ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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DU Undergraduate Reforms: Prospects or Lost Opportunity?

Poonam Batra (batra.poonam@gmail.com) is at the Department of Education, Delhi University and member of the Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education.

The Four Year Undergraduate Programme (FYUP) in the Delhi University is not well thought out and arrived at, unlike other reform attempts in curricular implementation such as the institution of the BElEd programme some years ago. Issues such as employability remain unaddressed in the FYUP and this could cause unrest and dismay among students and stakeholders. 

There is a growing consensus that India’s higher education sector is in dire need of reform. As many big reforms in India have sunk around their implementation, what matters, is a clear articulation of a reform vision and the manner in which they are executed.

Three strategic principles could be behind Delhi University’s initiative at reforming its entire undergraduate education canvas. A good liberal education that allows critical thinking required for 21st century India; an undergraduate programme of study with professional options to enable employability and an integrated curriculum that can help deepen the quality of education. To bring all of these together, in a systematic manner that can enable a transition of over 0.5 million students in a few months time is an immense challenge.

The University of Delhi seems to have forgotten it has been a pioneer in several domains of curriculum reform. One such programme is the four-year Bachelor of Elementary Education (BElEd) launched almost 20 years ago. Started in 1994 in select colleges of DU, the BElEd has radically changed the culture and environment in which teachers are prepared in India.It was DU that demonstrated how it is possible to create a path-breaking 4-year integrated interdisciplinary undergraduate programme.

The current reforms by DU to institute a four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) are indeed an exception in the history of the university. A skeletal structure of FYUP with random course types was approved by the apex bodies of DU in December 2012 in complete disregard to its interface with the larger system of higher education and the procedures that were laid out in the university statutes. Teachers were asked to fill in the syllabi of over 30 courses across dozens of disciplines in a matter of days! The academic community is justifiably anguished over this hasty move.The process of reform implementation violates the basic tenets of how this should be done. As a result the process of reform is likely to derail despite the best of intentions like Tughlaq’s proverbial visionary reforms.

BElEd Success

The BElEd is successful because the entire reform process was carefully thought through. It began with a feasibility study that established the demand for a degree programme in elementary teacher education, an employability of graduates. It took one and a half years to develop the basic curriculum structure; disciplinary and interdisciplinary theory courses and a dozen practical courses. Over 100 faculty members across disciplines and universities participated in course design. Each of the critical elements of reform – interdisciplinarity, integration of liberal and professional courses and feasibility of professional avenues formed the basis of the BElEd design, acclaimed internationally as an exemplar teacher education programme. More importantly, it has proved that inclusion of non-English speaking first generation learners can deliver exceptional educational results and quality, create highly employable graduates and contribute significantly to a key national development goal of universalising school education.

Of the thousands that have graduated from the BElEd, about 70% are working as school teachers, 30% pursued higher education in various disciplines; research in education with many employed as teacher educators in colleges. Most interns get placed through campus interviews well before their annual exams. The BElEd degree is formally gazetted in the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) as a basic qualification for recruitment as teachers and teacher educators.

As an inclusive bilingual programme, DU’s BElEd is fulfilling three major needs of the elementary education sector: developing professionally qualified elementary school teachers; developing a cadre of teacher educatorsand educational researchers via vertical linkages with higher education and research.This has been possible because the programme is designed to integrate the study of general and professional education over a period of four-years. The GoI’s XII Plan recommends that the BElEd be offered by the 50 proposed Schools of Education in existing and the newly instituted Central Universities.

Employability

Contrary to the claims being made, the major gap in the FYUP process is that it has not addressed a central question –employability options across different streams for those who exit at two years with a diploma, three years with a general bachelors and four years with an honours degree. This is where the BElEd succeeded and around which the entire FYUP reform could unravel with a few lakh resentful unemployable graduates in a few years’ time – with dire consequences for DU as an institution of national importance.

As an example, the FYUP in its confusion suggests a two year exit point for those who would become primary school teachers. The university is yet not clear whether it wants to offer an exit point after two years or develop an independent two-year programme for training primary school teachers. In either case, the diploma graduates will not be eligible to teach upper primary classes (6, 7 and 8) as per the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) Gazette notification, post-Right to Education (RTE) – something that is conveniently forgotten.This is the case with the current diploma graduates of the two-year model offered by the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET) across the country. The two-year model falls short of fulfilling the mandate of RTE, especially in view of the increasing demand for upper primary teachers in the light of increasing enrolments for secondary education and a new MHRD Mission to universalise secondary education.

The standalone nature of the FYUP appears set to close all options for students from modest backgrounds to acquire an undergraduate degree – which is sure to capture some political attention. The challenge is to institute reforms that are inclusive enabling the bulk of DU aspirants from modest and Hindi speaking backgrounds to complete a full undergraduate degree.

It makes very little sense for DU to offer a two-year diploma alongside a professional degree programme for the same qualification and employability options.In doing so it is sure to attract a spate of litigation against providing the same employability for a four-year (BElEd) and a two-year (diploma) programme.

A critical aim of any university is to facilitate the generation of knowledge through research. This aim is particularly significant to the preparation of teachers and teacher educators. Locating the pre-service education of elementary school teachers in the mode of a long duration professional programme widens as well as broadens the engagement of the university in questions of educational theory and practice. This cannot be achieved by a two-year programme. Moreover, District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs) who offer two year diploma programmes should emulate universities as suggested in the XII Plan rather than the university emulating DIETs and confining its role to producing teachers within a minimalist framework.

The University of Delhi ought to assert its critical role in creating cutting edge professional cadres in elementary education who can assume the task of educating teachers and generating knowledge in the field through research, apart from producing professional teacher practitioners. The expansion of the BElEd across other colleges of the university would be a critical step in addressing the need for professionally qualified teachers and the even greater need for teacher educators and researchers with specialised knowledge of elementary education.

The Supreme Court appointed Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education (2012) recommends that pre-service programmes be of long duration and integrally linked to higher education.This is in consonance with the recommendations of the National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education (NCFTE, 2009). In the light of an increasing policy emphasis on long duration pre-service programmes DU’s proposal to provide a two-year option for qualifying to become primary school teachers is in contravention of policy and the Supreme Court appointed Commission recommendations.

It is unclear whether DU has chosen to strategically take on both the government and the judiciary via the FYUP reforms, or it is another classic case of poor reform implementation?

If the University of Delhi is serious about reform that deepens the quality of undergraduate education, it should as a first step demonstrate employability options for every stream. A serious and well thought out process of curriculum design should be initiated involving senior DU and other academics who have the demonstrated experience of leading large scale reforms in education. The 4,000 vacant DU faculty positions should be filled as a matter of priority so that teachers are available to participate in the mammoth exercise of designing curriculum for close to 600 disciplinary, interdisciplinary and applied courses that will take a minimum period of a year to execute. Faculty development programmes should be initiated with the twin purpose of developing capacity and designing courses.

Objections to the DU reform process should not be seen as ideological, as is emerging in some sections of the media. This is a case of gross neglect of the well-established principles of meticulous curriculum planning and implementation, that DU itself has been a leader in. The following immediate steps couldhelp address the snowballing crisis: a feasibility study to assess the employability for each stream and for each proposed exit point in the FYUP; and instituting a democratic process of curriculum design involving lead academics in respective fields.

If this is not done, the university may end up subjecting lakhs of students to a dubious educational process that may not only hasten its decline as a leading centre of educational excellence, but worse mire the university in a spate of litigation and potential student unrest that have destroyed more robust institutions.

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