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The class has a new monitor

Parents keep tabs via college Web sites

Velany Fernandes | August 19, 2003 11:22 IST

From uniforms to jeans, leave notes to proxy attendance, the leap from school to college is a leap from restraint to freedom.

The liberty of college life is sometimes misused because of the lack of parental supervision. Now, a few colleges in India provide parents an online mode of monitoring their child.

Darshan Dental College, Udaipur; Garden City College, Bangalore; Al-Ameen College of Pharmacy, Bangalore and Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai; offer an online student report that parents can access through a separate login and password.

Prof B G Shivananda, the principal of Al-Ameen college of Pharmacy, says, "We began the Student Web system so that parents become aware of their children's general performance. They (the parents) were happy about it and encouraged us."

Ramnarain Ruia College, Mumbai, has set up Netcampus Ruia, which seeks to "enhance communication channels among teachers, students, parents and management". Says Vice-Principal Suhas Pednekar, "We set it up because we realised that when both the parents are working, they hardly get the time to come to college and keep a check on their ward's performance."

Besides checking academic performance and attendance status, parents can contact professors and view their child's timetable. Says Pednekar, "The class timetables are put up, so the parents know when their child should be home... in this way a child cannot say that he has late lectures and stay out."

About students' reactions, he says, " Initially, the students had apprehensions but after an orientation they were thrilled because they too can avail of many facilities through this initiative."

Students are, predictably, guarded about their reactions. A few welcome the move, some are nonchalant, but most are sceptical. Listed below are responses from five Ruia students. Names withheld on request.

 A: (Shrugs) It doesn't really matter if our parents can check what we're up to. They could do that even without the Net� though I do think it's a little schoolish.

B: Well, (smiles) my parents are not going to go online regularly, so I guess it's okay�but I wouldn't want my parents to spy on me.

C: I think it's a great move�but only when I become a parent (laughs). Seriously? Okay, we had an orientation and I think it is a step in the right direction. Way to go Ruia!

D: We complain about how our Indian colleges can't measure up to colleges abroad. This is certainly one way of improving our college standard.

Prof Pednekar says the improvement in performance and attendance is already showing.

E: Well, I don't like it at all. It's like having a report card where all you do is documented and told to your parents. Maybe attendance and performance is fine, but putting up the timetable so our parents know when we should be home� that's like school!

As opposed to the controlled environment at school, college is a world that parents cannot enter. You could say you'll be late because of extra lectures, while you're actually catching a movie. You could say you've "done pretty well" while the truth is that you've got an ATKT.

Such fibs are commonplace in a collegian's life. They are part of the 'wonder years'. It is during this period that a child learns to handle his liberty prudently.

"If I obeyed rules only because I knew someone was watching, that wouldn't be obedience", says Anil Kotian, a management student from Pune. "If a college really wants its students to grow, it must protect their liberty, not shackle it."

Freedom could lead to abuse of rules, but freedom also breeds responsibility. Jessica Pinto, from Mangalore, who is the mother of a college-going child, asserts, "I wouldn't like to keep a constant check on my son. How then would he learn to be responsible for himself? This is like sending my child back to school."

However for parents of regular defaulters, such a system is a blessing.

Says Harsh Bhatia, whose son studies in a Mumbai college, "My son would often come home very late, claiming he was studying in the library. I believed him, till I got a letter from the college, stating that he would not be allowed to appear for his final examinations as he had not attended the stipulated number of lectures. If only I had known earlier� but I work late hours and I never had the time to crosscheck."

With an online system, parents like Harsh Bhatia can effortlessly keep a check on their children. Says V Kusum Devi, professor of pharmaceutics at Al-Ameen, "They will be constantly aware of their children's progress without having to take the trouble of coming to college, fixing appointments with teachers, disrupting their work, etc."

As these colleges see it, an online student-report would be of immense value to working parents, whom children easily hoodwink. But not all students are compulsive defaulters. Such a system could unnecessarily restrict their freedom. Prof Kusum Devi counters, "It makes them work in the right direction ultimately."  She believes that "as the parents are being informed regularly", this initiative will "improve the students' performance".

Maybe. But keeping a constant tab on your college-going child could be like sending him back to school.

"No. Not at all", says Prof Pednekar. "Every parent has the right to know what his/her child is doing."

Giving parents online access to their child's attendance status could help reduce truancy, but it might erode the charm of college-life. Whether other colleges across India follow this trend will depend on what they value more: Discipline or Freedom.

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