The rot in higher education in the form of falling attendance in the classes is too glaring to be ignored and too serious to be dismissed. By and large, the students are non serious, the teachers indifferent and the authorities, it seems, are disinterested. Vanishing students from the classes is a reality. It is a fact that attendance in the classes is falling, absenteeism is growing, the ‘teaching shops’, the so called coaching centers are flourishing, yet nobody is bothered. The all pervading sense of complacency is disturbing.
The required minimum attendance criterion exists only on paper and not in practice. A few years ago the attendance bar was raised from 66% to 75%, as if stricter norms will automatically translate into better compliance. Perhaps just the opposite is the effect. The majority of the students do not even strive to meet the required minimum, considering 75 percent attendance too high to be achieved.
Falling attendance in the classes is a manifestation of growing indiscipline in the education system, towards which we cannot afford to an adopt ostrich like approach. The educational institutions which boast of inculcating values among students cannot and should not tolerate this rampant absenteeism. But sadly, no action is taken against the defaulters. Clearly, there is lack of will to check this menace. No wonder, the problem is compounding. In fact, the authorities are not much bothered about classes since class room teaching does not make news. These are the functions which keep an institution in the lime light and hence, the focus is on activities. It is another matter that at times; an inconsequential activity may be blown out of proportion and projected as a mega event to hog news paper space or in the name of celebration, a photo session may be held for the press.
Class room teaching, the core activity of any educational institution has been relegated to the background .These are the seminars which have come to occupy the center stage. A few years ago, it was the NAAC storm which hit the colleges of the region; today it is the seminar fever gripping the institutes of higher learning. There is a mad race for organizing seminars. Never mind the quality and the relevance of the papers presented, seminars must be organized to get the brownie points. Some speakers at the seminars may be brilliant, their content original, but majority are wide off the mark. Teaching standards may be falling but the frequency of seminars has increased many folds. There is need to pause and reflect over seminar frenzy. Let there be a seminar to assess utility \futility of holding seminars so frequently.
Besides the over emphasis on functions, there are other reasons that keep the students away from the classes. Coaching for competitive exams from out side the college is yet another major factor. But a reality check will show that for most of the students it is a ‘herd mentality’ and an excuse to cut classes. There may be some justification for the students to skip classes in the final year in preparation of CAT and MAT exam but thin attendance among the first year students belies all logic. Even in the vocational courses run by the colleges, there is significant gap between enrollment and actual attendance.
Falling attendance in the classes calls for serious introspection. And we, the teachers can not absolve ourselves of our responsibility. To ensure better attendance in the classes, we need to make our lectures relevant, meaningful and lively. Computer, internet and modern tools can supplement teaching but can not supplant the role of a good teacher. Here I may add that we can not dismiss the conventional ‘chalk and talk’ method of teaching which is communicative and participative.
Functions are important to break the monotony and for making the campus lively but these should not become so frequent that they over shadow regular teaching. Let the importance of quality teaching not be lost in the noise and din of functions and seminars. Let the glory of class room teaching be restored and pray that the tribe of dedicated teachers grows.
Published in the Tribune on June 21, 2011