Why do we lag behind?

I got to see this article just yesterday. What with the IIT results coming out and everything, a few friends of mine wanted some advice about where to go and everything of that sort. While I could easily tell them to come to BITS Pilani, I got curious about just what the world thinks about Indian colleges. I got to an article on the Times Higher Education about Indian universities (courtesy Shankar Venkatraman).

Top ten Indian Colleges
List of top ten Indian colleges – courtesy Times Higher Education

The list comes from the article I linked to in the very beginning of this post. Seems kind of shocking, no? IISc Bangalore gaining such a high rank out there in the world? Well, I guess it is time we recognized the importance of basic science not just in paving the way for applied sciences, but rather in character building as well.

This small piece aside, however, the issue to discuss and think about is not about IISc Bangalore surging ahead of IIT Bombay in rankings. It’s more about the fact that India’s best institute is ranked 130th in the world.

One Hundred and Thirtieth. Not even in the top one hundred. IIT Bombay ranks an even bleaker 192nd place. And after that, India doesn’t even come into the picture. We want to become a world power, and yet we don’t have the quality needed to get there.

I guess many people have talked about introspection and the need for reform. With a man like Kapil Sibal in charge of the modernization of our entrance exams and admission structure, I guess we have introduced reform into our system.

A different kind of reform

We hardly need to change the pattern of our entrance exams, as I see it. While the American system has been considered epic for a while, I’ve read some research (a long while ago) that if you divorce education from its rigor and rote learning, you produce students of the liberal arts. While I’m sure Liberal Arts’ majors are awesome, an emerging power may not exactly want all its students to go in that direction.

A professor teaching a class in BPHC
A high tech classroom does not make a great learning experience. It’s the professor that counts – Photo courtesy the Department of Photography at BITS Pilani, Hyderabad Campus

No. The reform I’m talking about comes in the professors who are teaching us. I, of course, have the experience of just one college. But being a campus of BITS Pilani, I’m sure that if I feel this way about my professors, people from other colleges aren’t too far behind. The professors need to understand two things:

  1. No one respects you until you aren’t good in your own subject and aren’t actively doing work in it. You might point out the various papers you’ve published, but until and unless we see you working on yet another, most of us aren’t likely to respect you.
  2. Learn how to communicate. University students aren’t kindergartners. We care about how you talk to us. We like being talked to as adults and being taught without taunts, heavy accents or boring monotonous droning voices.
  3. Please, please try to understand that dry, boring lectures do not appeal to us. We want demonstrations which make sense and look interesting. We want to know exactly how the things you’re teaching us will help us become good engineers/scientists etc. Involve us and make us feel as if we’re actually being taught something instead of being lectured.
  4. While I appreciate the need for numerical problems, please do not let them define your exams. You see, there are these things called computers which exist today. They run some other things called programs which can calculate upon being given a formula. They kind of seem to make a great deal of difference while calculating, you see.
  5. Please, please let us in on some cutting-edge research you guys are doing? (If at all?)

Am I being arrogant? Maybe. Is it for a good cause? Definitely! Please, do take my criticism the way it is meant. Constructively. I understand that many of you are great people who have done wondrous things in your life. All I ask is that you please try to actually act the part.

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2 thoughts on “Why do we lag behind?

  1. While engineering entrances are fine, the school syllabus needs a reform. Too many students choose their discipline based on their ranks rather that their interests ( Hell, they don’t even know about their interests ). Board exams are a joke, and college internal xams are even bigger jokes ( profs giving questions directly from class notes just to screw those who didn’t attend. I don’t know about other colleges though )
    Too much emphasis on mugging up formulas and methods doesn’t help. Rote learning might be acceptable at school level but it’s only a hindrance to problem solving in college xams.

    I can go on and on once i start ranting about the sorry state of our education system! Hope this changes soon.

    1. Well, I’m guessing you mean university when you talk about school. I believe that learning too much in high school is not the answer. When a person comes to a university, he should not be allotted a stream upon admission. That is stupid. He should be able to choose his subjects in whatever fashion he wants, satisfying the requirements of the degree he wishes to get. That’s how it is done in the US, and I feel that is a good way of going about things at the administrative level.

      But the question I want to deal with is different, that is, I want flawed professors to be dealt with first. Only then will administrative change make a difference, for professors are the bedrock of education.

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