional courses and acquire more than the required credits and adopt an interdisciplinary approach to learning”.

As CBCS enters its fourth year, a critical evaluation of the programme is in order, especially when the first batch of the CBCS passed out last year. Delhi University can be the best institution for the purpose of evaluation since it has been treated as guinea pig for all experiments related to “reforms” in higher education.


CBCS and implications of interdisciplinary approach

Unlike all previous pattern of the undergraduate programme, CBCS is different due to its infusion of compulsory interdisciplinary approach in papers apart from compulsory language courses. The generic elective (GE, hereafter) is a course that needs to be compulsorily chosen from an unrelated discipline/subject. Every discipline is entitled to offer some papers as generic elective for honours students for the first four semesters and for non-honours students in the last two semesters.

CBCS necessitates all honours students to choose one generic paper from discipline other than their own in each of first four (1 to 4) semesters. Similarly students of non-honours courses are supposed to choose one generic paper from discipline other than their own in each of last two semesters i.e. 5th semester and 6th semester. For instance every student of B.Com (Hons.) is required to opt a generic paper each for first four semesters out of a pool of disciplines other than commerce i.e. maths, economics, business economics, history, political science, psychology, Hindi, English, etc.

In order to understand the problem, let us take an example of generic paper offered by department of commerce at undergraduate level in Delhi University. According to CBCS syllabus, department of commerce of Delhi University offered following papers for generic elective: microeconomics in the first semester, macroeconomics in the second semester, business statistics in the third semester and Indian economy in the fourth semester. These papers can be taken by students enrolled in any honours course other than B.Com (honours).

The experience of last three years of CBCS indicates that commerce generic was mostly opted by the students of Bachelor in Business Economics (BBE. There is an astonishing co-incidence that all those BBE students who opted for commerce discipline as generic paper were studying same papers as their core papers in same semester for first three semesters, and one in the fifth semester. Similarly, the students of BA(Hons.) Economics, BBA(FIA) and BMS were studying almost similar compulsory core paper(s) as they were studying (or studied) in their commerce generic. 

In this way opting commerce as generic paper by the students of BBE and many other courses will not add anything to their knowledge but the repetition of same papers in the same semesters. Interestingly, students of BBE opt commerce generic mainly to lessen their burden. While preparing for one paper, other automatically gets prepared. However the question still remains: Will lessening burden at the cost of the other paper be helpful in long run?


Teaching a group of heterogeneous students 

Other significant problem lies in the fact that when students of different disciplines opt generic elective of a particular discipline, it brings together students of highly heterogeneous nature in terms of attitude, knowledge, aptitude and exposure. This makes teaching and learning even more challenging. For instance teaching generic of commerce discipline to the students of economics and BBE requires different skills than teaching the same to the students of Hindi journalism, English, History, Sanskrit, etc. Unfortunately, these students of different disciplines are taught commerce generic together in the same class, where it is easier for some to grasp and very difficult for others.

It is not the case that concerns raised here are being faced only by commerce discipline, while offering its generic paper to the students of different disciplines or when students of commerce discipline are opting generic elective offered by other disciplines. But more or less similar problems are being faced by many disciplines since inception of CBCS pattern in 2015-16.


CBCS and synchronisation of papers

The provision of introduction of a generic paper may have been with a noble cause but the lack of synchronization between various disciplines during syllabus formulation is going to have a far-reaching impact on teaching learning process. For instance, prior to the introduction of CBCS, four compulsory papers of economics were being taught to the students pursuing BCom(Hons), but post CBCS, there is no compulsory paper of economics to be studied by them. However, students can opt economics as their generic paper if they wish so, and they can also drop it anytime in the upcoming semester if they wish so.

Problem might arise when a student doesn’t opt for economics as his generic elective, as in that particular case he will be graduating without gaining any knowledge in the field of economics. In the absence of basic knowledge of economics, how fruitful that degree in commerce would be for the student is all together another matter of concern.

However, problems do not get over by avoiding economics by commerce students as they are required to study a compulsory core paper, Business Mathematics in their fourth semester. Interestingly this paper covers various mathematical tools related to maximisation and minimisation i.e. differentiation, integration, linear programming, simplex, input-output, etc. The application of differential calculus is used to find out maxima of revenue, output and profit functions, utility maximisation, minimisation of costs, marginal propensity to consume (MPC), marginal propensity to save (MPS), etc. Similarly integral calculus is used to obtain consumer’s surplus, producer’s surplus, etc. All these concepts are related to either microeconomics or macroeconomics, which were earlier compulsorily being taught to students of commerce before they were introduced the paper of Business Mathematics and Statistics. Since studying economics has been left on the choice of student in CBCS, they are being exposed to mathematical applications on various concepts related to economics without being acquainted with related basic concepts of economics. This has resulted in mechanical way studying business mathematics without knowing the reason for using a particular application.

However, irrespective of the people responsible for poor formulation of syllabus while ignoring harmonisation of the syllabus offered by various departments, the ultimate loser are the students who lost the opportunity to study one additional paper by studying two same papers for four semesters or study some papers mechanically or the teachers who are required to teach a paper which is simultaneously being taught in other classroom to the same students.

This is the high time any new change in the CBCS format carried out homework with due consultation with all stakeholders rather than doing another exercise in haste.

(The writer is Assistant Professor of economics in Delhi University)           

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