Saturday, August 16, 2008

Example: UGC Model Curriculum and Deviations

Let us again refer to the University Grants Commission. It is a body under the Ministry of Human Resource and Development, Government of India, and it is a regulatory body. But as India is a huge country with a number of educational institutions of higher learning, they too have a tough task on their hands.

I don't know if you are aware that they have a model curriculum for a number of subjects and areas. The model curriculum landing page can be seen here. The information contained in these pages is simply wonderful and if it is properly implemented, it should prove to be quite beneficial to the students.

I would like to take the English curriculum as a case study because I am an English teacher and most familiar with this terrain. The Draft Recommendations can be found in this PDF document. At the outset, the document lays out the difficulties inherent in the process. I quote:

To formulate a college or university curriculum in English poses a special challenge because at some level or other, virtually all students within the Indian university system study a certain amount of English. This is not the case with any other subject. Planning the curriculum thereby becomes a complex task with broader social implications beyond the academic ones. (page 1)
Now, if formulating a college or a university curriculum in English is a special challenge, then it would be a matter of even greater responsibility on part of the teachers themselves. This document lays out three conditions for the formulation of General / Compulsory English programmes. In the second point, it says that such programmes should ensure:

certain compositional skills in English required in various professions and activities in
India, e.g., letter-writing, précis or summary-writing, paragraph composition. This may extend to more specialized skills such as report-writing, copy-editing, copywriting, scriptwriting, translation etc. (page 1)

The first and the third points are also quite interesting and if you looked at the curriculum that is currently being taught to students in Indian universities, you would surely understand the areas in which they lack. Part of this problem also lies with the UGC because they always state that their recommendations are guidelines, which may be adjusted and modified by the universities / colleges according to their special needs.

There is no monitoring and no accountability in the system and it largely functions on objective principles put forth by the faculty, socio-cultural make-up of the faculty, whims of the faculty and board members. Once a Department formulates a curriculum, it goes through a Board of Studies meeting, where it is normally passed with or without minor modifications. Usually, none of the faculty have any training or formal understanding of curriculum development and following the UGC recommendation blindly is seen in a negative light.

After the Board of Studies, there are bodies such as the Faculty Committee and the Academic Council but usually people from other departments do not argue on the modalities of a curriculum framed by a particular department. This is a good practice but it has its pitfalls. It means that though academics from other departments would not interfere in areas which are not strictly their own, it also means that whatever is proposed by one department goes to the highest bodies unchecked and is adopted virtually without any vetting process.

There is no process where the UGC vets the curriculum framed by any university department or college in the country. Now, it is a good thing for the institutions of higher education to be autonomous but in the absence of any other check, it becomes all the more important for faculty members involved to take it with the utmost seriousness that it deserves. But sadly, this is what doesn't always happen.

Interestingly, there is no body at the university level that could function as a check on the curriculum of a particular department once it is passed / approved. Once a curriculum is approved, then it is taught for a number of years without really making any effort to ascertain its impact on the students. Moreover, there is no system in the Indian situation, where feedback from the students is given any priority. There is no student feedback for the faculty (which is a very contentious and sensitive issue) and there is no provision for feedback from the students for any curriculum in practice. There also exists no system where people from the large civil society institutions and other reputed educationists could be involved in obtaining such feedback.

I hope my post would lead to some soul searching.