“Attendance proves nothing in terms of learning.” Terming it as “non-academic” achievement, Bruce Macfarlane, the author of Freedom to Learn: The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why It Needs to be Reclaimed laid a strong foundation against any attempt by the imperious moves by a lot of academic administrations across the globe to impose compulsory attendance upon students. We are also aware of the fact that Nobel laureate, John Nash was scornful of the system of attending classes. Even Einstein had a slow and gradual entry into the world of learning and Stephen Hawking could hardly attend any classes as he developed a deadly disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) quite early in his life. All of these examples reinforce the argument in favour of the ongoing struggle staged by a group of students in JNU who want the recent administrative diktat of 75% compulsory attendance to be rolled back “immediately”. But the references cited here refer to genius minds and not ordinary students who enter the education system in order to be able to earn a respectable living. Is every student of JNU a born genius and is destined to produce a marvel? The record so far hardly suggests so.
Moreover, it must also be noted that a sizable student population of JNU learn human languages. Modern Linguistics that is thought to have begun with Saussure’s work and carried forward by Noam Chomsky and others, does testify the fact that human languages have structures. Thus, learning a language could hardly be a haphazard affair as often argued on the basis of ill-conceived notions by many a protester in JNU. It becomes a funny affair if one learns the correct use of gender and articles but not tenses, as one was too busy with his or her pursuit of genius and missed the class on tenses. The language so learned is no learning at all. Michael A. Gottfried (2010) found a positive correlation between student attendance and academic achievement in both elementary and middle schools. But that is exactly what the protesters highlight. “Don’t turn JNU into a school.” To their dismay, research on higher education does not seem to assuage their worries either. John Colby (2004) found a similar relationship that was corroborated through another research by Burd and Hodgson (2015) and on both these occasions the study was based on higher education. Nigel Halpern (2007) of the Norwegian school of Supply Chain Management and Logistics found that there is a moderately positive correlation between attendance and achievement at the undergraduate level. Although there could be other personality and background factors responsible for determining individual educational achievement, especially in the form of grades, one can’t deny the role of classroom attendance.
That sounds very much like an “either-or” kind of situation – attendance versus achievement. However, a careful analysis shows that the current system does not talk about compulsory attendance on all days. It is just concerned with 75% of the working days. Considering a 5-day week and adjusting for holidays, a normal semester that spans around a time period of 4 months, one can meet the said requirement with being present for not more than 60 days in a semester, even less than that number. Furthermore, there is another misconception about the modality of the implementation of the rule where fears have been raised that one is forced to spend the entire day after turning up to sign the register and thus is bound to lose some vital time to be utilized in research work. The fact of the matter is that the order asks for a signature and nothing Martian at all. If one is engaged in fieldwork, one is entitled for leave. Those drawing JRF are entitled for a further 30 days of leave in a year. Thus, it seems as if a non-issue has been politicized and blown out of proportion in order to gain narrow political mileage by a handful of students.
In the end, it must also be pointed out that all concerns raised in the academic quarters in the West are based on the logic that having paid for one’s education in the form of fees, the students must avail the autonomy on which classes to attend and which to skip. Being publicly funded, JNU is a special case and hence this line of argument seems redundant. It is also argued by some that class participation is often a variable considered for evaluation. If the students don’t turn up, the teacher is bound to assign the marks obtained under that head arbitrarily. Does it not compromise on the objectivity of the final grades? Thus, the crux of the matter is that creating unrest in university campuses has been in vogue as part of mainstream political strategy for about a couple of years now and the furore over the attendance rule in JNU is a new addition to the series. The uprising seems unwarranted owing to the fact that all that is expected from the students is a signature, that too about 60 times in a semester which is never an arduous task.
- Burd, E., & B. Hodgson, B. (2006). Attendance and Attainment: A five year study. Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5(2), 1-12.
- Colby, J. (2004). Attendance and Attainment. 5 th ICS-LTSN. Annual Conference, 31st-2nd September, University of Ulster.
- Gottfried, M. A. (2010). Evaluating the Relationship Between Student Attendance and Achievement in Urban Elementary and Middle Schools: An Instrumental Variables Approach. American Educational Research Journal, 47(2), 434-465.
- Halpern, N. (2007). Attendance in Higher Education: does it matter? Investigations in University Teaching and Learning, 4(2), 7-13.