YES! We have ‘reformed’ your educational institution(s)!

As a person who has been annoyed and generally disillusioned by the whole of Indian education system, Delhi University appeared to be the last bastion which upheld the standards of education in the realm of higher education especially for humanities and arts, but all I ended up was heartache along with schooling in our Sisyphean reality.

When I enrolled in a college part of the university, the university had just adopted the semester system from the age old year system just about a year or so ago, we hadn’t seen the result of said change of this switch as the first batch that had experienced the semester system hadn’t yet passed out, from that coming to see an equally foolhardy implementation of FYUP, was only one among many things that help my disillusion with academia solidify further. We didn’t have any choices to speak of, didn’t even get to ‘choose’ which subject we studied due to the fact there was a lack of man power and infrastructure, there was a vast lack of books even, barely any in the college library even though the course we were taught was quite old, about 15-20 year old, yet no books very few reference books and textbooks, so you can imagine how we were getting through. I think that’s enough of my interloping let’s talk more about FYUP and then move on to its cousin CBCS.

Four-Year Undergraduate Program: The Local Days

It all started with an example often cited by Prof. Dinesh Singh (Standing VC of DU) whenever making a case for the four year program being the need of the hour and I quote Prof. Dinesh here from an old interview from CNN IBN

“I arranged for eleven hundred students who are about to graduate from my university(DU) at the end of a three year program to be interviewed by a major corporate institution, we did not disclose any details, there were lots of jobs in that institution which is a major company, which flew in from Mumbai with whole team. (We) Didn’t disclose anything, the names and the marks of the students. Not their background, not their colleges, guess how many where chosen by the firm for jobs? Three out of eleven hundred.”

Then again after a few more minutes into the conversation the Prof. decides to drop an alarming statistic out of what seems like thin air, which goes something like:

“…the other thing that bothers me is I checked figures for many years, I’ve been told on an average about 30% of the students drop out each year from the system without a degree…”

Now these ‘facts’ aren’t actually in public domain and cannot be accessed by the general populous, and nobody really cares from the look of things. Prof. Dinesh purporting himself to be a man of science should’ve acted like one and given substantial proof for his findings, rather than just pushing supposed reform by brute force and rhetoric, but I guess that’s just the way the academic institution function in this country, just ramshackle and blatantly lacking of foresight, anything that comes after as supposed ‘reform’ is but to save face and brute force ones agenda. How it got through was another story worth telling of course, the UGC played a major part in both the implementation and the further removal of the system as the government changed FYUP actually turned into a national issue somehow making its way towards manifestos of many parties and then the subsequent removal as soon as the next party came into power. There were reports of Prof. Ved Prakash (still is the chairman somehow) then chairman of UGC who was actually supporting the FYUP at that point and Prof. Ved Prakash himself was seen singing sonnets about Prof. Dinesh (Video). Further one can see then congress stooge HRD minister Shashi Tharoor had said that the ministry wasn’t involved in this decision though observing that, this step was a positive and cited that “the American norm of 12+4 had become popular”[1] , and most of the other conversation meandered around the fact that most student who apply to foreign nations’ universities are turned down because they don’t follow the 12+4 American standard. These argument fail on many levels that this article deals with the same in depth, and I agree with most of the stances taken there so won’t waste my or your time, just read that.

Coming to the actual implementation of the system, it was as expected a broken ramshackle ‘reform’ built by those who ‘know best’, without any insight from the students themselves, and further disregard of most teachers in the system itself. The system as stated above wanted to mimic the American standard of 12+4 but as was the case that requires a lots of things like say man power and infrastructure, neither of which were possessed by the university. So, knowing only one thing they jam it down the students and teachers throat and hoped for the best.

On a side note, from what you are reading till now it might feel that I might be deprecating on or am taking a depreciative view of ‘reforms’ themselves, which is fine. But I’m not against reforms themselves. I am against these ‘reforms’ in particular as they are showing a deep-rooted problem that has been almost contagious in a way that keeps carrying on from one generation to another. These ‘reforms’ are done in almost a systematic manner with disregard for public opinion with the elitist disposition that the “masses won’t be able to handle it” kind of way, and are passed on from generation to generation. Now more than ever we need reform in the truer sense, but it takes time as against the FYUP which is just a flashy PR exercise gone bad, that doesn’t have any rhyme or reason behind it and is done without much meditation.

OK, back to the story. The system gets implemented without much ‘problem’ to speak of, other than the many protests by student bodies which were unanimously against it and many teachers as well, but mostly those things were overlooked and people enrolled in the system took classes in this system, some even didn’t mind it, most disliked it for various reasons and are still reeling from the shock that this thing was and are now often found in their final year of DU thanks to the rollback. They are still the experiment pods though, they are fed somewhat a different diet than their predecessors and successors, so its easy to see they might feel a bit of a disconnect as they cannot really talk shop with either their ‘juniors’ or ‘seniors’, how they will coup with the future is going to be interesting to say the least. But its okay I guess now, right? I mean what could go wrong now? we got rid of the FYUP and even had a back to normal year of batch introduced, right? Cue in Choice-Based Credit System or CBCS!

Choice-Based Credit System or CBCS : WE’RE GOING NATIONAL NOW BABY!

Lets just start by taking a look at what CBCS entails from this UGC guideline available online[2].

“The education plays enormously significant role in building of a nation. There are quite a large number of educational institutions, engaged in imparting education in our country. Majority of them have entered recently into semester system to match with international educational pattern. However, our present education system produces young minds lacking knowledge, confidence, values and skills. It could be because of complete lack of relationship between education, employment and skill development in conventional education system. The present alarming situation necessitates transformation and/or redesigning of education system, not only by introducing innovations but developing “learner-centric approach in the entire education delivery mechanism and globally followed evaluation system as well.”

Does this sound familiar? If not all of it at least the latter half of the paragraph seems to be singing the same tone as the one the Delhi University VC was singing in his interview, but this is even more abstract and without any substance really. The UGC is so far up its own ass that it gives itself an appraisal and says well done? For example this quote [2]:

“The CBCS will undoubtedly facilitate us bench mark our courses with best international academic practices. The CBCS has more advantages than disadvantages.”

Then the guideline goes on to list them, and of course you wouldn’t criticize your own baby. So I’ll help it out. Let me try to pick apart these points.

Point no. 1[2]: “Shift in focus from the teacher-centric to student-centric education.”

This is an unsubstantiated claim, same as the FYUP or the semester system, but now on a grander scale as this is going to applied at a larger scale by UGC upon multiple Universities like the one in Delhi.

Point no. 2[2]: “Student may undertake as many credits as they can cope with (without repeating all courses in a given semester if they fail in one/more courses).”

Seems fine on paper but again this is done without any research or thought, so if the system fails this attempt at ‘reform’ might fail as well and there are already reports that say as much. Then what follows is a grim situation where students don’t know what to do with themselves as this requires good teachers in the system and at least half decent counselors which doesn’t exist in most DU colleges, and if it does it’s in abysmal state.Even if we disregard this infrastructure and manpower is still a concern. This guideline itself says as much when it states its disadvantages which are[2]:

  • Difficult to estimate the exact marks
  • Workload of teachers may fluctuate
  • Demand good infrastructure for dissemination of education

With the exception of the first one rest of them are very bit concerns that have been there since the implementation of the semester system which have been barely addressed, the colleges still rely heavily on ad-hoc teachers who are made to wait for long amount of years to get an official professorial position in the University, and even the ad-hoc teachers at least good ones are hard to find, some positions are just left vacant because of budget constraints perhaps? Or some equally benign reason that never gets addressed and eventually develops into a real problem. The infrastructure problem has been there since the beginning, considering the university has very little to offer in terms of their teachers, it’s not hard to imagine why they don’t have better infrastructure, obviously it’s the fact that they’re broke most of the time or there are corrupt people waiting to fill their coffers at every level (this is more of a speculation, so don’t take my word for it). As for the workload of course when you have less teachers, not enough classrooms and an ever growing intake, you can’t not expect the teachers to get fatigued and/or overloaded with work,  and barely able to have a student-teacher relationship or focus on anyone let alone mentor someone.

Point no. 3[2]: CBCS allows students to choose inter-disciplinary, intra-disciplinary courses, skill oriented papers (even from other disciplines according to their learning needs, interests and aptitude) and more flexibility for students).

This is in a way contradictory considering the self-stated pitfalls or disadvantages themselves. Considering they don’t have the infrastructure or the manpower to offer everyone the course they want this point become null and void as stated in the article posted in response to the last point.

Point no. 4[2]: “CBCS makes education broad-based and at par with global standards. One can take credits by combining unique combinations. For example, Physics with Economics, Microbiology with Chemistry or Environment Science etc.”

Point no. 5[2]: “CBCS offers flexibility for students to study at different times and at different institutions to complete one course (ease mobility of students). Credits earned at one institution can be transferred.”

Again chasing after the global standard and homogenization just like its cousin FYUP, the individuality of the courses being stripped away, you get a university education to specialize in a specific subset of a field not to take a look at something in a general sense and move past it, this model is not totally flawed but I lack faith in our institutions to have the infrastructure and man power to handle such tasks, again it’s going to confuse people rather than anything else, also there is a question of further education on a masters or Ph.D. level, when the intake is going to be based on either the major or the minor, I think you start to mug yourself if you think this is logistically possible for a system that couldn’t do quarter of this when we were in the initial semester system, we had ‘choices’ but only go what our college could offer and same was the case for most colleges, so having multiple colleges with about the same infrastructure and autonomy is just the same as the old system having that faux ‘choice’ there is just to show the world rather than anything else.Further from the looks of it, it seems that that’s not really a way one can go the multi college option but one has to work within the confines of ones own college, which just contradicts the systems dictate in a pivotal manner.

If you want some proof as to how and why this is but a nuanced attempt at FYUP and is in fact a fuck up, look at reading this article by Deccan Herald. For starters we never really had ‘choices’ to begin with most colleges in the closed off institution setting, with small man power and poor infrastructure could only hope for such pipe dreams to take off in the past when less was expected of them considering their infra and manpower increased according to the times. Yet somehow our HRD ministry expects the same structure to take the load for something, which institutions are not built or ready for, with sufficient notice and meditation perhaps this could’ve been a positive step for one and all, but rushing this through like this just makes this reek of the whole FYUP debacle that played out but on a larger stage, with even less thought and foresight leveled against the issue.

This is just one in many things going wrong at the national level of educational discourse if you follow central organization like the UGC and NCERT in the news it’s not that hard to see an anti-liberty stance being taken by our current government by their phantom which resides in these central organizations and from their student wing who were singing a different tune when talking about the not so different FYUP, which now is now in supporting CBCS blatantly and one such outfit somehow managed to nab the victory in the recent student body election, even though having such a apathetic stance. Oddly enough the government in a way is looking towards western world to solve their problems just until it suits them and are coming up with things that make you cringe, and say, really? They want to do this? Weren’t they against the same basic premise few months ago?

Perhaps this is but a cautionary tale to those who deluded themselves into thinking that these institutions had some sort of autonomy to begin with and the government wanted to work for the greater good of India and didn’t want to push its own regressive agenda in the disguise of progress. Even if for a moment we suspend our beliefs and say that in fact these institutions have free reign over their actions, which is even more worrying considering this was supposedly a thought out product, there were no eyebrows raised (perhaps they were raised and sidelined) and no one got sacked as a result, not the VC of DU nor the UGC chairman in the first case, and in the second case the whole conversation vanished it seems, it’s as if everyone involved bought into partial utopia offered in the form of CBCS or it just became too big to fail at this point and those dissenting yet again sidelined and trampled for the greater ‘glory’ of this regime, who knows right?

Ref [1]

Ref [2]

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‘Piku’ pulls off a successful tight rope walk, after fumbling a few times.

So let’s talk about ‘Piku’, It’s a film directed by Shoojit Sircar & written by Juhi Chaturvedi , the duo come together once again after the train wreck that was ‘Madras Cafe’ and one of the more surprisingly earnest movie that was ‘Vicky Donor’. This movie try’s to follow the latter’s footsteps.

From the get go you get a pretty distinct feeling that it’s not at all about ‘Piku’, but about her father know in the movie as ‘Bhaskor Banerjee’. Opening is disruptive same as the character of ‘Bhaskor’ as he intentionally or unintentionally comes out as a self-deluding liberal who makes claims of being a liberal and having a open disposition while being a regressive and overbearing parent. ‘Bhaskor’ is clearly a classist and contains hints of castist undertone in him as well, but all this is essentially ignored or filmmaker just play it for laughs as in ‘haha look at the old fart being a dick’ perhaps to keep the plot moving I guess. As if it’s in a hurry. Well…to be honest it is. As ‘Bhaskor’ is an old man and his story must be told before he dies…what? The movie is called ‘Piku’ ? Well shit ok we’ll focus on her for a bit, I guess…

So, coming to ‘Piku’ the character. As it starts to develop, it is quite evident that “Piku” is a part of patriarchal structure in which ‘Bhaskor’ is the head of the family that makes everyone bow down to his will. This is made evident on multiple points in the story itself to the extent that it is just out right said in one of the dialogue of ‘Bhaskor’. Back to ‘Piku’, she keeps having to side step her fathers will and often just keep getting enraged by the old man’s constant blithering & things like calling her mother “low IQ” throughout the movie for not living up to her(Piku’s Mother) potential. Meanwhile ‘Piku’ has to follow the same path as her mother to a lesser extent perhaps but still she (‘Piku’) has to do it out of some sort of paternal love towards her father.

So, in a sense ‘Bhaskor’, out of habit is enslaving those who love him, who’re considered to be a part of the “low IQ” club, don’t know if its deliberate or not, but my disposition towards ‘Bhaskor’ leads me to lean towards the former i.e making the ‘Bhaskor’ a slaver is a deliberate choice that the filmmakers make.

Again getting back to ‘Piku’ everything from her sex life, who she chooses to socialize with, seem to essentially be dictated by her father, be it direct or indirect. She takes her time to make this i.e. her being overly attached to her father, explicit to ‘Rana’ who is the main love interest by the end by saying something along the lines of if you wish to marry me you will have to adopt this 70 year old manchild with me.

Ok, so I think that’s enough of ‘Piku’ for the moment lets shed some light on ‘Rana’, who was a civil engineer in another life and ends up handling his father’s business with an overbearing family of his own that wish to belittle him along with that he gets belittled by ‘Piku’ for the good chunk of the early half of the film. The filmmakers go for a ‘will they won’t they’ vibe from the get go, but in a subtle manner as its only when the road trip starts is when the sparks start to fly and this love story starts to stand up on its own two feet. ‘Rana’s’ love for ‘Piku’ seems to be more of an infatuation at the start, but slowly it turns towards a mutual relation of love and respect by the end. This love story was very well done, subtle and not overbearing at all, doesn’t fall for the usual tropes that Bollywood movies tend to fall for, nothing overly dramatic happens, even at the ending there is nothing solid said or done, the story can either carry on in your head or end, its left open to interpretation, which is often not done with taste if ever done. There are moments when you see ‘Rana’s’ character be classist as well though, but it’s often moved along in a hurry or it isn’t really focused on, a very minor part of the whole story but still it irked me, but I guess it is but a sad truth of our lives that we as humans are often forgetful and will overlook moments one person is being intolerant towards the other.

Explaining The Poop Tech

Beside this I would say one of the major strengths of the movie was the humor, the moments between ‘Rana’ and ‘Bhaskor’ were particularly well done, be it either one of them cracking wise or the moments where ‘Rana’ is giving advice to ‘Bhaskor’ on how to get the perfect motion. The musical cues are quite well done too if you are talking comparatively to most Bollywood movies, there is always scope for improvement, but they had the subtlety down at least and there wasn’t anything that felt offensive throughout the movie sound design wise. Lots of ‘laugh out loud’ moments that keep the movie never get too dark but helps it in the pacing of the overall plot.

One scene in particular the knife scene just doesn’t add up though. ‘Bhaskor’ doesn’t really seem like a pacifist to me, I don’t know why he is surprised by finding a knife in a taxi on a highway, and subsequently just overreacts and asks ‘Rana’ to get rid of it, and it seems silly. But I guess ‘Bhaskor’ was but an unreasonable character throughout the movie, hiding salt, indulging in homeopathic remedies, calling people “low IQ” just because they’re affectionate towards him. I guess it makes sense on that level also. So, later on in the scene ‘Rana’ finally caves in after ‘Piku’ asks him to, from here on out it seems like their love story really kicks into high gear. ‘Piku’ in Kolkata keeps making googly eyes whenever interacting with ‘Rana’ and he keeps cracking wise to keep getting a laugh out of her, its adorable.

Piku Breakdown

Coming to the linguistic problem that I have with this movie and many other Bollywood movies. I don’t know why more films can’t be like Court and just go in the bi-lingual direction rather than enslaving themselves to Hindi just to chase some sort of despotic gold standard. ‘Hindi’ should be but a lingua franca in supposedly proud Bengali family, which is deeply entrenched in its Bengali-ness, for a movie trying to have some sort of authenticity attached to it, I think it fails miserably at the point when it muscles out Bengali even when the characters are in Kolkata. They continue on converse in Hindi, but I guess with suspension of disbelief we can overlook it, but then why the accents? Have some consistency in your world logic is all I’m saying. If this movie where to be bi-lingual I would’ve liked it even more than I do, is all I’m saying.

At Ganga Ghat

The ending can be construed as good and/or bad depending on how you look at it I guess, for me it was more or less good in the sense as the ending is as abrupt as the start. Just as the arc of ‘Bhaskor’s’ character. As he dies and so does the life of the story, both metaphorically and literally. As I said in the beginning the story isn’t about ‘Piku’. It’s about ‘Bhaskor’ and his relation with the world, which include ‘Piku’ and the rest, they exist for him and their(people other than ‘Bhaskor’) real story begins after ‘Bhaskor’ passes, which is left to the imagination. The wake at the end just seems slapped together but perhaps it shows us a glimpse into ‘Piku’s’ mind as she has been all her life subconsciously just going for guys that are somewhat like her father, but that’s just my interpretation, and isn’t explicit in the story itself, but certain scenes are suggestive of the same.

Apt Kyam Churan Product Placement

Overall I would say it’s a great movie with great writing and great acting, its pitfalls are far and few between. One can look at the movie as a whole and say that this is one of the better movies that came out of Bollywood this year. It certainly is straddling a line, walking a tightrope falling, brushing itself off and then getting back on there to achieve its task. It does it with dirt on its face but even so it works out in the end. I would rate it 3.5/5, but remember this is but an opinion, I would highly recommend it for a somber afternoon.

PS : I had a conversation with someone I know about this movie. Have a listen if you want to find out how I came to some of the conclusions in the review.

PSS : Hey! If you have something interesting for me or something interesting to say hit me up on twitter (@Crit93)