Sunday, January 03, 2010

1003 : The search for an alternative

Lost Soul makes this point that “3 idiots” is a scathing indictment of our education system, and it is necessary to re-examine our present system with an open mind.

In the past few months, numerous times this conversation topic has come up (esp. with Mr. Sibal prancing like a monkey around a hoop), and I have always resisted speaking my mind because of an old world resolution (hic!!) I made some time ago – but that (hopefully) does not stop me from writing my views on the blog wall.

So here goes.

As a prima facie stand – I think there is very little wrong with our education system. Seriously, it requires a little tinkering, but then who does not? If I had kids, I would like them to go through this very same “system”.

Question is, what is the “system”? Is the content (books, assignments), is it the methodology (feed versus force to think), is the last mile delivery (teachers and administrators), is it the competition (students climbing over each other to get into a college), is it the wasted degree (why do an engineering and work as a sales exec)…..

All of it cannot be clubbed as the system, and even if it is, definitely all of it cannot be all wrong….I hope you get the drift.

Lets look at it one by one
1. Content – I think the content is necessary and correct. We need to know our history, sciences and mechanics…and we need to rote the basics of it. Without rote, I would have never imbibed the 3 laws of thermodynamics, infact without rote, I would have never learnt the alphabets. My opinion is, basics and foundation, need to be learnt so well, that they  become second nature to you….once they become that, you shall constantly enrich them with real world relevance… for example, 2nd law of thermodynamics does not apply only to chemistry, it applies to your and mine real life as well….but to see that you need to know the 2nd law and its nuances well enough.

2. Is the methodology wrong? I actually think, unless you force the basics, you can never get the next level of thought to be built on top of it. For example, if a person were to learn English as a language, he has to force learn the basics, he really cannot be taught to think or innovate at that point – only once he is familiar with it for over 5-10 years, if he has it in him, can he innovate….thats actually a function of the person and not the methodology.

3. Are the teachers the weak-link? Could be….but what more do you expect out of a society, that looks at teaching as a profession of second choice. Honest question to each of us, how many of us would willing choose teaching? (Don’t give me the crap argument that it does not pay well..even in the US, teaching does not pay as well as mainstream….Aswath Damodaran could make millions if he was part of Wall Street – he still chooses to teach at NYU Stern. Why?)

4. Competition. Lets not even talk about this, I think its the best part of our system, we tinker with it and we screw our children up. If you want a child to be a real world soldier, then nothing prepares him better for life than our schools. Of course, the school is not right for someone who wants to do poetry or theatre.

5. Wasting a degree….I think its idiotic to assume any knowledge is wasted. My mum always said, “acquire knowledge, you never know when it will come in handy” (Now you know I am a thair-saadummm Iyer !!)….but seriously, if you are an engineer doing sales….you can apply the structured thinking to sales and definitely be more effective, just as an MBA doing tech comes in with a sense of “wonder” and “excitement”, something we usually don’t see from engineers…..get the drift?

Having spoken of some of these issues…how many were even remotely addressed by 3 idiots. I would say none…not even superficially. All 3 idiots did was offer a moronic juvenile generalization, especially coming from the tacky Aamir, some of these sounded even more inane.  3 idiots to me felt like the misplaced self-help book like The Alchemist or Who moved my cheese, the books are “good”, thats primarily because you cannot disagree with such a feel good book, there is nothing to disagree, and yet conversely, nothing to take away or apply in real life.

My point is, agreed, there are problems, but they are deep rooted cultural and value based. They wont change by a movie or a book, they will only change, when each of us starts looking at schools/colleges at “basic education” and nothing more. If you still want to learn poetry or build an airplane, you have to do it out of school.

My fav statement remains, “I am what I am because (and inspite) of my schools and colleges.”. I chose to choose…..I think there is a basic paradox in the statement “why can’t schools teach us to think?”, if you were to be “taught” to “think”, then what use is that “thinking”?

Having said that, I still feel 3 idiots is the most half-baked, yet well made movie, in recent times. I agree with completely.

Rancho was a crack-jack idiot….in fact he was equivalent in potency to all the 3 idiots put together. The title of the movie is only about Rancho :-)

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Lost Soul said...

Thanks for the dedicating the post for me. I am happy to learn your strong opinions. I hope you would not mind a healthy discussion with my healthy replies. I assume you would like to have ur mind collided with some other minds also ;).

I don’t say that the education system sucks in India, but it needs to grow in tandem as the needs of the new generation grow. The forced mathematics that we studied makes us Indians the most brilliant ppl with most demand as IT professionals. This would not have been possible without the education system. I am WITH YOU on mostly the all the points mentioned above except some that I would take on later. Let me take the previous questions that I raised.

1. Wasting a degree - Of course it would help the sales executive, but this example was not aimed at those who look at an MBA as an extension of their existing career but ppl who look at MBA as an switch from the existing stream to something else. An example would be a person who did Mechanical engineering at IIT - Chennai and now is studying at NYU Stern to be an I-banker. I am still struggling what help would be mechanics to him in I banking. Probably calculating stress on his head as an I banker :D. If he really wants to be an I banker probably a CA degree will help him more out than the eng. degree. I do buy your thought that knowledge always comes handy but then I think probably with eng. he should also learn Law, Medicine, Accounts but the more relevant the higher education the more it going to benefit the person himself. The whole idea is to be focused on the profession a person selects for himself for his life rather than meandering here and there as Chetan Bhagat spiraling from an IIT eng. to IIM I banker to a writer. Believe me things are worse in normal colleges forget the IITs. There is a complete chaos in the colleges. If you ask an MBA aspirant why he wants to do an MBA, 90% would be saying I do not wish to pursue technical so I think MBA is an only option.

2. Green Pastures - I read this article just 2 days back before commenting on your article.
I don’t give a fuck if Aswath Damodaran makes millions or teaches corporate finance. We can’t afford to think that when our own colleges including the IVY league universities are starving of resources. I do understand the financial implications and all the globalization fundas but I hope you would agree that you won’t feed a neighbors child if your own child is starved. I strongly believe a society grows socially, financially and laterally on the heads of the learned and brilliant people which alas we are losing a high rate. It is only the brilliant minds that create opportunities for the common people. If Narayana Murthy would had followed the same strategy after his IIM A degree to run to the greener pastures, you would had been settled in Silicon Valley with a big Villa and a BMW and I would had been repairing computers in some remote town of India :D.

continued in next.

Lost Soul said...

3. Why so much pressure towards GPAs - I understand the joy of being first and sorrow of being also second. I understand the joy of getting an "Outstanding" and the sorrow of "Very Good" in my appraisal process. This explains that I love competition. I would not want to be second best in the field I love. Let us understand that interest comes naturally to a person and no matter how much I pursue a person to follow something else he/she cannot focus on that field. If I have my natural fair for then I would give in my 110% for it and one day by practice I would be as excellent in my field as someone who is good at rotting and has excellence in it. I may not get a Merc, a large house but I would be happy doing what I do for the most part of my day. A few days ago a neighbor met me in the lift and asked me in front of his son if 93% is bad or not and expecting me to say bad. I would not say tht. I in my neighbors place would encourage him positively to take interest in those subjects, try to learn that but would not EMOTIONALLY BLACKMAIL and EMBARASS him in front of strangers to perform or perish. I believe a person has his own unique abilities which should be nurtured rather than running a rat race (Though I am trying to find mine yet).
Co-incidentally this is story published only today in DNA.
I do not say competition killed these 3 children, but not allowing them to compete in the fields they would love to, killed them. All they wanted was to follow their dreams and excel in the field they wanted to choose as me and you who chose an engineering career.
I do understand that you and I will be rational towards our children in the coming future but 3 idiots have been positively shown this on screen which is why people have loved it. I do not go the watch the movie to see delivering babies via vacuum cleaner. No one would attempt to do so also. Celluloid is always been exaggerated, u see any damn movie and it has to. IF I want to see a normal person whose rotting has got him to places, then we have plentiful of examples in daily life.
I hope I have been able explain my thoughts properly in the above comments. Pardon me in case you find the tone rough anyway. I am not very good at writing and my vocab, grammar sucks. Who cares, I can write code that works fine.
I sincerely wish if you someday get to know my identity, it would not cost me my job :D. Expecting your strong opinions on the above ;).