Skills that do not Communicate

Every time the students go on strike the authorities concerned begin to think about their problems.  As soon as the teachers stage dharnas or go on strike, their demands are taken up for consideration.  The same applies to all other employees.

To me, it seems, strikes in the recent past have become, in the absence of an effective grievance redressing machinery, a mere instrument to draw attention rather than being an expression of great anguish and frustration of great anguish and frustration of the strikers.  So much so, that now strikes have clearly defined steps, and both the strikers and the authorities know about the next actions to follow.  Only when the authorities realize that the strikers are bent upon getting their demands fulfilled do they begin to take preliminary steps to remedy the situation.  But the time some decisions are taken, the issues involved assume momentous proportions and go beyond all control.  Who is responsible for all this, I really do not know, but much of the heart-searching (including the debates in the media starts only at this stage.

To arrive at a greater under standing of the prevailing situation, let us take a close look at the issues which have generated so much heat among the students and teachers in Chandigarh and led to the closure of all the educational institutions (colleges) in the city besides seriously hampering the house test.

First, let us take the case of the students.  To begin with, we must put in a word of appreciation for them, despite the fact that they have gone on strike.  There are two reasons for this - the students are perhaps, for the first time, fighting for an academic cause and have not submitted to political provocation.  There cheers for the girls who planned and managed it all !

But, what is the genesis of this problem and how did it all start? To begin with, there was this new education policy.  I say 'was' because obviously it has failed and I know for sure that the authorities are at present feverishly searching for an alternative.  This time they already seem to have run out of all their new-fangled ideas and therefore, they are holding emergency meetings of the principals, teachers and even students to come out of the mess which has been created in the name of the new education policy (I only wish they had involved them all in the first place in this business of educational planning). Will they succeed now? I would say, temporarily "yes", but in the long run "no".  The reasons? I would like you, yourself, to identify them after going through the article.

I cannot say this for all other subjects but, "trouble" for the subject of English in the Panjab University (or the "English hatao") came from the Vice Chancellor's Coordination Forum, a totally arbitrary body having no legal status. God knows who created this body for whatever purposes.  Anyway at a meeting of this Forum, a decision was taken to bring uniformity in the syllabi of the three universities in the state.  There must have been reasons for this, of course, but they were certainly not academic in nature because no academician worth his salt will vote for eroding university autonomy in the name of uniformity.  If this were a sound academic proposal, the UGC would have long ago prescribed a uniform syllabus for the whole country and there would have been no need for the syndicates; senates, academic councils, boards of study and other such independent bodies in the various universities of the country.

Anyway, the vice-chancellors decided to go ahead and divided the task of preparation of syllabi for various subjects among the different universities in the state with a view to bringing uniformity in the courses.  Now, traditionally, the other two universities in the state have not been paying as much attention to English as the Panjab University, for a number of reasons- most of these political.  Thus came to the idea of reducing the status of English at the undergraduate level in the Panjab University.

Besides being seriously concerned with the growth and development of their subject, the teachers of English faced an immediate threat of retrenchment if the decisions were to be implemented as such.  They swung into action and fought mainly an academic battle mostly through the press which was infect a losing one.

The chopping was to be done, but carefully- proving to every one that what was being done was only reasonable and "within the framework" of the new education policy.  So the teaching of languages was given a new name "Communication Skills".  As far as I am aware. the UGC has never floated such a scheme, except that the suggested syllabus in English, as prepared by it, emphasizes that skills in English (reading, writing, listening and speaking) should be chiefly taught for the purposes of communication in day-to-day life.  The syllabi in communication skills in Hindi, Punjabi and Sanskrit did not exist and were prepared hurriedly at the instructions of the Vice-Chancellor.  The Undergraduate Board of Studies in English protested thrice to the Vice-Chancellor against the proposed syllabus in the Communication Skills, but ultimately had to yield under pressure.  The syllabus is, till date, volatile of the norms and the teaching hours as recommended by the UGC.

Anyhow, the syllabus in communication skills (which finally but to be different in the three Universities) was made ready and the study of two languages (English and another one of student's choice) was made compulsory for all the students.  Now the question is: Who is happy with Communication Skills?  Obviously, neither the students, nor the teachers.  The Vice-Chancellor, himself does not seem to be sure.  Even before the recent students' strike began, the Vice-Chancellor has been asking the language teachers to give their proposals in writing for reconsideration of the Communication Skills syllabus.  But the shot has been fired and the consequences must be faced.

It is no secret that students do not like the syllabus in Communication Skill- most of all the Science students.  The Art students also find the new curriculum too bulky to manage with the changeover from three to five subjects.  Most know that they would easily get through the final examination at the end of the session because of the viva voce which amounts to 20 per cent and more of the Communication Skills paper.  Since the students manage to get very high scores in this part of the paper (like their counterparts do in science practical), they do not really need to study very hard.

The Communication Skills teachers are also not very happy.  They find the syllabus very dull and uninteresting, with the traditional literature part missing from it.  The Hindi and Punjabi teachers are still learning how to cope with which most of their students are already conversant.  The case of Sanskrit teachers is really classic.  I learn they have provision for 50 per cent marks for the viva.  During the last annual examinations, a me: "I myself, cannot communicate well in spoken Sanskrit, how can I take the viva of the students?" The viva was of course, taken and all the students passed.  But so did all the students in all other languages ! May I ask who is responsible for this?

Now the analysis.  The case history shows that the educational policies in the country are governed by extra-academic factors, and increasing adhocism.  Since, in essence, must formal education today is a farce - not being related to the real needs of the students and the society, all - the students, teachers, parents, principals, vice- chancellors and all other connected with education-have become totally indifferent and 3ven apathetic to the educational environment in India.