PART 1: A First Year's Read

PART 1: A First Year's Read

(This article has two parts. The first one deals with the analysis of problems faced by first years in the concluded autumn semester and part 2 deals with other aspects that concern them.)

Part 1.1: The Jeopardy of The First Years

Part 1.2: Branch Change, Minor Degree, Extra Academics

PART 1: THE JEOPARDY OF THE FIRST YEARS

The first semester was a period of transition for our ‘fresh’ Engineer Momo. He was settling into the vastness of NIT Rourkela and was still exploring its lanes when the mid semesters kicked in. The glimpse of the freshers at BBA was still alive in his eyes when he realised that his college career has started. But his mid semesters went disastrously with him securing less than 7 in mathematics (MA 1001) and Electrical (EE 1000). He understood the need to work hard. He prioritised academics over other pursuits at the institute. With assistance from his Professor in the Electrical department and his mentor’s help in Mathematics, he tried getting into pace with the syllabus. When the results were announced in the winters, he was fortunate enough to clear all his subjects with satisfactory grades.

But all the freshers were not as fortunate as our Momo. The statistics below would present a grave symptom:

  1. 265 students from Bachelor of Technology, 34 students from Integrated Master in Sciences, 9 students from Bachelor in Architecture and 17 students from Bachelor in Technology – Master in Technology Dual Degree had at least one backlog in the concluded Autumn semester.
  2. 83 students are in the critical list with 3 or more backlogs.
  3. According to Prof Alok Satapathy 70 students have less than 4 CGPA and should have been kicked out of the institute by now. However, considering the large number, they will be monitored until the end of the year before any action.

 

Why such a High Failure Rate?

Each year, some students do fail to produce quality results. But these numbers underline the worst performance in the NIT-R history. The question arises, was it entirely the fault of students?

One might correctly argue that the subjects have not changed over the past two years and if the results went bad, it is the fault of students. However, the mid semesters are indicative of the anticipated results. When analysed we found the following as major reasons for the above statistics:

Joint Entrance Examination (MAINS) – 2019

Professor Alok Satapathy communicated the result to be the undercurrent from the JEE Examinations 2019 which were held during the 8th to 12th January 2019.

According to him,

From this year JEE is being held twice a year. There first attempts were scheduled in January and hence a large number of aspirants prepared for it at the cost of academics here. That is one of the prime reasons leading to the statistics.

We do not have statistics to support his statement but if this was the reason then the administration needs to be on high vigilance because the second attempts are scheduled between the 7th to 20th of April, 2019. One should also not forget the fact, there were JEE aspirants before this year too. But, his reasons cannot be neglected.

Mathematics 1001

This subject has its own legend of being the subject with the highest failure percentage each year. This year was no different. The difference was the fact that a considerable percentage of students scored low in the mid semesters. The situation was dire and it was communicated to the administration yet no considerable action was taken and the results turned out to be miserable.

Commenting on MA 1001, Archana Tiwari, a Ph. D student of Mathematics, a Teaching Assistant with MA 1001 and a tutor in the SCP’s bridge course kept the following points:

  1. The course being too conceptual, it is really difficult to catch up for students directly after their 12th grade.  

  2. The notion that students have qualified Joint Entrance Examinations and so “they know it all” needs to change.

  3. The subject needs to be taught very seriously, it's not that you can expect students to understand things on their own.

  4. Apart from teaching many examples should be discussed in the class, it so happens that many students understand what is happening but they are unable to solve/attempt the questions.

Commenting on the strategy that the students should have she says,

Students must go through all the solved examples (textbook) and practice more questions. They must practice all the previous year questions. They must pay attention to how to write proof (should avoid direct answers). For foreign students, they really need the bridge course, there are many students who don't even know the basics since they are not acquainted with the Indian style of teaching. Also, Indian accent poses a major challenge to some of them.

She finally added,

It's not at all difficult to pass MA1001, you just need to study smart.

Basic Electrical Engineering 1000:  

The second in rank of playing havoc to the results of freshers is the EE 1000. The name in itself is enough to change the expression of a fresher’s face. But according to the statistics we received, the situation is improving with this subject. In some sections, the pass percentage has improved by over 25 per cent presenting the highest results ever. Still, there is a scope for improvement at the students’ front. We identified the fact that certain kind of misconceptions and unnecessary fear around the subject also hampers the result.

Commenting on EE 1000, Professor Paresh Kale said:

The subject in recent past has set a benchmark on how an engineering subject has to be handled in NIT Rourkela. The tests are designed to evaluate students understanding of the concepts. The all numerical and never repeating questions does that pretty well, furthermore prohibits mug-up business and chances of exam malpractices by students.

For the students he says,

If a student understands the philosophy of the course, studies regularly, increases the self-confidence, I think he can excel in any subject, let alone Electrical. Unnecessary fear, lack of regularity, poor engineering aptitude are the reasons for the failure of a student in EE1000.

He further added,

Winners don't do different things, they do it differently.

Foreign Students

NIT Rourkela is home to about 4% foreign students but it never sees them different from Indians. NIT’s definition of equality seems to surpass all boundaries especially when it comes to academics, they do not consider whether a person has the same educational background or not. Students from outside India, therefore, have an academic elephant to fight beside the task of settling in a far-off land and a completely different ascent. This year, the bridge courses by the Student Counselling Program did come to their rescue but the limited teaching hours limited the outcome as well. As expected, the elephant pushed a number of students beyond the passing marks.

Ahmad Hakimi, a pre-final year student of the Civil Department from Afghanistan adds

It has been a common notion that foreign students are lazy and that is why they have many backlog papers. However, there are many facets of change interlaced with the life of foreign students at NIT-R. They leave their land and come far to settle in an unknown country. Being far from family definitely puts a mental heaviness at the back of their minds. Most of these students are proper of their class. They have had decent grades throughout their schooling. That is why they are at NIT-R. But once here, everything changes. The Indian syllabus till intermediates are very different than what goes through in their education system. It is very difficult to catch up to that. Additionally, the accent is always an issue. When a student faces such difficulties and performs poorly in the exams, he gets a backlog. Naturally, these students who perceived themselves as academically sound students in the schooling period, get a mental shock when they receive multiple backlogs. This gradually decreases their interest and the cycle continues.

Teaching Methodology:

An in-depth analysis of this aspect would involve factors that deem it difficult to ascertain the teaching methodologies of each professor at NITR. However, it cannot be denied that it remains a massive propeller in deciding the results of the students in the course. Despite any change in the curriculum, efficient teaching methodologies do not fail to produce genuine output.

In the words of Dean Academics Prof Alok Satapathy,

Improving teaching is a matter where the administration can do little. It’s more of an individual effort and cannot be forced or taught. Moreover, being a senior faculty of this institute I will not say teaching is bad here. The fault on our part is that we need to keep telling students the consequence of not studying well. We lack a bit in this front. It’s not that you have to work hard; you just have to study in order to secure pass grade. Moreover, we have drafted a letter and sent it to the parents of the students who have more than 3 backlogs in order to maintain some pressure on them at that front too. Students are mature enough to understand their well-being.

Summing Up

To end with this particular analysis, Monday Morning would add that these are obviously not the only reason for the concerning results. There might be a million other reasons and in fact, we understand that each person will have his own reason for not being able to perform well. But we can say some things with certainty:

  1. It is high time for the institute to open their blindfolds and come to the rescue of students. It’s not without their help that the situation can improve and our institute is capable enough to assist its students in times of difficulty. We also feel that deep inside the institute cares for its students and would do all in its capacity to control the situation.
  2. It is the students who make one of the pillars of this institute. They are the ones who should also work for their own betterment. The institute can do only so much. Finally, it will be its people who take themselves forward. For the students who have a CGPA of less than 5, they should realise that they would be thrown out of institute after the end of one year if they could not improve. It is the right time for you to reach out for help. Reach your peers, friends, professors, mentors, seniors, teaching assistants. ‘Help will always be given at NIT Rourkela to those who ask for it’.
  3. Students especially in their first year are unaware or are otherwise misled of the fact that they have every right to verify their answer scripts if they have any doubts regarding the evaluation of their papers. It is for this reason that we appeal you to not just complain of unfair checking but do verify them because it’s your right and the institute is open to it.

 

PART 2: BRANCH CHANGE, MINOR DEGREE AND EXTRA ACADEMICS

BRANCH CHANGE:

A long-standing demand of the students was finally heard. As per the circular disseminated on 17.04.2017 the option of branch change was facilitated. Meritorious students from BTech who had a CGPA greater than 8.5 were allowed for a branch change depending upon the availability of vacant seats. In order to ensure that the strength of the parent department remains unaltered and a major strength of seats do not remain vacant, a policy was introduced. According to it, the total strength of students should not be altered by more than 5% following the vacancy created due to branch change. It gave an opportunity to those students to pursue the disciplines of their interest and to do away with those where they were barely interested in. Here’s the first year’s opinion on the option,

But the cost is high CGPA and the availability of seats. Here are the statistics of last year which suggest that a very few branches did have vacancies and that too demanded too high a CGPA. So, gear up and work if branch change is what you aspire because that’s the only way you can achieve it.

MINOR DEGREE:

When the present first-year students would be into their second year, they too would have an opportunity to grab and a decision to make – Minor Degree?  In order to gauge the opinion of first years on minors, we conducted a poll in which around 67.2% of people told that whether aware or unaware they wish a minor. But the issue arises with 23.6% of students who are unaware of the extra load and still want to pursue a minor. It is this fraction of students that the administration should address in order to close the loopholes.

To make them aware of the cut-offs in order to get into their preferred minor here is our analysis of cut-offs.  They should also keep in mind that a backlog even in NCC/NSS/PE would prevent them from applying for a minor.

EXTRA ACADEMICS:

While our Engineer Momo remained quite busy with a hectic schedule from 8 to 5 on weekdays, he had to attend NSS classes on weekends and PE class on a weekday according to his allotment. Unlike previous years, NSS/PE/NCC was reduced to 0 credits. NSS class was scheduled to take place on weekends whereas PE took place on one of the weekdays. The credits were snatched from these Extra academics citing the reasons that it affected the SGPA and CGPA of the students. At the same time, it was found highly essential for the holistic development of an individual. Comments varying from diverse backgrounds have been drawn regarding the reduction of credits to zero. Here’s the opinion of the present first years.

What turned out to be a bone of contention in this decision was, Minor Degrees were not allotted to those who had a backlog in NSS/PE. On asking Dean Academics Prof. K K Mahapatra regarding this issue, he says

NSS and PE are an important part of the academic curriculum for first-year students. Getting an unsatisfactory result in either is equivalent to failing in other subjects. The students don't take it seriously and hence, the Senate decided not to allow such students to apply for the minor.

On this point Prof Alok Satapathy said,

It was a technical glitch. NITRIS identified it as a backlog. But since it is done, we are continuing with it for the later batches too. A person needs to clear extra academics in order to qualify for minor degree.

So again, in order to grab the opportunity to minors, you need to clear this hurdle too. To the relief of the first years, they do not have the weekly jogging sessions which their seniors had. Further, they are fortunate enough because this extra academic is to be a 1 credit course from the next academic session onwards.

With this, we would end our discussion in the first years.

Continue your read of the Momo’s journey by clicking on a link below to revert back to the main article.

Academics 101: A Situation Analysis

Click on the link below to move to Part 2 of the series.

PART 2: The Major "Minor" Fiasco

Click on the link below to move to Part 3 of the Series.

PART 3: Redefining NIT-R's Pedagogy- Curriculum Review Meeting

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