Despite opposition from teachers unions at a few central universities, the government is sticking to its guns on ushering in the semester system in universities by 2011-12 . If implemented correctly, this could be the first step in bringing about long-awaited reforms in the countrys higher education system. The semester system can offer students a better learning experience by placing greater emphasis on ongoing classroom evaluations and teacher feedback, an improvement on the current system of formal examinations at the end of the academic year.
To be truly successful the semester system should enable two other reforms: giving teachers the flexibility to design their courses, and giving students the flexibility to choose their study programme by having many optional courses. Earlier this year the University Grants Commission proposed to allow students enrolled in a particular programme to earn credits by opting for elective courses within their university or even at other institutions. The semester system, when coupled with such a choice-based credit system, would allow students to acquire deeper knowledge within a subject faster than they can under the current system. It would also allow students group unconventional study subjects together, catering to their individual interests.
For the semester system to truly be a success, it is also important that internal assessment by way of term papers classroom quizzes and contributions to discussions in class is prioritised. Without constant evaluations, the semester system would amount to little more than two sets of exams annually, as it has in some of the universities where the system is already in place. Unlike the present situation, where inter nal assessment is often regarded as a euphemism for getting easy marks, teachers may need to be trained to carry out serious internal assessment exercises.
That our universities and colleges are hardly institutes of academic excellence is well known. Indias higher education system has been crying out for reform for decades now. The switch to a semester system, though not by any means enough to fix all that ails our education system, could herald a new beginning. The government must persuade all central univer sities to adopt the semester system and all that it entails, per haps by linking funding to compliance with the new system Otherwise Indias youth, already ill-served by a rickety educa tional system from school through to college, will continue to be disadvantaged relative to students from other countries. (TOI Editorial,23 Dec.2009)