Taking lessons

Coming soon to all Indian universities: the controversial Delhi University academic system that was scrapped

The Universities Grants Commission’s proposal on choice-based credit system is similar to Delhi University’s Four-Year Undergraduate Programme.

India’s statutory body for higher education, the Universities Grants Commission, last week initiated a shakeup in varsities across the country by proposing that they follow a semester pattern in curriculum instead of yearly examinations and adopt grades instead of numerical percentages in marksheets. In a letter to vice-chancellors, the commission asked all 400 universities to “quickly initiate action” to “expedite” the change that “will provide wider options to students” from the coming academic year.

Unintentional though, the commission’s vigorous promotion carried a strong current of irony. Last year, it had forced the University of Delhi to scrap its Four-Year Undergraduate Programme, which bore a marked resemblance to the change the UGC is now championing.

Here is a look at some of the commonalities between the two systems:

Credit-Based Course Structure
FYUP: In this system, courses were split into Foundation Courses (common to students across streams), Discipline Courses I (major courses related to the degree), and Discipline Courses II (minor or applied courses chosen by students).

UGC Guidelines: Here too, the courses will be divided into compulsory Foundation Courses (relating directly to the subject of study) and Elective Courses (allowing for interdisciplinary studies).

Grading
FYUP: A grading system was created in Delhi University with an in-built conversion mechanism.

UGC Guidelines: Grade points, ranging from O (Outstanding) to P (Pass), will be derived from the marks achieved in examinations.

Multiple Exit Points
FYUP: It allowed multiple exit points from the course, so a student could get a diploma after finishing two years of the programme, a bachelor’s degree after three years, or an honours degree after four years.

UGC Guidelines: As part of the National Skill Qualifications framework, all community colleges and those institutions providing Bachelors of Vocational Studies programmes need to provide multiple exit points to students pursuing vocational skill-based courses, such as retail management and business accounting. A student can get a certificate after six months of the programme, a diploma after a year, an advanced diploma after two years, and a B.Voc degree after three years.

Replay of old protests

While some are hailing the UGC’s proposal as a significant shift in higher education structure, many Delhi University teachers are not too enthused. The teachers had last year joined Delhi University’s students in protesting against the Four-Year Undergraduate Programme, calling it “ill conceived”. They feel the same way about UGC’s suggestions today.

“It is unfortunate that the UGC has not learned any lessons from Delhi University’s horrific experience with FYUP,” said Abha Dev Habib, a professor of physics at Miranda House College and a member of Delhi University’s executive council body. “The UGC guidelines are similar to the FYUP course structure in many ways and so now we are required to deal with them again.”

Habib said the UGC did not collect enough feedback from students or teachers before forming its guidelines to standardise education across states. “Different states teach differently,” Habib asserted. “Their grading patterns are separate, so a standard system can’t be imposed in a flash.”

Apart from the system’s hurried implementation, there are concerns among students about admissions based on grade points. They point out that the grades could be interpreted varyingly since the UGC has allowed varsities to “adopt and adapt” its guidelines as they deem fit.

“A university might choose to interpret a grade, say A+, differently for an applicant from a Tier-II university,” said Vishal Manve, a graduate from the University of Mumbai who is currently applying for postgraduate courses. “We would have no recourse since grades signify a range of marks instead of specific percentages, which make it clear if the applicant fits the eligibility criteria or not.”

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Relying on the power of habits to solve India’s mammoth sanitation problem

Adopting three simple habits can help maximise the benefits of existing sanitation infrastructure.

India’s sanitation problem is well documented – the country was recently declared as having the highest number of people living without basic sanitation facilities. Sanitation encompasses all conditions relating to public health - especially sewage disposal and access to clean drinking water. Due to associated losses in productivity caused by sickness, increased healthcare costs and increased mortality, India recorded a loss of 5.2% of its GDP to poor sanitation in 2015. As tremendous as the economic losses are, the on-ground, human consequences of poor sanitation are grim - about one in 10 deaths, according to the World Bank.

Poor sanitation contributes to about 10% of the world’s disease burden and is linked to even those diseases that may not present any correlation at first. For example, while lack of nutrition is a direct cause of anaemia, poor sanitation can contribute to the problem by causing intestinal diseases which prevent people from absorbing nutrition from their food. In fact, a study found a correlation between improved sanitation and reduced prevalence of anaemia in 14 Indian states. Diarrhoeal diseases, the most well-known consequence of poor sanitation, are the third largest cause of child mortality in India. They are also linked to undernutrition and stunting in children - 38% of Indian children exhibit stunted growth. Improved sanitation can also help reduce prevalence of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs). Though not a cause of high mortality rate, NTDs impair physical and cognitive development, contribute to mother and child illness and death and affect overall productivity. NTDs caused by parasitic worms - such as hookworms, whipworms etc. - infect millions every year and spread through open defecation. Improving toilet access and access to clean drinking water can significantly boost disease control programmes for diarrhoea, NTDs and other correlated conditions.

Unfortunately, with about 732 million people who have no access to toilets, India currently accounts for more than half of the world population that defecates in the open. India also accounts for the largest rural population living without access to clean water. Only 16% of India’s rural population is currently served by piped water.

However, there is cause for optimism. In the three years of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the country’s sanitation coverage has risen from 39% to 65% and eight states and Union Territories have been declared open defecation free. But lasting change cannot be ensured by the proliferation of sanitation infrastructure alone. Ensuring the usage of toilets is as important as building them, more so due to the cultural preference for open defecation in rural India.

According to the World Bank, hygiene promotion is essential to realise the potential of infrastructure investments in sanitation. Behavioural intervention is most successful when it targets few behaviours with the most potential for impact. An area of public health where behavioural training has made an impact is WASH - water, sanitation and hygiene - a key issue of UN Sustainable Development Goal 6. Compliance to WASH practices has the potential to reduce illness and death, poverty and improve overall socio-economic development. The UN has even marked observance days for each - World Water Day for water (22 March), World Toilet Day for sanitation (19 November) and Global Handwashing Day for hygiene (15 October).

At its simplest, the benefits of WASH can be availed through three simple habits that safeguard against disease - washing hands before eating, drinking clean water and using a clean toilet. Handwashing and use of toilets are some of the most important behavioural interventions that keep diarrhoeal diseases from spreading, while clean drinking water is essential to prevent water-borne diseases and adverse health effects of toxic contaminants. In India, Hindustan Unilever Limited launched the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, a WASH behaviour change programme, to complement the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. Through its on-ground behaviour change model, SASB seeks to promote the three basic WASH habits to create long-lasting personal hygiene compliance among the populations it serves.

This touching film made as a part of SASB’s awareness campaign shows how lack of knowledge of basic hygiene practices means children miss out on developmental milestones due to preventable diseases.

Play

SASB created the Swachhata curriculum, a textbook to encourage adoption of personal hygiene among school going children. It makes use of conceptual learning to teach primary school students about cleanliness, germs and clean habits in an engaging manner. Swachh Basti is an extensive urban outreach programme for sensitising urban slum residents about WASH habits through demos, skits and etc. in partnership with key local stakeholders such as doctors, anganwadi workers and support groups. In Ghatkopar, Mumbai, HUL built the first-of-its-kind Suvidha Centre - an urban water, hygiene and sanitation community centre. It provides toilets, handwashing and shower facilities, safe drinking water and state-of-the-art laundry operations at an affordable cost to about 1,500 residents of the area.

HUL’s factory workers also act as Swachhata Doots, or messengers of change who teach the three habits of WASH in their own villages. This mobile-led rural behaviour change communication model also provides a volunteering opportunity to those who are busy but wish to make a difference. A toolkit especially designed for this purpose helps volunteers approach, explain and teach people in their immediate vicinity - their drivers, cooks, domestic helps etc. - about the three simple habits for better hygiene. This helps cast the net of awareness wider as regular interaction is conducive to habit formation. To learn more about their volunteering programme, click here. To learn more about the Swachh Aadat Swachh Bharat initiative, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hindustan Unilever and not by the Scroll editorial team.