'We Are Not School-Going Children' DU Students Protest Against Attendance Rules, PTMs

'We Are Not School-Going Children' DU Students Protest Against Attendance Rules, PTMs

The Delhi University students criticise the new policies, accusing them of restricting their academic freedom.

Tanvi DalviUpdated: Friday, May 24, 2024, 03:09 PM IST
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FPJ

On May 20, several student groups from Delhi University’s (DU) colleges staged a protest at Gate No 3 of the Arts Faculty building against the mandatory attendance policy and the new Parent-Teacher Meeting (PTM) policy for attendance-defaulters implemented in DU-affiliated colleges. From September 2023, DU mandated that students must have a minimum of 67% attendance to take their exams.

Earlier this month, Shaheed Bhagat Singh College announced that out of its 3,600 students, 1,397 students were found to have attendance below 40%. The college barred students who didn’t meet DU’s newly introduced attendance criteria.

Impact on outstation and working students

According to Rohit Saini, a student at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, several outstation students are unable to regularly attend classes for a variety of reasons. Some students, driven by financial need, work part-time jobs, while others prepare for government exams alongside their academic studies.

While the attendance policy across DU-affiliated colleges has been made stricter post the National Education Policy (NEP) implementation, Saini says that students earlier were allowed to take their exams even with attendance as low as 40%.

“Colleges, till a year ago, used to make students write formal applications explaining their reasons for falling short on meeting the attendance criteria and asked them to make up for their low attendance in the following semester, but colleges have started to singularly focus on attendance now, and the focus on teaching has faded into the background,” Saini highlights.

Even if a teacher has a pattern of not coming to class, students are expected to be present, he says, adding that third-year students will bear the brunt of this move, as they may be unable to apply for further studies or take entrance exams.

Yogesh Yadav, another student at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College, is one out of many from the college who are juggling attending classes along with preparing for government exams.

“Students like myself need to allot more time preparing for government exams, as there are countless competitors, so we sometimes miss out on attending classes,” he says, adding that landing a job is his priority due to financial challenges.

Yadav notes that at his college, the number of students being barred from taking exams is highest among second-year students, some of whom are simultaneously preparing for the UPSC exam. 

“I am not for an education that acts as a barrier to my career,” he says. Second-year students restricted from taking their exams this year will need to take them in the next semester, causing them to become overburdened, Yadav adds. 

Barring over a thousand students from taking their exams has never happened in DU’s history, notes Durgesh Singh Bharti, another student at Shaheed Bhagat Singh College.

In his previous semester, he planned on taking the Bihar Police Constable Exam at his assigned centre in Patna. Due to a paper leak incident, the exam got postponed and he had to stay back in Patna. “I sent my college authorities bonafide documents explaining the postponement of the exam and my absence from college, but they didn’t find my reasons to be valid,” Bharti says.

He highlights that students like him, who face financial hardships, tend to be more anxious about job prospects than others. "Government jobs are scarce and are not always readily available. I'm constantly on the lookout for vacancies," he says.

Skill enhancement courses (SEC), value addition courses (VEC) and ability enhancement courses (AEC) are newer additions to the DU curriculum under the NEP. For some students, these additions are arbitrary and don’t have much value to offer.

“I don’t find an issue with these vocational courses, but if they hadn’t made attendance for them mandatory, it would’ve been easier for students to manage academics along with extra-curricular activities,” Bharti says.

Bharti loves to sing and wanted to join Audiofile, the singing society at his college, but the pressure to adhere to stringent attendance rules while also wanting to prepare for government exams has kept him from pursuing his passion.

Rishab Ibtida, a student of Hindu College, has always been big on representing his college at inter-collegiate competitions, which has resulted in him missing classes from time to time. “For students like me, who are keen on participating in extracurricular activities and represent their college, meeting the attendance requirement is hard,” he says, adding that colleges should be considerate towards such students and accommodate them, given that DU is a hub for extra-curricular activities.

“Students don’t just come to DU to study, but also to be exposed to theatre, fashion, film and other forms of non-academic pursuits,” Ibtida says.

Authorities across DU colleges have also been demanding that the parents visit the college if their wards fall short of meeting the 67% attendance criteria. Only then the colleges will give students admit cards and allow them to sit for their exams. 

“Lot of students in Delhi have their parents living abroad,” says Layana Sara Francis, a student from Hansraj College. “The idea of calling our parents up undermines us since we are adults who can make our own decisions,” she says, adding that college authorities frequently pester students demanding to speak to their legal guardians for minor reasons. 

Aniket Nanaware, another student from Hansraj College, finds PTM meetings to be an assault on students’ autonomy. “This is the first year my college is making such a fuss about attendance. The idea of PTM meetings sounds pretty ridiculous to me,” he says.

"Teachers used to care about our lives beyond attendance," recalls a student from Hansraj College who prefers to be anonymous. “They asked why we skipped classes and if we were doing internships, attending coaching, or studying in libraries instead”. Now, strict attendance policies have erased that concern, he laments. Higher attendance in some classes versus minimal in others suggests which classes students find valuable.

“Authorities should investigate the reasons behind low attendance instead of targeting students," he says. Hansraj College has an online portal where students can get updates on their day-to-day attendance. "I have seen my friends get stressed each time they checked their attendance, while they wondered if there was a change in their attendance percentage, or sometimes feared their attendance in class not getting registered on the portal,” he says. 

He adds that students who must take extra exams next semester due to low attendance face added stress, especially those preparing for postgraduate entrance exams. Final-year students feel even more pressure with placement season approaching. "If students can't take their exams, they won't get placed. This is a huge disadvantage," he says, urging colleges to consider these factors and adjust their attendance policies.

Ananya Raturi, a student of Jesus and Mary College, commutes daily from Dwarka to her college by metro, spending Rs 130. She says that most students from her colleges aren’t as economically well-off. With colleges like Shaheed Bhagat Singh College not letting over a thousand students take their exams due to arbitrary attendance policies, colleges are limiting education to only the elite section of society, she opines.

According to a press note, when a group of four students met the Dean of Student Welfare and raised their demands, they were told that the administration of the varsity would take this up with the principals of concerned colleges to discuss their concerns.

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