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Making attendance compulsory in colleges is counterproductive

The problem with such thinking is that it assumes that the student – an adult, with the right to vote and make their own decisions in life outside of the college environment – is not responsible enough to make their own learning choices

editorials Updated: Jan 17, 2018 00:01 IST
Hindustan Times
JNU attendance,JNU,Compulsory attendance
For the first time since its inception, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) has made 75% attendance compulsory for students of all courses in the new semester; a move that has been met with dissatisfaction from the student body as well as a section of the faculty(Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times)

One of the more fundamental issues in the way higher education in India is regulated is the infantilisation of adult students, and the misplaced belief that the administration must exercise maximum control over students in order to create an effective learning environment. The issue of compulsory attendance which has recently reared its head in Jawaharlal Nehru University, is a symptom of this problem. The belief behind making attendance compulsory is that if students are forced to sit in the classroom, they will end up learning from the teacher, no matter how boring, insipid, or uninspiring a class may be.

The problem with such thinking is that it assumes that students – adults, with the right to vote and make their own decisions in life outside of the college environment – are not responsible enough to make their own learning choices. That they don’t, or worse won’t, attend lectures because of some childish impulse to play truant. This approach to learning assumes that the student is an empty receptacle in which the all-knowing teacher may pour in knowledge; and their choice to not attend certain lectures will deprive them of this knowledge. This attitude removes the student from the process of knowledge creation, effectively assuming that the student can have nothing important to contribute to the learning process.

But in order to stimulate critical thinking and the ability to question established rules, students must be included in the learning process. If professors are unable to hold the attention of students, there is no point in forcing students to attend; because as everyone who has ever been to a boring lecture knows, simply being present does not mean anything. Learning can only occur when the student is engaged with the subject and is ready and willing to grapple with the problems under consideration. Forcing unwilling adults to sit through long lectures will only contribute to the ennui that already plagues India’s higher education system. A robust education system must include students as partners in curriculum design; and not treat them as storage bins for information, instead of conscious beings capable of knowledge creation.

First Published: Jan 16, 2018 17:29 IST