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Colleges find CBCS beyond their reach

Priscilla Jebaraj

Teachers of autonomous colleges fear this will affect their reputation

CHENNAI: Having implemented the Choice-Based Credit System for almost a year, arts and science colleges are assessing its advantages and challenges, even as they begin framing syllabi for the next semester.

For those institutions that have never offered choice to their students before, the interdisciplinary approach is still far beyond their reach.

“We are only able to offer choices for students from other departments at the postgraduate level,” says a senior faculty member of the English department of a government college in Chennai. In the undergraduate courses, students are offered a choice of two subjects only within their own department. “We don’t have the required faculty for more than that,” she says. As the government fills vacancies in the faculty, the situation could change.

Extra classes

As it is, many of the new subjects introduced under CBCS — soft skills, environmental studies and compulsory Tamil — are taught in extra classes after college hours. Both teachers and students have to be forced to stay on after college for these courses, she says.

Of course, the government’s CBCS structure accommodates these subjects into the regular timetable by cutting down on the number of hours allotted for core subjects.

At some of the city’s top autonomous colleges, teachers fear that this approach will affect their reputation for quality. “We used to be able to design specialisation courses, which was one of the USPs of our PG programme,” says a chemistry professor of an autonomous college. “But that requires building courses, with one foundational level course and an advanced level. Now the amount of input we can give from core subjects has been diluted.” With fewer core papers allowed, departments are forced to convert erstwhile core subjects into electives open to the entire college, lowering the standard, focus and professionalism of specialised courses to accommodate non-science students.

“Maybe they will get a better all-round education, but as PG students, they need to be able to show specialisation,” she said.

To get around the problem, some colleges have made a farce of the choice system, telling students that they must “choose” the subject offered by their own department. This also lets colleges avoid imbalances in faculty workloads.

“Some electives are more popular than others. If there are not enough takers, we can’t offer that course. Then what will happen to those faculty?” asks an economics professor of a private college.

Unpopular electives

At another private college, an English professor says teachers offering unpopular electives have been roped in to teach soft skills. However, many teachers, especially from the science departments, are not comfortable teaching subjects outside their own expertise.

While autonomous colleges can design electives keeping in mind their own infrastructure and faculty limitations, non-autonomous colleges must choose from the university’s list. “We have facilities only for a limited number of the university’s options, so we can only offer a few subjects. The choice is done by the institutions; the students have no choices,” says an economics professor.

Most teachers appreciate the student-centric motives of the system, but say they wish they had more time, manpower and training to transit to the system. A social work professor at a private college says the introduction of the CBCS is a positive for inter-college collaborations. “We have held meetings with social work departments from all the other Chennai colleges to identify our own strengths and see if we can offer some of those courses to students from other colleges,” she says. “It is much easier to experiment with such ideas when we all have uniform CBCS credits.”

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