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The chaos theory of (B.Sc) Science

How do you transform a B.Sc college syllabus that has not changed in 25 years? Swaha Sahoo finds out...

education Updated: May 29, 2009 13:39 IST
Swaha Sahoo

* Get a bunch of experts to review everything.

* Discard old concepts — like learning physics but not biology.

* Introduce new subjects — like computer applications, technical writing and communication skills.

But if you don’t ensure there are enough trained teachers, and if you have teachers reluctant to keep up with the latest, you land up with a 70 per cent failure rate.

That’s what happened in 2007 when the results of the restructured BSc programme were announced at Delhi University.

Today, Ajit Singh, a first-year BSc student, complains that it’s been two weeks since he joined the programme and the final syllabus isn’t yet with him. “Teacher says there is some confusion and the syllabus is still under consideration,” he said.

It’s taken three years and three syllabus-revision committees, yet the restructured BSc programme — a lifeline to science students who don’t get into coveted engineering or medical course — is creating student dissatisfaction and teacher disaffection.

The result: the failure rates remain high, and BSc cutoffs have hit record lows across colleges.

For example, almost 80 per cent of BSc second-year students in Gargi, ARSD, Deen Dayal Upadhaya, Shyamlal College had failed or were borderline cases.

World class, but …
“The Life Sciences syllabus has been framed keeping in mind the international trends,” said Deepika Yogesh, Associate Coordinator at DU’s Life Sciences Institute of Life-long Learning. “The syllabus is only being opposed by teachers who will now have to work hard to incorporate the latest in their teaching.”

The syllabus needed change. Up to 80 per cent of the BSc General (Group A and Group B) courses had not changed and wasn’t different from what students learned in class 12. It was so outdated computer science did not figure in the books.

“Essentially, a student was reading the same things as in school,” said S.K. Garg, Principal of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya College.

The first committee decided first-year students should learn all subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Math and Biology, said Prof K Muralidhar, member of the committee.

So, the course was changed to BSc Programme Physical Sciences (Physics, Chemistry and Math) and BSc Life Sciences (Physic, Chemistry and Biology). Another important change was the introduction of computer applications, modern instrumentation, electronics and analytical techniques for all students.

“We realised most students were not able to write a project report correctly. So we introduced a paper in technical writing and communication skills,” said Muralidharan. The new programme for first-year students was passed and implemented for the 2005-06 session.

Trouble with the teacher
The new programme was opposed by most teachers. “The Physics syllabus was equivalent to the Honours programme and students and teachers felt it was tough,” said Abha Dev Habib, Reader in Physics at Miranda House. In Life Sciences, many teachers were not ready to teach new chapters and handed it to new recruits with little experience. “As a result, dropouts happened and many students failed the first-year exam,” said a professor on condition of anonymity.

Only the first-year course had been restructured. As the new academic session (2006-07) approached, a committee was formed to prepare syllabus for the second and third-year classes. “This committee hurriedly put together a new syllabus for the second and third years,” said Habib.

And then, the shock
Officials were shocked when more than 70 per cent students failed their second-year BSc exam in 2007. Vice-Chancellor Deepak Pental was forced to form a third committee to revise the programme, which was cleared on July 2008. “Some major changes have been made in Physics,” said Pankaj Garg, member of the committee. “Papers such as mathematical physics have been removed.”

Why does opposition continue?
While BSc Physical Science teachers are satisfied with the new syllabus, teachers feel the link between theory and practicals is missing in BSc Life Sciences. “It has advanced practicals where you don’t need sophisticated instruments but good concept development. But the correlation between theory and practicals is missing,” said Tanima Bose, Reader in Zoology at Miranda House.