Fitness for competition and higher learning are not the same things. It becomes necessary to recite this truism if an old and hallowed educational institution seems to have forgotten it. The University of Calcutta has plumped for something popularly known as “model questions”. Popularly known, because the phrase derives from the jargon of students who have traditionally associated learning with shortcut routes to acquiring degrees, with “notebooks” and with an unquestioning faith in the magical efficacy of highly priced private tuition. The decision of the Calcutta University, that a change in the pattern of question papers should be accompanied by a set of model questions, argues a peculiarly confused response to the demands of the time. The change is not dictated by the aim of testing students on the depth or precision of their learning. The university is instead preoccupied with the task of making students fit for competitive examinations for different professions and jobs.
From a university’s point of view, the needs of the time could be imagined to consist of a carefully thought-out change in the syllabi, whenever found necessary, and an alteration in the pattern of questions and norms of assessment. But all this would be meaningful if the university think-tanks still believed in the urgent need for asserting that learning is a value in itself, a mark of intellectual development and the route to excellence. The system in this country compels any and every job-aspirant to go for an academic degree in higher studies, something that has been carefully weeded out in the most practical and advanced systems in the West. To satisfy popular demands that arise from ground-level, the aims of founding a university must be forgotten. So it is time to worry when a university decides to turn itself into a mediocrity-generating machine, churning out competition-fit candidates, not scholars. In this confusing and dangerous age, an institution to tend to young intellects needs more than ever to get its act together. Independent thinking and the courage to think clearly and rigorously are now of the highest priority. A scholarly training offers one kind of foundation for that. Since the role of a university in society is to nurture such possibilities, through an aspiration to excellence and learning, it is the greater pity that all that the Calcutta University can now think of are model questions.