Teaching & Learning
When some one wants to learn, nobody can stop him from doing it. We have the old story of Eklavya who made a statue of his ‘guru’ and practiced for years until he became an expert archer. Many stories of people sacrificing sleep and other pleasures of life, and making it through school or college abound. On the other hand, I feel that many parents throw good money on bad education for their children because it is the current craze. The rate at which engineers who work in IT companies are being mass-produced in India, which is not very funny. Very soon, arts and science colleges may shutdown, at this rate.
Maybe a similar craze is driving everyone to do an MBA today. Many students are just not best suited to do one, but they do it anyway. A large amount of effort goes waste on both sides - students and faculty. And maybe an opportunity is lost - by the student to do some thing he really likes, and may turn-out to be really good at.
At the school level, there is a great shortage of teachers - but ask any good student, and teaching would be the last career on his mind. The state government-run university system is all but dead, with multiple levels of irredeemable atrocities - in faculty appointments, student admission policies, curriculum design and so on. It may be impossible to do much about it except to write-off the system and start from scratch. At any rate, what must be immediately scrapped is the system of hundreds of colleges conducting common university exams. I am not sure who thought of this idiotic idea (the British, long ago, I suspect), and it is so outdated that the Neanderthal man would have difficulty identifying with it.
Whether a college is private or government run, it must be autonomous and judged by only two criteria - the market, and a non-government run agency, which gives it some sort of independent rating. Leave it to the students and society to kill a bad institution. Why should somebody in Delhi take on this foolish responsibility? Support the ones which do well on these ratings with incentives, which are substantial, if you wish. Those who wish to get the incentives, may work towards improving themselves.
Foreign universities(and students) should be allowed in freely, because they are the best competition. Like it was good for industry,
" The potential for innovation is tremendous. If only we innovate in teaching methods, students are likely to learn a lot more"
A couple of words about some professors, who impressed me and their teaching styles. Prof. S.K. Roy of IIMB had a technique that I have not seen many teachers use. Maybe it came from experience in doing theatrical plays. While explaining something, he used to stop mid-sentence, and wait. After a brief wait, some student would be tempted to complete the sentence. That was a unique way of getting student attention. Another technique he used was to speak in a low volume, deliberately. Again, students would strain to catch his words, and discipline would not be an issue.
Most of us who took his Org. Behaviour class still remember the way he started teaching the subject. He described a story of two kids born on the same night to mothers on neighbouring beds in a hospital. It was a Diwali night, with crackers going-off all around-according to his story. One kid is very fair, good looking, cuddly and so on and the other, dark, ugly, pock-marked. He built-up the story until the kids grew-up, and described the impact their looks (and other people’s reactions to them) had on their personality.
Experiential Learning was a course that Prof. Gopal Valecha taught us at IIMB. The first class was unique. There was no talking - it was banned. We had to watch, touch, and experience in silence. We could use mime if we wanted to communicate. The idea was to get in touch with our feelings, which mostly remain hidden or suppressed by excessive emphasis on the spoken word. The only other time I experienced such a long silence again many years later was in a meeting where no one wanted to take on some difficult job that had to be done - hence the silence. Talking is a highly over-rated way to communicate, I am convinced, after that course.
Another course that was great in its conception was Effective Communication by Prof. Jagadish. Here, it was the things we did that made it unique. We had a 20 minute presentation to make on a topic of our choice. I did one on the Romantic Poets - full of nice quotes from Words worth, Shelley, Keats and Byron. That was one of my most memorable presentations in my student life. Another came in the U.S. when our group watched a James Bond movie and drew a project management chart for his mission in the movie, and made a presentation of it for a project management course at Clemson.
The potential for innovation is tremendous. If only we innovate in teaching methods, students are likely to learn a lot more. My daughter tells me that history is the most interestingly taught subject in her junior college. I can still recollect the many boring classes that I had on the subject. So, it is not the subject, but the teacher who counts. Otherwise, the book is as good a source to cram the facts and figures from.
My theory is that we do not utilize the enthusiasm students have, and their energy for doing creative and original things in India. Projects can be conceived to make students do novel things. I have had students maintain diaries,submit 10-15downloaded articles each from the internet, collect new data through leg-work, work on overnight computer assignments, make presentations, write new cases, write blogs and play a bidding game. And maybe I still have not tried a lot of things. I also view exams as a great learning experience, in an autonomous system. Many of my exams were either open book or objective type, or case-based. The purpose was to make the student think in the exam hall, even if they had not done so earlier in the course. Most of the exams we have typically test the student’s memory and the teacher’s patience - while correcting the papers. With today’s technology, it should be possible to make most of the testing online, and with immediate feedback. The movie starring Robin Williams, ‘Dead Poets’ Society’,makes a great case for innovation in teaching. So does‘Taare Zamin Par’, the movie about a dyslexic learner, who needs to be taught differently.