Eighteen-year-olds entering college in a couple of months from now will follow a new curriculum for undergraduate courses that the University Grants Commission (UGC) believes will improve, among other things, their employability. What is changing, why, and why is a section of teachers — most vocally at Delhi University — opposed to the idea?
The new curriculum will be modelled on the UGC’s ‘Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework’, or LOCF, guidelines. What is it?
On August 7, 2018, UGC issued a public notice followed by a direction to all central institutions, to form subject-specific committees for the implementation of the Learning Outcomes-based Curriculum Framework. “The fundamental premise of LOCF”, the UGC said, “is to specify what graduates completing a particular programme of study are expected to know, understand and be able to do at the end of their programme of study”. The LOCF approach “makes the student an active learner; the teacher a good facilitator and together they lay the foundation for lifelong learning”.
The idea behind LOCF is to decide the desired outcome within the framework of the current Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) for undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, and then design the curriculum to obtain these outcomes. The outcomes will be determined in terms of skills, knowledge, understanding, employability, graduate attributes, attitudes, values, etc., gained by students upon the completion of the course.
So, why are some teachers opposed to this idea?
Teachers at Delhi University (DU) are agitated about the frequent changes in the undergraduate curriculum. The coming change will be the fifth in the last nine years at the university. In 2010, the undergraduate programme switched from the traditional annual mode to the semester mode. In 2013, the semester mode was changed to the Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP), only for FYUP to switch back to semester mode the following year. And in the year after that (2015), the CBCS kicked in.
Each of these “reforms” was announced without warning, and implemented the very next year. Each change was introduced with the objective of improving the quality of education and scaling up DU’s world ranking, but the outcome, critics say, has been the opposite. Each change has disrupted the functioning of the system, and caused confusion and trauma among students, they say.
According to critics, the committees formed to recommend changes in the 2019-20 curriculum (in line with LOCF) have major problems.
First, the CBCS pattern of the undergraduate programme itself is faulty — and the committees are supposed to bring changes in the curriculum within this faulty framework. Second, the subject-specific committees formed by DU were given only three months to submit their reports, and all stakeholders were not consulted. Third, LOCF is to be implemented immediately, and there is inadequate time for preparation. Finally, while all departments have been asked to assign this work to their three “best teachers”, no criteria were decided to assess and rank teachers.
What are the main features of the CBCS pattern of education?
UGC wants to replace the “marks or percentage based evaluation system, which obstructs the flexibility for the students to study the subjects/courses of their choice and their mobility to different institutions” with CBCS, which “not only offers opportunities and avenues to learn core subjects but also exploring additional avenues of learning beyond the core subjects for holistic development of an individual”.
CBCS, according to UGC, provides “a ‘cafeteria’ type approach in which the students can take courses of their choice, learn at their own pace, undergo additional courses and acquire more than the required credits and adopt an interdisciplinary approach to learning”.
The Generic Elective (GE) course has to be compulsorily taken from an unrelated discipline/subject. All Honours students must choose one Generic paper from options offered by disciplines other than their own in semesters 1-4. Students of non-Honours courses must choose one generic paper from a discipline other than their own in the last two semesters.
What is the criticism of the CBCS?
Critics point to three major problems: a repetition of papers, highly heterogeneous classes, and the creation of situations in which students don’t acquire much knowledge about a subject.
Consider Commerce in DU. The CBCS syllabus offers the following GE papers: Microeconomics (semester 1), Macroeconomics (semester 2), Business Statistics (semester 3), Indian Economy (semester 4). Students of any Honours course other than B.Com (Hons) can opt for these.
However, the same papers are offered as Core (compulsory) papers in the Bachelor in Business Economics (BBE) course, mostly in the same semesters — and it has been noticed that most students who opt for Commerce as GE are from BBE.
A similar situation is seen with students of Economics (Hons), Bachelor of Business Administration (Finance and Investment Analysis), and Bachelor of Management Studies who opt for Commerce Generic. Their choice doesn’t add to their knowledge, and they do so mainly to lessen their burden.
Again, when students of different disciplines opt for a GE of a particular discipline, it creates a class of students who are very different from each other in attitude, knowledge, aptitude, and exposure. Teaching a Commerce Generic to a student of Mathematics is different from teaching it to a student of English.
The lack of synchronization in interdisciplinary syllabus formulation has made teaching-learning more difficult. For instance, prior to the introduction of CBCS, four compulsory papers of Economics were being taught to students of B.Com (Hons), but post CBCS, there is no compulsory Economics paper. Students who choose to not take Economics as their Generic Elective paper often face problems in semester 4, when they have to study Business Mathematics as a compulsory Core paper, which requires a basic knowledge of Economics.
Such problems are not limited to Commerce or Economics. Many other streams have been facing similar issues since the inception of CBCS. Critics argue that without a re-look at the CBCS framework, changes in the curriculum through LOCF will end up being another futile exercise.
(Anish Gupta teaches Economics at the University of Delhi)