DR. TIRTH RAJ KHANIYA
Tribhuvan University (TU) has, out of the blue, decided that it would implement the semester system (semester — in Latin six months) from this academic session in the Central Campus, Kirtipur. This decision of TU has certainly invited some debates. The semester system is not a new phenomenon in TU; it had the semester system some years ago which was done away with in response to a very powerful student strike in 2036 BS. No explanations were given for why it was introduced and why it was abolished and the annual system was reintroduced.
There are certain features of a semester system. A semester involves 15-20 weeks’ rigorous study. Compared to the annual system, it involves focused attention of students and teachers on teaching and learning; it is more organized and interactive in the classroom because it involves pedagogical processes instead of methods, the number of students (quota) in the classroom is fixed; they are selected on a merit basis based on an entrance exam; they are kept busy at the same level of burden throughout the session; they are required to be regular for completing tasks and projects and participate in group discussions and presentations; and internal assessment is adopted for reducing over-dependence on external evaluation.
Undoubtedly, the semester system is good for quality. However, it is not a panacea; after all its success depends, by and large, on the quality and commitments of those who are involved in the whole process of implementing it.
The countries like India, China, Britain, USA, Japan, Australia, Bangladesh, etc. have adopted a semester system. The semester system is associated with the process of making teachers and students regular, creative, engaged in learning, doing remedial instructions if needed, closely monitoring the progress, use internal assessment for evaluation, make presentations, do project works, concentrate on specific subjects, involve in group work, etc. It is believed that these activities enhance achievement and lead to high pass rate. Comparing the annual system against the semester system, one would argue that the annual system makes students lethargic, exam oriented, work hard only during the exit exam, careless about attendance and does not require students to do assignments and project works. In a way, it appears that the semester system is better than the annual system in many ways when the academic package is seen in terms of enhanced learning.
However, it should not be forgotten that it is not the system - semester or annual - that matters, what matters much is how competent the academic packages are, how prepared and serious the teachers and students are in teaching and learning, what learning materials and technology are used, how they are engaged in interactive learning, how evaluation of the students takes place, and how changes in academic matters are incorporated in the inbuilt system.
Higher education has always been criticized for giving less rate of return compared to basic education. We must realize that Nepali higher education is not functioning well especially in TU which holds almost 90% weighting of it. The quality of higher education in TU, putting a couple of technical institutes aside, is said to be deteriorating mainly because there are serious problems in its academic packages and evaluation processes. TU, therefore, needs significant reforms both in academia and management but the reforms should undoubtedly be directed towards leading the students to learn what the 21st century students are learning in other parts of the world. Now, the time has come for TU to revamp its academic programs and management to make it a modern university that serves the national needs.
In this context, the semester system should be exploited as an opportunity to bring about holistic reform in TU. Therefore, firstly the curricular part should be revised in the way that it incorporates pedagogical processes involving interactive classroom, continuous assessments, projects and presentations, group discussions, regularity in attendance, etc. One would ask how TU has presently developed the curriculum for the semester system: Has it involved a process of making a departure from methods to pedagogy for enhanced learning or has it broken the annual courses into two parts by jokingly making the first half for the 1st semester and the 2nd half for the 2nd semester. Have we prepared our students fully devoted to educational achievements with social commitments? Have we made our teachers concentrate on the TU job sacrificing their involvements in private colleges and businesses? I would like to argue that this is possible when the reform initiative is put on national debate, involves stakeholders, and led by professional and committed leadership.
Hence, the argument is: if the reform initiative is a promise of the TU authority, it should come with all the good intents by involving all the stakeholders with full understanding of the concept and requirements of the semester system. But if it comes out of the blue from the authority under the external pressure, it may lead to grave peril. If so, this is also a shame on the part of the funding agency who knows how reform takes place and where this kind of unprepared reform initiative would lead us to.
source: KHANIYA,DR. TIRTH RAJ (2014),"Semester system in TU: Promise or peril? ", The Himalayan Times,26 jan 2014
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