Attendance and the Indian Student

Attendance and the Indian Student
It’s the first day of college and I stand before a new bunch of students. This is my 12th year teaching in college and I find there is never any change in student attitudes towards attendance, no matter how many times they are warned here in India.

My first day begins with affable introductions. There is complete and utter silence as they are sizing me up and I am checking out the ones who make eye contact and look interested. Funnily enough over the years the interested ones could be quite different every single year. But I digress, I take attendance and warn them that attendance is taken very seriously in St. Joseph’s. The Jesuits are not dictators like they are in another college I had worked in and ran away inspite of the huge remuneration. The kids there were zombies.

Here the priests give the students the freedom of dress and the like and also all they expect is 75% attendance which is not much. Like I warn the kids on the first day itself. The management won’t tie you down, you are given responsible freedom, to teach you responsible freedom in your adult life. No security at the gate to prevent you from going and coming, it is upto you to attend lectures or not. I warn them not to skip because one never knows when one can get ill and require time off. I make the repeaters stand up and explain why they are repeating, so the newbies can be forewarned. And almost always it’s due to short attendance.

Day after day I go to class and meet the same faces in the front of the class who finish with 100% attendance. They are the ones who finally swim out with top marks of the semester. Sadly the noisy ones who sit at the back and speak constantly in their native language, who scrape through, or most often don’t make it. I don’t need to know the students, as I correct with just roll numbers on the top of the page, When their marks are being called out, one can see the useless ones are the ones who are distracted and whom I need to throw out of class periodically. Teaching 60 kids in a class can be tough, but I have learned, being a sergeant major is the only way.

But once in a while I stumble across a nugget of gold. A student who is struggling to pay his or her fees and who is brilliant in this sea of mediocrity. I throw that student a lifeline from the Old Boy network. Old students are ready to help, but I stipulate that when the student begins to work they return the amount in installments.Last year I helped a brilliant kid to get out to the UK to pursue medicine. He got a seat in Sheffield, UK no less and with support from old students of St. John’s is on his way to become a doctor, like my son. He writes to say he has got a TA ( teaching assistantship) for the coming year so the money need not come in any more, he can manage with the scholarship and TA stipend. My heart bursts with pride, this is a special kid and his name is Devdarshan-- so apt.

It’s the end of the sem for me yet again and yet again I have desperate calls from students saying please help, my attendance is low. Why are we humans unable to use our freedom responsibly? I have explained that when one studies in the West there is no attendance taken. One is expected to be there every single class. It is a given and I was amazed across Europe to find that’s the attitude towards attending class. My class of 36 were there for every single lecture, even if we were studying for six months in the heart of Amsterdam. Coaches taking tourists on rides, clip clopped past our windows, Canal rides went past us as our classroom was alongside many of them. The bells of the churches around, including the musical Westerkerk bells near the Anne Frank museum pealed while in class. But we focussed and did our best as we were there for a purpose.

The phone goes off yet again, Maam I am short by 5%, I am short by 2%. Can you help? I can’t -- the college has an attendance platform called Knowledge Pro. By 6pm every evening the professors have to log in and update their attendance. Once done, the attendance is locked in and the only way it can be changed is by writing a request and meeting the Controller of Examinations. In other words its a punishment for me.

And so another sem rolls by and yet another bunch of kids are short of attendance despite warnings, so don’t get hall tickets and cannot write their exams.

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