Intro: India needs a kitchenette approach wherein the government can play a role of provider and the users will have all the options available before them.
The Cafeteria approach
The academic reforms in the name of Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences (CBCS) are on the verge of being implemented in the higher education. The new system as proposed by the government will basically need us to review our old single-discipline oriented approach in higher education. It demands, what they call, a cafeteria approach in our education. What is meant thereby is that the new system would encourage a multi-disciplinary approach and it is claimed further that it would give the students the much desired flexibility in terms of choice of the discipline papers. In addition to this, it also boasts of leaving the issues of choosing the span period and the place to acquire education, entirely on the students. While nobody can deny the desirability of these features in our higher education but the feasibility, the state of preparedness of our institutions and other costs in terms of infrastructure and other resources to provide these choices have always remained in doubt.
Assessment of the Present system
Our present education system follows a strict strait-jacket approach. It has little scope for any flexibility in the choice of papers. The span period to complete a course is also predefined in our institutions that give very little scope to those who prefer to learn at their own speed. It is due to this that generally Indian students go through a forced-study approach – wherein choices are often forced by the parents, by the peers, by the teachers and many a times even forced by the ease with which marks can be scored therein. The studies here therefore are largely teacher-centric, parent-driven and forced by the societal-preferences. Some major aspects that need to be addressed immediately by any new system are given as under:
1) We need to do away with the concept of having a fixed time frame for acquiring degrees. Those who realise their passion, potential and interest a little late find the doors of learning options closed. Despite our general agreement with the common perception that an interested and motivated student learns much faster, restrictions still rule against this provision in India.
2) In the absence of even a quasi-uniform acceptable standard of a particular degree in this country, it becomes really impossible to compare identical degrees issued from different institutions of India. What adds to this problem is that students find it impossible to use a part of their studies at one place while continuing studies at another place.
3) We are so used to relate studies only with academics that any deviation from this is considered as a blow on our education system. The higher studies in India aim at producing only academics. Skill-learning are considered sub-standard and are never preferred over academics. There is an urgent need to break this hierarchy and treat academics as only one of the areas for the students to choose from.
4) We need to look at our examination system also urgently. The invention of electronic gadgets has exposed many holes in our university examination system. Moreover our examinations work as a dampener for the spirit of learning.
We must also learn from the failed attempt to implement FYUP (Four Year Undergraduate Program) in Delhi University. The tall claims could not be realised as the reforms were carried out in isolation and with inexplicable hurry. An apprehensive Delhi University now has developed an attitude that is hardly conducive to carry out a fresh round of reforms. The lesson must be learnt from this failed exercise that whenever such a change in the system is proposed, its implementation must precede with a series of refresher courses to prepare the teachers and the infrastructure according to the requirement. Although there is an urgent need to attempt reforms, instead of a piece-meal approach we must keep a holistic vision starting right from the primary education. The whole idea of forced-study in India needs to change towards encouraging a self-study attitude in higher education. Primary and secondary education curricula should also be developed so that they complement the student-centric approach in the higher education. However, keeping in view our own state of affairs, I would suggest that instead of the celebrated cafeteria approach we must explore a kitchenette approach.
Cafeteria and the Kitchenette Approach
The cafeteria approach symbolizes a student-centric approach but at the same time it often means a pocket-centric and in the Indian context a parent-unfriendly approach. The choices in a cafeteria come at a price and playing around with the choices such as even sharing a plate is often discouraged in a cafeteria approach. It also includes paying penalty for any cancelled order and therefore in an honest analysis this cafeteria approach turns out to be primarily a market-friendly approach at all costs.
Instead, India needs a kitchenette approach wherein the government can play a role of provider and the users will have all the options available before them. Depending on their choice they would not only be able to prepare items of their choices but they would additionally be encouraged to explore into the unexplored territories. With raw materials available to them, users of a kitchenette are provided with options that are not limited by the pocket but only by the availability of food items.
Let us think of setting the students free to accumulate credits and once someone successfully acquires the required credits let an appropriate degree be given without any other unnecessary requirements. Let skills be treated at par with academics so that the preference for academics is not unjustifiably driven by an expectation for getting respect in our society. Let only the passion and interest rule the choice in this kitchenette approach as while preparing food only taste and quality governs our choice and not the cost of the food items involved. Process of rote-learning to acquire a rank within a category.
(The writer is a associate professor of Physics Department, Ramjas College, Delhi University)
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