I had heard that universities tend to liberate students from shackles of rote learning, but I was wrong. Instead, I witnessed an even worse scenario.
At a time when athletes from all over the globe are competing for medals in Tokyo Olympics to bring laurels to their nation, Kashmir University held its long awaited 19th convocation ceremony to award gold medals to its toppers from previous years. I am not going to waste newspaper space here on comparing Olympic medals with medals being awarded at university convocation ceremonies, for it is comparing proverbial apples with oranges. Being an academic product of Kashmir University myself, I know and understand the working of Kashmir University as the region’s highest seat of learning better than an outsider, and I don’t hesitate in calling these gold medallists as “Manufactured Medallists.”
I don’t want to play spoil sport here by stealing the thunder from these toppers as I don’t have any daggers drawn with them, nor do I have any grudges against them. I am here to vent my spleen of long-growing resentment against the working of our university, especially with regard to criteria for deciding the subject toppers for awarding gold medals.
Our university is still quantifying the quality of students by comparing their digits, i.e., marks earned in exams, instead of doing overall assessment of students’ performance during their stay in the university, like how good he/she was at extracurricular activities, internships, sports, and much more. So, if the student is worth a gold medal, it should be based on more than just evaluating written examinations.
Let me turn the clock back to prove my argument; I vividly remember the day when I entered the picturesque campus of Kashmir University for admission in my master’s programme. High on confidence after scoring the top rank in the entrance examination, I was feeling on cloud nine, but before I could find my feet in my subject, I felt I had landed in the wrong place. I had heard that universities tend to liberate students from shackles of the rote learning that is endorsed in our schools and colleges, but I was wrong. Instead, I witnessed an even worse scenario. Like many of my batch mates, I received advice in the form of pep talk from my seniors, which was like: if you want to finish with good grades, you must stop studying from books and instead cram whatever is being taught by the professor in the classrooms from his/her worn-out, faded yellow paper notes, and then copy paste the same notes verbatim in answer scripts during the exam.
Second, don’t ever dare to question the professor in class even if he/she calls a pig an elephant, as questioning equates to challenging professors, and if you crush their ego by repeatedly asking questions you are asking for trouble, as the evaluation of your internal and external assessment answer scripts is done by the same professors.
Third, be a sycophant of your teachers. Praise them even if they don’t deserve it. Develop a good rapport with them as this will certainly pay you off in getting good grades in internal assessment and practical marks.
Quite contrary to the advice of my senior fellows, in my first semester I didn’t pay any heed to their advice. I trusted my own way of learning and I kept on exploring books instead of cramming the class notes, without quite realising that I may have to pay the price for doing so. My ignorance received a rude jot of reality when the results of my first semester examinations were declared. I had somehow managed to cross the line with a lowly percentage. I was expecting better marks, but what I had done wrong was that I hadn’t copy pasted answers from notes but instead made use of the books I had read.
Being once bitten twice shy, I didn’t want to repeat my mistake and I started doing what my seniors had asked me to do. It paid off, in my next three semesters, when my grades saw a sudden spike and I finished with first division. But this time I had to a pay bigger price: I got good grades at the cost of compromising with superficial knowledge gained from notes.
Now let’s assume a situation where two fellows, A & B, are competing for the gold medal in the department of media and communication. The fellow ‘A’ has topped in terms of marks but beyond that he has no work credentials to his credit. The fellow ‘B’ lagged behind ‘A’ in marks but he had done reporting for national and international news channels during his course, had attended workshops and seminars, and most importantly, his work was recognised and awarded too. Now let my readers decide who deserves to be the Gold Medallist. If we go as per the convention, fellow ‘A’ is bound to get the medal as our report cards gives credit to only marks, not to extracurricular activities. But if we go with rationality, fellow B deserves better than A, as his work speaks louder than numbers.
Cutting a long story short, I realised after two years of my stay in university that the mantra for getting gold medal is simple: be the master of rote learning, shun books and prefer notes, prefer silence over questioning, prefer sycophancy over honesty. This isn’t the ideal scenario, is it? The need of the hour is for our university to amend these archaic methods. They need to come up with new rules to decide the gold medallist, otherwise this whole exercise is but a farce.
The writer is an ex-student of Kashmir University. [email protected]