When it comes to offering choices, is less more? Education in India is going through a state of transformation through “reforms” initiated by the Central government, which is keen on overhauling the system from the ground up. Among these measures is the Choice Based Credit System which was forced down the throats of universities across the country despite widespread protests earlier this year. By providing grades and credits instead of marks, the University Grants Commission said it was trying to make life easier for students as it also offered them more courses to choose from as part of their degrees.

Just three months down the line, the new system seems to be creating new problems instead of solving the old ones.

Even though 92% of students in 18 colleges of Delhi University rejected the CBCS, according to a “referendum” conducted by the Students Federation of India the proponents of the new system argued that with time, its rough edges will smoothen automatically. The cracks, though, have already begun to show as even the biggest universities in the country find it tough to deal with challenges posed by the implementation of the CBCS.

“The long term damage that the CBCS can do will be visible in the next few years itself,” said Abha Dev Habib, Delhi University Teachers’ Association member who teaches Physics at Miranda College. “The teachers are overburdened with work, the syllabus has largely been copy-pasted from the Four Year Undergraduate Program guidelines and many subjects are likely to get obsolete in certain colleges as less and less students opt for them,” she said.

Unpopularity of Hindi

The growing unpopularity of Hindi language as a subject among students at Delhi University is a case in point. According to a recent report in the Indian Express, Hindi is finding few takers even in the most popular Delhi colleges, which has caused some concern among teachers about the prospects of the language that the government seems keen to promote.

Both Hindi and Sanskrit have received a push from the Centre ever since the Narendra Modi government came into power, with Hindi Week celebrations and programmes to promote the study of Modern Indian languages even finding a place in the memorandum of understanding the government recently signed with Germany.

Some Delhi University students, however, do not seem to be keen on studying Hindi anymore. According to reports, not even one student enrolled to study Hindi in the Shri Ram College of Commerce. This has also prompted the teachers to petition the President as well as the Human Resource Development ministry to make the language compulsory again.

This is the case with not just Hindi or Modern Indian Languages like Bengali but many core science subjects too, Habib said.

“Earlier, students studying maths and chemistry would also be compulsorily studying subjects like physics and vice-versa and now that’s not the case,” she said, pointing out that not many students are opting for papers that are considered tough. "Some are even following the herd by joining up for courses they feel are more marketable than others, not realising the consequences of studying an undergraduate degree without comprehensive outlook on related areas.”

Staff crunch and overstaffing

When the guidelines on the CBCS came out last year, universities expressed concerns that the burden on their staff would greatly increase due to new courses being introduced and students being allowed to pick and choose their subjects rather than being given a fixed menu. What was not expected was a problem of overstaffing that could result in lessening of the workload of some teachers due to some courses becoming greatly unpopular.

A direct effect of the Hindi language finding less takers this year is on the teachers who now have much lighter work load compared to previous years. Since ad-hoc teachers hired on short term renewable contracts outnumber the permanent faculty in the university, they have started fearing for their jobs.

“Students have always shown little interest in Hindi,” a teacher told the Indian Express. “But, the situation has gone worse since choice is now in the hands of students. This has resulted in many colleges saying goodbye to their Hindi teachers.”

It doesn’t, however, mean that all teachers are breathing easy. According to estimates, the Delhi University alone is short of  roughly 5,000 permanent staff in its ranks and it is making it difficult for colleges to function under the CBCS.

An off-campus college teacher spoke to Scroll about her schedule on condition of anonymity and said that after CBCS, her personal life has become tougher to manage.

“We are supposed to teach the full course, which was already too much under the semester system, in even lesser time now,” she said. “While the CBCS is giving students more options to students to pursue what they choose, with the constant evaluation and grading, we are left with lesser time to devote to our personal lives.

Habib agreed and pointed out that the problem will only get worse once the next batch under CBCS comes in.

“There are general elective courses which anyone can take,” she said. “For those, the whole college has to be stopped for one or two hours because students from all streams pour in. Then we have to teach syllabus that took five lectures per week in just four lectures. Soon, the colleges might need to extend their work hours by a hour or two each day if we have to manage this all at once,” she added.