As the educational institutes in the city take firm steps to enforce the minimum 75% attendance that is required in an academic year, students are becoming discontent with the mandatory attendance policy.
Last week, students from the reputed Institute of Chemical Technology, Matunga, made headlines when they creatively exploited loopholes in the institute’s biometric attendance system to mark themselves present even when they didn’t attend classes.
“Some lecturers are terrible teachers. They simply read from a presentation, instead of teaching proactively. There’s no point attending a lecture if one doesn’t learn anything,” said a BTech student from ICT.
Not amused, the ICT authorities decided to punish around 200 students by cutting two credit points from their final score. Justifying the institute’s action, its vice-chancellor GD Yadav had said, “We are very strict with attendance. In the past, we have rusticated students who couldn’t meet the minimum attendance mark.”
Mumbai colleges say they are strict about attendence rates because there are rules that make it mandatory for every student to meet a minimum standard. While the colleges insist that the policy is indispensable for learning, students argue that forcing them to sit through uninteresting lectures is counterproductive.
Sachin Pawar, a student from New Law College and president of Students Law Council, a city-based students group, suggests that when most of the colleges don’t have sufficient number of qualified, full-time teachers, expecting students to attend lectures is unfair. “Instead of making attendance compulsory, why don’t the colleges fulfil the needs of the students?” he said.
Principals feel that many students use the “poor lecture” argument as an excuse to miss classes. “There are very few students who don’t attend the lectures for genuine reasons. Majority of students who are against mandatory attendance don’t even bother to sit through lectures. The complaint about poor lectures is such a casual remark,” said Madhavi Pethe, principal Dahanukar College, Vile Parle.
Nevertheless, principals concede that mandatory attendance should go with more engaging lectures. “I see some sense when students ask why should they be forced to sit through dull lectures. If you are making attendance compulsory the delivery of lecture has to be meaningful. If we are strict with students, we will have to be strict with teachers as well,” said Lily Bhushan, principal, Shroff College.
She said that the college has taken efforts to make lectures more engaging. The teachers need to practise hands-on teaching, making use of both traditional chalk-and-board and modern tools of presentation.
Despite these measures, some students said that making students sit for lectures out of the fear of attendance is not the correct approach. “Biometric system is not conducive to academic environment of the campus. Plenty of research papers indicate that forcing students to attend lectures doesn’t work,” said a member of ICT student body.
However, Pethe believes that, in the context of Mumbai, the issue of mandatory attendance is more complicated and is influenced by many factors. “I am not in favour of compulsory education, per se. Students at this age are supposed to take care of their responsibilities. But there exists a tremendous peer pressure on the students here, which pulls them down and weans them away from their career. In such a scenario, if the students are forced to spend time in an academic environment, they might learn something. It’s an administrative dilemma,” she said.
Principal of a college from western suburbs said that MU’s 75% attendance rule has given birth to an “unhealthy competition” among colleges. “Many students prefer the colleges which are lenient on attendance. As a result, the colleges which strictly follow the rule are made to suffer,” she said.
Some academicians have suggested the ways to incentivise students to go for lectures, without making attendance mandatory. “I conduct surprise quizes to ensure that students are present,” said Soumyo Mukherjee, dean, academic affairs at Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IIT-B).