Dr. Shobana Vasudevan, Principal, R. A. Podar College of Commerce and Economics talks to Shraddha Kamdar about attendance, marks and activities of the students in degree college
She’s warm and friendly, and loud with her voice like any teacher should be! I know since I also am. She is the mother figure that many students would have once they are in college. There is something about her unassuming personality in her elegant saree that draws a person towards her. That, and what she has to say about motivating students to do better in college and otherwise in life. Dr. Shobana Vasudevan, Principal, R. A. Podar College of Commerce and Economics, is every bit the leader that her students can look up to and learn from. She apologised profusely for being a few minutes late (as opposed to taking it for granted) and offered me sufficient time on a really busy afternoon (she had teacher guests from all over the city waiting for her at lunch) for our conversation. What’s more, her prompt replies to my texts are all it took to get an appointment with her.
Talking about the nature of the syllabus, especially in affiliated degree colleges, Dr. Shobana offers a clear perspective: “Certain things, like the basics, cannot change. And there are other aspects that keep on changing. Say for instance the marketing syllabus in FYBCom, will talk about concepts that every student needs to know, even if theoretical. I think that we can, however orient our students towards latest developments by introducing the core concepts, which will not change,” she says, responding to the word ‘archaic’ that I had used to describe the syllabus.
Dr. Shobana further explains that in the applied components that students learn as part of the commerce curriculum, the teaching methodology will define the interactivity. She cites the example of the subject Company Secretary Practice that she teaches. She knows that The Companies Act cannot change, nor can the rules regarding the appointment of directors and others in a company. But, she brings in a twist to the class by asking each student to identify a company listed on the stock exchange to buy just one share and follow its ups and downs in the market. That way, they have to open a demat account, so she brings in an expert to discuss the features of that topic. Then, in one class she needs to talk about banking, since students will have to open a bank account to link the demat account. Further, they will talk about the stock market, since they will be shareholders soon, which will lead to discussions on the rights and responsibilities of the shareholders (and others) in a company.
“This process gets them excited since it involves them directly, and they are actually doing something in the real world markets, it is not merely theoretical or a mock experience. They follow the stock, analyse, and present their work periodically, and it shows that the works interests them as well. This is possible because the students are over 18 and can legally hold accounts, and the cost of any one share of a company is not too probative. The youngsters might perhaps spend that much money in one shot in eating a burger!” she smiles and says.
With such experiences, wherever possible, Dr. Shobana feels that students build a knowledge base in such a manner that they will be able to use it later in life. She also feels that if she could pick sensible and mature students, she would definitely factor in their thoughts while delivering the curriculum. “For that, we can have a few present students and a few alumni sharing their ideas as to what is helpful and what is not, but we need level-headed, balanced and objective students for this exercise,” she opines.
Perhaps then, the students’ inclination towards marks might reduce a little bit? Should marks even matter that much in degree college when most of the marks-based admissions are done? “In fact I feel it should change right after class 10, we do not have to wait until degree college for that. In India, the psyche is cast. This is because wherever we look, the process of rejection is used to arrive at a decision of which candidate should get in and which should not. It is very easy to eliminate a large chunk of the candidates based on marks, and that’s why people do it. Because it is easy. The desperate need is to move towards a selection process,” Dr. Shobana says, elaborating that the industry and employers should not use the process of rejection. “We need to get into the selection mode for enhancing the quality of human resource.
Within her college, Dr. Shobana says that students are encouraged for other activities apart from academics, and the idea that only the rankers are the ones to look up to is not entertained. She feels that every student who does well in any area should be looked up to. Of course, she does not extend a similar policy to those students who have decided to pursue professional studies like chartered accountancy and therefore deem it their right to skip college lectures. Her policy is very clear – students need to be a part of the mainstream and available to the college as well. So if these students cannot cater to both, the college as well as the CA studies, they need to choose one. They cannot let one suffer at the cost of the other. She has a similar policy for students who are on the defaulters list for attendance. She makes them work hard to secure their hall tickets, so that a fair balance is achieved.
Talking about enabling students from the interiors who might not have the resources that others do, Dr. Shobana’s idea is one of reverse integration. “If every college shares its institutional resources with their rural counterparts, an impactful solution can be achieved. The effects of such sharing will spread far and wide,” she says. She is planning to set up something like this Podar College, since she believes that even the students from the metros need to be sensitized towards others. After all, they take so many things for granted, it is unimaginable! On that thought, I pack my notes, and she moves onto the next room for that lunch, where she is awaited.
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