Rebuilding universities, degree by degree
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Almost everyone agrees that education will play a key role in national development. As a bare minimum, it has to create employable human resources; and at their creative best, institutions of learning have to unearth talent which will create new knowledge, and use existing knowledge in a creative manner to solve problems. An overarching theme has to be the creation of a citizenry that is committed to secular and liberal ideals, and has a work ethic and a public consciousness.
The past five years have witnessed a heightened commitment to education, including higher education. Major emphasis has been put on access, equity and excellence. A number of committees and commissions have made very valuable recommendations. The reports by the following four committees are extremely pertinent:
The UGC committee on academic and administrative reforms.
The National Knowledge Commission (2006-2009).
The committee on the renovation and rejuvenation of higher education (the Yashpal committee).
The committee on restructuring post-school science teaching — from India's three major science academies.
The most critical and important recommendation of the UGC committee was the adoption of the semester system, and of a choice-based credit system. It emphasised how important it is to revise courses at regular intervals; to have transparent admission procedures; to reform examination procedures so results are declared on time; and to ensure an involved and fair marking system, with some internal assessment.
The semester system is the preferred mode of organising teaching globally. The only exception is Britain and some of erstwhile British colonies, like India. Europe has already implemented a semester system with choice-based credits to encourage mobility and uniformity. In India, the IITs and agricultural universities have had a semester system and credits since their inception.
The science academies document identified major drawbacks in post-school science education. Amongst these were: "compartmentalised teaching/learning of a few sub-disciplines of science; time and energy wasted in sequential admissions to B.Sc, M.Sc and Ph.D programmes; repetitions of topics at B.Sc and M.Sc levels; poor laboratory facilities and consequent poor training of students in experimental methods; little exposure to research methodologies; limited options for movement between science and technology streams." This report suggested a four-year B.S programme, stating categorically that "it is essential that all the existing B.Sc and M.Sc as well as the proposed four-year B.S programmes follow the semester pattern with credit-based courses."
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