The college life in India is considered as an extension of school life, not by students themselves, but by elders, including parents and teachers. One of the ways in which this manifests itself is the attendance policy in Indian universities. A large number of universities would insist that attendance be marked of every student coming to a class in every class of every course, including labs and tutorials. There is a certain minimum requirement of attendance, mostly 75 percent.
If a student attends less classes than that, there is a severe consequence, usually not allowed to take the final exam and given a fail grade in the course. In many universities, a fail grade would amount to a student being marked as a "backlogger" and no company coming for placement would touch him by a 10 feet pole. So the student not only has to repeat the course, which sometimes may mean spending a semester extra in the system, paying extra tuition, delaying earnings from a job, but it may also mean that there is no job through campus placement. Basically, the punishment for missing a few boring classes is very harsh with no consequence whatsoever to the teacher who delivered those boring lectures. After all, all teachers hired through proper selection procedures must be assumed to be great, and all students missing a class must be bad students.
Over the last 25 years of my academic career, I have had discussions on attendance in several forums and with a large number of colleagues in different institutes, and frankly, I still haven't figured out the genesis of capital punishment for missing classes. Here are the reasons that I have heard so far.
If students attend classes. they learn better. Let us assume this to be true. Well, if they don't attend and consequently don't learn, shouldn't the grades or marks reflect their learning. As a teacher, I want my students to learn, and if they don't attend my class and are not performing well, I can counsel them, and if they still don't learn, I must assign them the grade that reflects their learning. How many faculty members would take the pains of counseling students. How many faculty members would give a Fail grade to someone who has not learnt. If you don't want to do either of these two things, then forcing attendance is not for helping students, but for helping yourself.
Also note that many faculty members will also argue that if someone
was ill, or if someone had a family member die during the semester or had other "genuine reasons",
then we could be lenient with them. These people are not realizing (or perhaps they are realizing and still believe that it is the right thing to do) that they are asking for grades to be based on sympathy or "genuine reasons" and not academic learning. Consider two students. Both have attended 70% classes. Both have identical marks in all exams, quizzes, projects, etc. One had his father die during the semester and submits death certificate. The other had his father ill and submits medical certificates of his father. What would we do. We can't question the death certificate. (I am deliberately taking the most extreme reason to make a point.) But all medical certificates, particularly from a private doctor, are assumed to be fake. So, one students is barred from taking the final exam and is awarded a Fail grade. The other student is allowed to take the final exam, and passes the course. What have we done. Between two identical students, we have given fail grade to one, and pass grade to the other, simply because we had sympathy with one and not the other.
There are aspects of learning that happens by attending classes which cannot be evaluated. This could be true for some courses and may not be true for all courses. Can we have attendance requirements in some courses and not the others. And even in courses where some learning happens in classroom which cannot be evaluated, may be such learning can be quantified in terms of fraction of the grade. So just like we have in our mind various learning outcomes and we evaluate learning of those learning outcomes through exams, quizzes, projects, presentations, assignments, and so on, and assign some weight to learning of each of those outcomes, we could similarly assign some weight to learning of those outcomes which cannot be evaluated through traditional means. So if that weight is 10% or 20%, then absence can be penalized in proportion of those weights. Why award a capital punishment when a small deduction of marks will take care of matching learning and grades.
What is very interesting is that lately the regulatory bodies are almost forcing the universities to give students credit for online courses offered through Swayam portal. In such courses, the student studies online from wherever s/he wants, whenever s/he wants. That is, there are no classes. In some instances, there may be some discussion sessions at best. So one can learn well without attending a single class in 20% of the courses. But in the other 80% of the courses, one can only learn if one attends at least 75% of the classes. At the very least, this is an acceptance of the principle that in some courses, attendance is not required for learning. Once we accept this, shouldn't we then consider each course carefully to decide whether attendance is necessary for learning in that course.
There are non-academic learning which are important for careers. For example, you learn to discuss, communicate, dress up, pay respect to your elders (teachers) and what not. Let us assume that all these are indeed important for career growth, and we want to encourage them to learn these during their college days. Why not just put a small monetary fine. Students from poorer background will find it difficult to bunk classes. And rich kids, you don't have to worry about their careers. Their rich parents will take care of that. Let them pay fine and get away with it. May be the fine can be exponentially increasing with every course in which there is lack of attendance.
It is the discipline, stupid! The most commonly heard complaint is that if attendance is not forced then campus romance will flourish. After all, what will they do with all the free time. And that is somehow bad. And that, of course, will rise to indiscipline. Empty mind is devil's workshop or something like that. Again, let us assume that this is a genuine concern. But can we avoid this indiscipline by having a smaller penalty. Should capital punishment be the only penalty for missing some classes (and causing indiscipline in campus).
I hope someone can come up with a rational argument in favor of compulsory attendance, one which explains why online courses are fine, why missing classes due to some reasons is fine, and why a smaller punishment than failing the course and barring the student from campus placement will not work.
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