The recent race for seats in one of the colleges of Delhi University, the wait for the cut offs, followed by search for coveted colleges, some of them so prestigious that they have their own interview where they call candidates simply as an eyewash, all of this reminded me of my own days when I landed up in Delhi for admission to one of the colleges in Delhi University. That was nineteen eighty-five and strangely enough, during all these years nothing much has changed in our colleges!
The mad rush for so called traditional courses seems to be without any reason. The colleges have stuck to their guns and the courses remain the same. The B.A., B.A. (Hons) Program, B.Sc., and B.Sc.(Hons) Programs exist even today, and for those struggling with subsidiaries, you continue to have those ‘Kunjies’ or help books that have all the important questions and their answers in them! The core questions remain the same, nothing much changes, going to college in Delhi means, ‘masti’ and if you are in North Campus, it is about having fun, attendance is so lax, and in any case, a visit to K-Nag, or Kolhapur Road for the latest in fashion is the trend. These spots were popular in my time, ( although I joined South Campus after Mr. Hala told me I couldn’t join his ‘Premier’ college because he couldn’t make out the marks on my Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate which in grades. He would call me back, but then I refused finding Venky more convenient). In South Campus, Satya Niketan was popular and so was Naoroji Nagar. The best hangout was Chanakyapuri with its iconic cinema hall and Yashwant place. When your attendance dropped below the minimum required percentage, you visited Dr. Paithankar, (God Bless him for saving many students) and in those days you parked your scooters and bikes inside the college.
However, college is serious stuff, and it is high time administrators and curriculum framers realized that they have not exactly progressed in terms of the demands of the day. Colleges continue to churn graduates who are really not ready for life. Traditional courses that have not evolved in years continue to teach students stuff that has very little or no relevance to what is required in professional life today. A student who graduates with a B.A. (Hons) English Degree might strangely enough not be able to write fluently without spelling and grammar errors. A few might not even be able to speak the language they have ‘Honoured’ clearly! In many cases, graduates from colleges in Delhi often need to go for an additional certification course or even a diploma course before they can start a career.
A number of colleges pride themselves on their so called rich co-curricular activities, their dramatic clubs, social service clubs, and their ‘Advocacy Clubs’ but the reality is that many of these clubs and activities were once popular during the fifties and sixties have not really evolved according to times. One of the colleges I visited recently had photographs of their dramatics club, photographs that belonged to the fifties. The ceiling fans in the huge hall where documents were being verified belonged to the early forties, and the hall itself reminded me of an ancient Gothic Structure. The red bricks reminded me of institutional Calvinism, an era that befitted David Copperfield. The extended untended lawns and the stray dogs that wandered on the campus, all seemed stuck in time immemorial when my uncles were young and they went to college.
The need of the hour is to have colleges that offer subjects and curricula that would equip its students to be future ready. You need to prepare students for the future and not just teach them stuff that is obsolete and ineffective unless it is connected to the present. Three years is a long period of time, and if students believe that these years can be whiled away in ‘masti’, then, I guess this is an attitude that has been brought about by the casual quality of campus life! The fact is that none of the colleges in Delhi appears in the list of the top two hundred colleges in the world!
The world around us is moving away from a regimented and straight-jacketed system of education at the college level, and they are moving towards a more flexible, student led educational system that is tailor-made according to the student’s capabilities. A student who earns credit points as per his performance can make a switch mid-year to another subject of his choice. All over the world, except In our limited world, scholars are working on research work. Research work should not be limited to those doing their Ph.D.,. in fact, it should be made mandatory for all undergraduate students, both in school and in college.
While no doubt a few changes have been brought into the courses being taught in colleges today, take for example the inclusion of Indian Writers in the B.A.(Hons.) English program, these are however too few and too late. The introduction of the B.Voc. Course by the Delhi University seems to be an answer to some of the problems, but then, unfortunately, there is little that a student can do after B.Voc. because he or she will have to get a job. You cannot do your post-graduation or a B.Ed. after B.Voc., all you can do is to join an MBA program.
Professional universities and colleges under them are doing a better job in equipping young people with twenty-first-century skills, but unfortunately, there are few of them that are run by the Government. The burgeoning number of unregulated and unrecognized private professional colleges and those offering traditional courses added to the confusion regarding what one should do after school. The introduction of a large number of hitherto unheard of courses by the CBSE, like Legal Studies, Food Production, and Fashion studies have added confusion with colleges in Delhi refusing to recognize them as valid subjects. Students who have Food Production as one of their subjects might be given the B.Vocational Course as opposed to their choice of an Honours course.
Students are making their way out of the country and many of those who can afford the fees and the expenses are joining colleges abroad. A large number of private colleges running in collaboration with foreign universities are doing a wonderful job in providing integrated courses to students. Thus, a student of mine who was a science student at the grade twelve level is now pursuing an integrated graduate course from Ashoka University. She is doing Journalism along with B.A.(Hons.) English. A few colleges affiliated to the Indraprastha University offer the B.A.LLB integrated program. A few Universities and colleges in the country are change makers, they are ushering relevance and skills that no other colleges are doing, at least not those in Delhi. A large number of our colleges are stuck in a time warp and they are teaching stuff that might have been relevant a couple of decades ago. The pedagogy is effete and obsolete, it caters to rote-memorisation, and does not promote problem-solving skills. While progressive, Change Maker’s colleges cater to a Growth Mindset, the traditional colleges in Delhi can only cater to the Fixed Mindset! After all, how is that you can pass your subsidiary subject exam just by reading what was in my time 'Champion Guide' one day before the exam?