Our HOD (CSE@IITK) was fond of referring to a mail from an alumnus who went to IIMA and recommended compulsory attendance at IITK too. He thought we (as in at IITK) did not take attendance seriously enough (or something to this effect). I don’t know what his experiences at IIMA were, but from my experience of compulsory attendance at IIML, my opinion that attendance should NOT be compulsory has only grown firmer.
There are several things about this compulsory attendance. First of all, when I say that attendance should not be compulsory, I absolutely do not mean to support the bunking habits in the students. I do not intend to preach, just that personally I avoid missing classes and except for the third semester at IITK (and then I bore the consequences), I could have kept a count of number of classes I have missed and the circumstances that made missing them unavoidable. IIML mandates only 80% attendance, but mine was 100% in the first term. So, that point must be kept apart. I am not a supporter of bunking classes, no matter how “bad” the professor is.
One thing that I will never forget in the connection of compulsory attendance is the Open House that was organized by the counseling service in our last semester. It was a discussion on several topics between students and faculty members. A slave of circumstances, I found myself on the students’ panel and ended up speaking on attendance. What I spoke and why I spoke are not of consequence, I was more doing a formal duty sort of a thing there. A question came up during the discussion as to why the attendance was not kept compulsory at IITK from the very beginning, as in when the institute started. A senior professor told us of a beautiful reason that was put up in one of the (Academic) senate meetings of those days. It was said that if we make a rule of 75% compulsory attendance, we are allowing people to miss 25% classes. It does not make sense in a place where the classes are at a five minutes walk from the hostels. Students must attend all the classes except under unavoidable circumstances. It makes sense, does it not? And it seems students did so in those days. There was never as much a problem of attendance as is there in recent years. I am not interested in dissecting the reasons for that here.
The other day I was wondering about 80% compulsory attendance. What is it supposed to do? Make you learn at least 80%? That simply does not happen. If you miss a class, your learning (assuming that classes have some learning. Those who deny this are of course out of the net of this particular point.) drops in a higher proportion. There is invariably a chain effect (negative one!). And of course you increase the probability that you will be tempted to miss another class. Somebody will say – even if not 80% at least 50% of the learning will be there. Probably. But I think its just not worth the trouble. I can see, many of our professors are still struggling with a way to reduce the time required in taking attendance and PGP office coming up with new devices, which do not seem to go down well with most of the professors.
But the most irritating part of the compulsory attendance is still left. It about those who are there just to complete their 80%. Now, at IITK, there were occasions when you would find some students disturbing the class, but it wasn’t to an extent which will be a continuous problems. At times it can happen anywhere. And then the professor (if he hasn’t made attendance compulsory in his course) could always tell the student that you do not need to come if you do not think you have something to learn. This isn’t something a professor can say here (at least they do not have the morale to say) – when they have imposed this compulsory attendance rule. They can go on threatening, but can not increase what is usually called the “quality of attendance”. And its really poor. In some of the classes it becomes so difficult to concentrate despite giving all the efforts.
If I write a mail to the HOD, I would thank him that IITK does not yet have a compulsory attendance and that it should never have one!
Finally I would quote two people to give a reasons for attending classes (even with a “bad” professor). Priya said once, “I have realized that the worst professor here is more efficient that I am. So, I should rather attend classes than trying to do it on my own later.” And Dr. Somnath Biswas said something interesting at the Open House, “If a professor does not explain things properly, there is still a reason to attend his classes. You would learn how to listen when a speaker is not good. And in your professional lives you will have to listen so much. You can practice it here, trying to understand in the classes of a bad professor.” (These two quotes are not verbatim. I am reproducing them from the memory and all I remember is the theme, not the form.) Whether one buys these reasons or not is completely one’s own prerogative. As I said earlier, I do not intend to preach.