Monday, 26 December 2011

teaching science

The PM says young people are not studying math. The same can be said for science.
This is because from the beginning math and science are viewed as difficult. They are also taught in a way that makes them difficult. The same continues in college.
There must be a way of teaching math and science that makes them easy to learn, fun and gives a sense of wonder and of achievement.
I know what it is not....It is not learning formulae and quickly plugging them in the right places to solve 'problems'. This way, children become computers ..... programmable to 'do science'.
It is also not the way some people do.......Johnny you be sodium and give this electron to Jenny here.... Reconciling realities to models is a difficult enough process. If we make up silly models, they have to unlearn weird ideas and relearn new ones.
Science should be presented as a part of life, as answer to some questions of how and why.
But what is a good way to teach science to kids?
I am still wondering... I hope to reach some conclusion by 2013 when I plan to start teaching small children.......any good idea will be appreciated!

Friday, 23 December 2011

TV

In 1978, there was Doordarshan and our hostel common room had one black and white TV. On Wed evenings, the common room would fill up with girls all ready to watch 'chitrahaar'.
Now my Tv more than 100 channels, but I am never able to find something to watch.
News channels are on infinite loops. They are becoming worse than the serials.
Serials are good for watching in snatches...5 minutes now and 5 minutes day after tomorrow....taht's all one needs to follow them if one wishes to do so. But now news too is just like that....once in two days is all you need to see it all.

Monday, 19 December 2011

fdi

If an Indian businessman can buy up the largest steel manufacturing company in the world,
if Indian companies can invest in projects all over the world, then why this refrain that ONLY FDI can improve infrastructure in retail?
Why don't Indian companies invest more in retail ? If it is profitable for Walmart, then why not for Aditya Birla and Reliance? Can they not do whatever it is that Walmart or Tesco does ?

Sunday, 18 December 2011

accreditation

The AICTE has mandated that we purchase subscription to e journals for our MBA course. The bill is likely to be a couple of lakhs per annum. Just after a discussion about this with the Head of the mngmt department, I was walking back and met a few MBA students ....they are having their internals. Each was carrying a guide book. There is this "all in one guide to MBA" that is very popular amongst students. I used to be in charge of exams, and during every exam, I have seen all MBA students faithfully studying this.
So for whom is this expenditure of lakhs per annum?
An NDTV program -- someone says the AMRI was given a high rating by the NABH. The response to that was...at the time of inspection, the hospital was probably compliant with the high standards of the NABH.
This is what all accreditation agencies do. Just before the NAAC peer team visit, a college is dressed up, records filed beautifully, hundreds of useless books bought for the library, trees planted and the college gets an A grade.
The whole charade is such a waste of time and scarce money-- money that could be used productively.
No one really cares whether actual teaching is being done, or the learning outcome...nothing. Just comply with a few rules, keep good looking files ready and you are an A grade college.
The converse is that you may have excellent staff, students who learn a lot and a lot of value addition given to the students by the college, but if you don't have pretty files taht say so, you are a C grade college.
It's a classroom...say, class V in a boys' school. All the boys are up and about shouting, fighting, except the class monitor who, like the good boy he is, is sitting in his place writing.
When Dr Manmohan singh first became the prime minister, I thought " now we have an honest man at the helm who will not be afraid to expose and throw out the corrupt ministers because he is clean."- didn't happen....I thought "well no clear majority so maybe he can't do anything". Next time round, he had larger numbers and I thought "now he can do it".
But he is like the class monitor.
Moral of the story....' good boys' don't make good monitors.

Friday, 16 December 2011

highs

Why do they say 'gold prices reach an all time high' ;
Or, on a December morning 'the coldest day of this season' ?
What do these statements mean?
The gold price will go up and it will get colder still tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

random

A recent gift--a dell laptop. Being tech-challenged, can't say more than that.
However, now I have a laptop that comes on when i switch it on! I don't have to coax it to boot up. My old laptop behaved like a person with OCD-- I had to press the power-on button, wait a few sec, press it off, and then again on. Then it would come to life.... it must have learnt this from the pop up boxes we get when we wish to delete a file...we are asked to confirm we wish to delete. My old laptop always wanted to confirm whether I really wanted to switch it on and waste my time blogging when i had pending jobs like cleaning cupboards and folding clothes.
A swamiji from R K Mutt spoke to students. I have heard similar speeches from him. His speeches have a lot of sense...no high funda philosophy, but interesting , with anecdotes to enliven the talk.
But I never get any new ideas from them.

One new idea I liked was from this TED talk on regret. I like this way of thinking about regrets.
In my childhood, many "madrasis" living in Delhi used to eat rotis regularly--they were new to north India, but were adapting. But they liked to sieve the atta. The punjabis prefer bran left in the atta. I learnt that I liked the rotis with the bran better. The bran gave the rotis more substance, more flavour.
Regrets are probably the bran of life.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Lokpal's office

http://in.video.yahoo.com/news-26036098/national-26073656/lokayukta-unearths-3-crore-from-peon-27516172.html
A peon in the Lokayukta's office has 3 crores.
A Lokpal who is going to look after corruption in every area of life in our country,(except of course, NGOs) going to need hunreds of peons who can amass 3 crores each.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Maybe I should change the description of my blog

I must change the title of my blog. It has now meandered from "my views on education" though it wanders back often. Maybe I have said all I had to say on the matter.
One common feature of all Universities, Govt colleges and some private ones that are administered like Govt organisations, is their admin staff. They all work at their own pace, cannot be hurried even in dire emergencies.
The QR for the job of acad clerk or PA to the dean or the accounts clerk, is that they must be philosophers, unfazed by the mad rush of lesser mortals trying to organise a seminar or get the bill passed to pay the examiner. After all, in the larger context of the universe, what is an LCD projector?
However, in the much maligned (by me) private colleges run by some politician in a block of flats, the staff is usually super efficient. They have only one boss (the politician) and do the work given to them with precision. When we go as examiners to such colleges, if we have any admin problem, one word to the admin staff, and it is sorted out immediately. They even plan the lab schedules!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

I just visited the website of IITD. The page says"research at IIT Delhi" and the picture is captioned "revisiting protein folding".
It is a great change in the vision of the institution. 30 or 40 years back, IITs and IITians believed that science is for the second grade people and biology was not even mentioned as a science. Sure, they had Physics and Chemistry Departments, " you know...we have to have those things..."
Money allotment was probably a lot less than for any of the engg. departments....I do not know the figures, but science departments felt impoverished. In the eyes of the BTech students, of course they were better than the Humanities, but only just. One student proved to one of the Chemistry profs that he could get the required GPA without ever entering the chem lab and was planning to do so. The newly introduced 5 yr MS in Chem/Phys were viewed by the BTech students just like they view the 5 yr MA at IITM now.... with disdain.
From the website, I see the profile of the faculty today, the research being done now, and obviously, money is not as bad as it used to be and perhaps the science departments are no longer the second class citizens of the Instt.`
May be the Humanities & Social Sciences Departments will also mature in the next decade and the IITs can become full fledged universities.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

asking questions.

In one of my previous posts, Sivaramakrishnan commented that students hesitate to answer in class due to fear of making a fool of themselves. This is absolutely true and has been so. It is somehow in our social setup that we do not speak out. Those of us who are older have been brought up to not speak unless spoken to. We never got the self confidence to speak up.
This lack of confidence also leads to some poor decision making in life.
However, there is another factor that exists when I ask students question in class. I tell them that I never ask them something that they do not know. But still the belief persists that for every question, there is some profound answer involving wave functions or some other complicated stuff. I tell them that the simple answer is often the right answer, and that I never ask about complicated stuff in class, but they never believe me. The hesitant answers I get are always complicated rigmarole. It is a rare occasion that I get the right answer. (One student once told me"Ma'm you look so happy when someone gives the right answer" I must say I really feel happy--it makes my day)
An alumnus came to meet us a couple of days back. He has a PhD from Johns Hopkins and is post-doc-ing at Berkeley. Another alumnus from the same batch, was a post doc at Harvard and has now moved on, another classmate has started his own company. There were another few in that batch who have PhD s from our local university and are now teaching at teh university.
Another alumna called me to ask if any of our students would like to work for her on her DBT projects. These are all students who passed out more than 10 years ago.
So how do some batches do well while in other batches, they all end up either as salesmen or call centre employees, feeling proud to have got a job that pays well.
One thing is the change in times...nowadays we get fewer students who have interest in learning anything. They have gone through more years of the "corporate" schooling where "IIT coaching" starts in the 7th class where previously it started in the 11th class.
I see more and more evidence of the harm these "corporate" schools do to whole generations of children.

Friday, 4 November 2011

collaboration

With the population reaching some sort of a mark, rather like the waters reaching a danger mark in a dam, people's power seems to be on the rise. Now this is good if it works well, but it could easily go the other way-- like when mobs beat people up without knowing why.
But whatever be the aim, when people collaborate, they achieve more.
This is very difficult to internalise.
I am sure I would not share in many situations.
But if I look at it objectively, I can see that the future is in collaboration- whether science (from Abi's post) or in overthrowing corrupt governments. But this sharing is very very tough and the phenomenon is now in its infancy.
Is it a paradox of human nature that when there is more of us to divide resources between, we are seeing more collaborative movements, or is it a sign of maturing civilisation that sees the benefits of sharing? Or is it just exigency that brings people together temporarily?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

My lab class today-
"If you titrate acetic acid with NaOH, and apply the Henderson Hasselbalch equation, you can find the dissociation constant of the acid."
Pointing at the board--" Looking at the HH equation, we see that when the conc of the salt equals that of the acid, the pH is equal to pK. Now when will the concentration of the acid equal that of the salt?"
............silence................
"Ok, since the acid reacts to give the salt, when will this salt equal the remaining acid?"
again silence................
With exasperation"If I eat a cake, when will what I have eaten equal what I still have left?"
again silence for a minute..... then one person with great hesitation... "is it half?"
With relief"Yes! So now tell me about the acid"
Silence.............
Almost tearing my hair "Imagine the NaOH is eating up the acid-- when will the eaten up acid equal the leftover acid?"
"Halfway"
"Thank God"
This is not 7th class ..it is BSc 3rd year.......20-21 year olds.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

faculty shortage

I hear from people in the US that there are no jobs and many people with PhD are looking unsuccessfully for academic jobs. There are a lot of reports that the IITs are facing a huge crunch in terms of faculty in recent years.
Why is there no match? Surely many of the jobless PhDs are Indians? Are they unwilling to join IITs? or are there no Indians in the list of jobless PhDs?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

roads

"If ever a good road is laid, there must always be a government agency ready to dig it up the next month." First law of civic administration.
This is as fundamental as the first law of thermodynamics....at least in Hyderabad.
I have spent a fortune on bearings, nuts and bolts, not to mention shock absorbers in the last two years....nuts and bolts for my neck too!

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Snobbery or just proud of one's alma mater?

A few days ago, I was listening to the ever entertaining Mani Shankar Aiyer on being a Stephanian. He had, at some earlier date, spoken disparagingly about Hans Raj college and Ajay Maken. The fact is, the alumni of certain colleges do have this sense of superiority.
Now specially with the cutoffs for Stephens being what it is, perhaps this is more so. I have seen it in the few Stephanians I knew years ago. It's due I think, to the general perception, the long history, the record of its alumni.....many things. It's a cultural superiority that they feel ("You see, in the Brothers Karamazov Dostoyevsky deals with the existential questions in a different manner than he does in Crime and Punishment" and the "you" in question goes "Duh")
Does this sense of superiority translate directly into achievement? I don't know. The achievers from St Stephens may have attained the same heights even if they had gone to Hans Raj. Who is to say they wouldn't have?
By Mani Shankar's own admission, it didn't amount to much in his own case.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A post that does not surprise me. The initiative to have a repository of PhD /other theses, will not be welcomed by universities. In most universities, specially now since the UGC has made it necessary for lecturers to have a PhD if they are to get their pay scales, people work for a about a month or two every year and after two or three years, get a PhD. The theses so produced will now be up for all to see!
Are you surprised?

Friday, 7 October 2011

cheapest computer

We have the cheapest car, the cheapest computer............
Now how about cheapest food?
Even a middle class person like me is getting anxious about going to the supermarket.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Telengana

Many people have the tendency to avoid facing problems.......in fact all of us have done it-some more some less number of times. I suppose the government believes that if they pretend not to hear the noises from Hyderabad, it will all go away.
Giving the people of this region a separate Telengana may not be difficult, but what about Hyderabad? I do not see any way in which Hyderabad can be resolved. Infrastructure in Hyderabad is pretty good..Hyderabad gets better domestic power supply than Bangalore...roads are better(were better with a recent setback thanks to AP TRANSCO)....rail connectivity to Secunderabad is good..........the airport, though far from the city is excellent. Where will Andhra find another city to match this? The money in Hyderabad is with the people from Andhra, they have invested in the city, but the land was bought by them from the locals at absurd rates ....... some even at Rs 10 per sq yd. The locals claim that this amounts to exploitation of their land resources. The arguments are endless............if only some political party had the foresight and had developed this region in the last 40 years.......
The down side of democracy is that there is no advantage in long term planning..........30 year plans do not garner votes........

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

when old age creeps upon you

I have a laptop that works at its own pace. It doesn't like to be hurried and likes to do things one at a time. It does not like me opening more than one tab on the mozilla.....what's the rush? you can only read one page at a time.............
Unfortunately, of late I have also become like my laptop.........can't multitask as I used to......my mornings which were like a one man orchestra have become sedate --- if I make tea, taht's all I do-- then I start the breakfast etc..a proper queue is maintained. As a result, I get late for work on a regular basis and drive like a formula one competitor out of the house much to everyone's dismay.
I am neither old enough to maintain a totally sedate lifestyle, nor young enough to manage multitasking with aplomb.... still, I hope this state lasts long.

Monday, 3 October 2011

GM crops

This link from Abi's blog makes me wonder if the GM crop advocates are reading it. In the case of earthquakes, the tendency of the government and its scientists would be to curb panic in the face of repeated tremors. That is perhaps understandable. Earthquakes are not in human control, so the call they had to take was just on the nature of response.
In the case of GM crops, the scientists are introducing some gene into the environment without knowing the consequences. It is not just a matter of responding to an imminent disaster, but possiblility of creating one. The honest thing to do is to say we don't know the long term consequences of GM crops because we haven't had them long enough.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Stress

The last month has been so stressful. I think most mothers undergo terrible stress when their grownup children are going through a tough time.
When your child is two, his troubles are easily mitigated and you feel good....a scraped knee, or a lost toy...but in their adulthood, it's really bad...one cannot make it 'all right' and one feels helpless.
I know no young person believes this, but usually, life goes on and one is fairly happy overall whether one gets what one wanted or not.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Lab Assts.

A blogpost that I wish to comment on at length------
this is about students having to beg for help from lab assts in the labs for. chemicals etc.
Surely this does not happen much at IISc where chemicals must be purchased through the research supervisor and the department /central stores(?) or through contingency grants, does it?
However, such things do happen.
Colleges and university teaching labs where undergrad and MSc students have their practical classes do have such lab assts. This is more so in govt colleges where the staff is unionised. Here, students need to beg for filter paper, solvent etc. If you have not kept him happy, the lab asst. may even give you the wrong compound for analysis thereby ensuring you do not pass your practical exam. If he does not feel like it, he may not set up the Kipps apparatus for the salt analysis. (This happened once when I was conducting an exam and I had to muck out a Kipps apparatus and set it up, but I did not dare reprimand the lab asst.)
The teaching staff either do not care or are helpless since the said lab staff are unionised.
The other side of the coin is , if you pay the man, he may tell you what compound you have got for qualitative analysis........a whisper to look for phosphate and cadmium or nitro and carboxylic group goes a long way!!
Long back, in an IIX, I have had the experience of spending 20 days to get an Xray that takes 90 minutes. Things speeded up a lot when a colleague working with my guide started taking the technician out for chai-samosa once in a way. All I had to do was give my sample to the colleague and lo behold the Xray would be done the next day!!! Then there was this technician in Mech engg dept who made liquid air, and always had problems with equipment everyday from 10 am to 4 30 pm. Miraculously, at 4 30 pm it would work, and I would get liquid air by 6 pm. (he gets paid overtime)
But by and large, I hope the IIX are not like University colleges (??)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

housework

The child-rearing pundits say that one must assign children age-appropriate household chores. True. Many mothers of children in the age group 3-6 agree and find it effective. My two bit worth is this------- try it when they are 12 and really capable of contributing to the housework! See if it works.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

corruption

Assuming the new lokpal eradicates corruption, how will we have elctions? No funds -- no campaign-- no elections.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

journalism.

The TV channels are full of the drama of Anna Hazare's fast. No one discusses the contents, its merits/otherwise of the bill they have proposed. I am happy to see some small peek of other viewpoints ...Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander have commented and that is seen at least as a scroll on our TV screens........the TV channels really need to learn some journalism.

Friday, 12 August 2011

MSc and self confidence

A student who passed out from our college couple of years back, came to meet me the other day. He said he had finished his MSc in Organic Chemistry from one of the smaller universities in Maharashtra,
"Good to see you. So what are you planning to do now?"
"I wish to get into drug design, but I am not getting an opening in that area. I have a few offers for QC work, but my prof said I should do drug design."
"Good to see you are clear about what you want to do, but since you say you need a job urgently, why don't you take up the QC job and then shift to a drug design job whenever you get an opening?"
"No ma'm my prof said I must not take up QC jobs but must get into drug design"
"OK, that's good if you are so passionate about it, you must stick to it. What is it about drug design that you like?"
"Oh you know, like parenterals, formulations etc what we were taught in BSc"..he said this condescendingly to me ...as if he was enlightening me on the concept of drug design.
I was speechless after that.
Maybe he thought that drug design is making nice designs on capsules....shall we make the chloramphenicol pink and blue instead of the horrible green................The story is really tragic. We give very high degrees to students and make them believe they are now experts in the area of study. We do not give them any basic training in the subject, and worse, we do not evoke in them any desire to learn further.
Many students who are now pursuing a post graduate degree in state universities believe that since they have cleared the PG entrance exams, they are now experts. Their confidence in themselves is very high...much higher than what I had when I was 22. Is this a good thing or not? I am unable to decide.
Their confidence is really misplaced and prevents them from learning more. But on the other hand, lack of confidence is paralysing and leads to a lot of bad career choices.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

IYC

There is a serious mismatch between the calendar year and the academic year. At the end of the last calendar year, we had thought we would do something to popularise Chemistry amongst the students and teachers in other departments during this year of Chemistry. However, Jan is not a good time for anything since there is a race on to complete the syllabus before the exams start ......internals in Feb and University exams in March. Then come the vacations.
In the next academic year, before we settle down with our admissions etc, it's the end of July.
So we have just started putting our plan in motion for what's left of the year.
The year has just begun for us!

Friday, 29 July 2011

ad for cereal

There is this ad for a brand of cereal that has a man yelling for his socks and an irritated wife climbing upstairs to get it out of a drawer next to him and handing it to him. The ad claims that if the wife eats the cereal, she would do the same without getting irritated.
Shocking! Shouldn't the ad say that if the man eats the cereal his brains would work enough for him to open a drawer and pick up his socks.
I have been irritated by this ad every time, but did nothing. I was pleased to see others feel the same way about it.
Yesterday, my friend told me that she has sent a mail to the person responsible for this ad.
Hurray!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

in those days

You would have often heard the frequent chant of older people about the great life "in those days".
A comment in another blog reminded me of life "in those days"..
Sometime in the 1970s, one of the IIX was getting a new computer--ICL 2960.
But it took almost a year to get the room ready-- a huge room airconditioned with ducts made for the wiring. It took a few more months to get the UPS running. Meanwhile, we had to run around to neighbouring institutions for our computer work.
Then we had a spanking new comp centre.
I then went to another IIX. Here too they were getting a new computer- an IBM...same process...
In both places, my experience was similar even with the new systems. Spending hours punching cards.. 300-800 a deck; submitting them to the receptionist, then receiving the output next day with some error message. Then search for the errant card, repunch resubmit...........On some days, the card reader would be out of order, sometimes the UPS would not work and sometimes, the operator would drop the deck...that was a nightmare rearranging the cards.
The punching machines made an infernal noise and in a closed room ten machines punching at the same time, it was really stressful.
All this for memory that was less than what toys have now.

Friday, 22 July 2011

blogs and reading

Reading this post and the links therein, I have some mixed feelings.
One is a sense of relief that my inability to read seriously in recent times, is not, as I thought, a forewarning of impending dementia. I often hear other people complaining about this problem, but it is a relief to see how universal it is.
Second is a feeling of sadness that now we have generations that will never read seriously.
There is also hope that this is not a bad thing-just different.
Personally, ever since I started reading blogs, I have read far more science than I ever had access to. I have also been able to access studies on education in India, thoughts of people doing developmental work.....many things I did not even know existed.
I think this breadth of knowledge I have acquired is far more valuable than the ability to read in depth , considering my situation and needs. This may not be true for all.
However, the price for me, is well worth the goods.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

contd....

The other side of my previous post is this...why do investment banks want to hire engineers?
One reason could be that the BSc/BA mathematics courses that colleges offer do not prepare students for such a career whereas IITs do and the BA economics or BCom courses are not quantitative enough.
Then why don't Universities change their Math/quant courses to suit this demand?

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

More IIM graduates are opting for jobs in manufacturing industries.
Maybe even the engineers from IITs will choose jobs in engineering rather than investment banks. I hope so.
Some years back, little boys used to wish to become truck drivers, postmen, firemen or pilots.
My son was fascinated by recovery trucks.
Then, as they grew up a little, their ambitions were to become a doctor, police officer, IAS officer or an engineer.
Now, ambition is simply a number. ..."I wish to earn --lakhs" no matter what the job.
If a boy was keen on a career in investment banking, he should have joined a BA economics course or BCom Hons , why IIT ?

Sunday, 26 June 2011

An interesting idea

An interesting idea is to have special educational parks. Just like the software/ biotech parks, schools and colleges can be set up outside the city in one area with good high speed connectivity to the city centre.
As the author says, schools and colleges can share high quality infrastructure with just nominal cost.
Another aspect is, if three students in the college wish to study something uncommon, eg Spanish, we do not employ a teacher, but tell them to manage on their own, or refer them to the University department. This can be easily be solved in such education parks with one common teacher employed by all the colleges in the park.
However, one problem is that though this works easily for colleges, it is difficult for young children. Making a 5 year old travel 2 hours by bus to and from school is difficult.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

civil services

Today an former student came to visit me with the news that he has qualified in the civil service exams- IRS to be precise. There seems to be a minor trend of our students getting into the civil services.
If a good Lokpal bill comes through and if more and more students start entering the civil services for reasons other than the good perks and fat dowry, maybe 10 years hence, we will have a good bureaucracy and hence better governance.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Study of the Biological sciences

I cannot explain how on the one hand, Hyderabad is trying to become a Biotechnology hub and on the other, enrollment in BSc biological sciences had plumeted to an abysmal level. Many colleges in Hyderabad have closed down their botany, zoology, microbiology and biochemistry departments.
The college I teach in, is holding on, but just about.
Apart from my self interest (no students, no job) if there are no students doing biology, how is this soon-to-be-booming-to-11 billion$ biotech industry going to find employees?
So why are there no takers for our BSc courses in bio sciences?

Saturday, 18 June 2011

growing up

Most people who are 40 or older, would probably recall the age 13-20 -- give or take few years-- as the time they did most introspection and thinking.
That is the age when we have just figured out what life is about or at least thought we did. The age of growing up. During this time, we become who we are essentially going to be for all our lives, though further refinements do occur.
But if those years are spent inside dingy classrooms all day, and mugging all evening, this growing up is never going to occur. We will never know who we are.
So getting 100% in the XII is going to cost the child his self.
The ridiculous cutoffs in SRCC is a symbol of what is wrong with our school education.

Friday, 17 June 2011

admission

The SRCC wants a student to have scored 100% in order to admit him.
If they continue this trend, after maybe 10 years, DU will find that all its good colleges are filled with unidimensional people who only know how to write exams well. The fame that many of its alumni have attained in various fields will be history.
This trend is really scary.
But has anyone an alternative?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Student unions, elections and college in the 70's

So you have all survived! Could the reason for not being Raptured be any of these?

I was reading the Lyngdoh committee report and was remembering student union elections in my student days.
There are many people who decry the violence in today's world and talk of "good old days". They have not seen student union elections in the 70's

As far as student union activities are concerned, I don't know if anyone recalls the disturbances in DU during Arun Jaitley's days as DUSU president.
Does anyone recall that every September, between 1971-1974, Bangalore University would be closed due to student disturbances. The students of Central College would come in huge groups to visit other colleges and force students to join the crowd.
Or the violence in Osmania campus in the 70's..George Reddy was chased and murdered in the campus in full public view.
I finished my schooling in a sleepy hill town which had one motorable road. In this town, there was one college and during this college election, there was violence.
One day as I was walking along the lakeshore, I saw some commotion and out of curiosity, went to find out what was going on. They were fishing out a body, swollen and green....the murdered college union presidential candidate.
Violence and disturbances still go on in all the University campuses, but I think it is considerably reduced. Perhaps students are no longer willing to lose an academic year and the political bosses know this. In fact I was surprised that the Telengana movement in the last two academic years, did not get intensive enough for the students to lose the year. The University juggled with the exams holding third sem exams during fourth sem on Sundays and so on.
Being in college in the 70's was a high risk venture what with all this violence, the all pervasive drug culture and the Naxalbari movement that attracted many intellectual students.

Friday, 20 May 2011

childbirth

The writer of one of the blogs I follow is soon to be a mother.
Till I was maybe 25 or so, I thought of motherhood as a big impediment to my career(I was right). I definitely did not want to have a baby. There was also a great fear of the pain involved in childbirth (true).
Yet why did I or any woman who has a choice, choose to have a baby?... it's not rational at all.
The experience of motherhood is very rewarding...that sounds ridiculous...motherhood and apple pie........but it is true.... the feeling is really unique and fulfilling.
After 29 years, I still regret the loss of a research career, but if it was an either/ or situation, my vote is for my kids.
But I still don't know why anyone would choose to have a baby before she knows this. I don't know why I did. Instinct I guess.

cbi

The recent goof up by CBI will lead to a lot of embarassment and gives an opportunity to Pak to say categorically that none of the people on the list is in Pak.
However, that may blow over eventually. What is more worrying is that if even such obvious info is not shared between the police and CBI , then how do they perform any kind of investigation at all?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Chemistry for a five year old.

It's wonderful to be back home. But I did enjoy myself with my 5 year old nephew in Bangalore and my 5 month old grandnephew in Chennai.
The nephew and I made chocolate cake out of Marie biscuits and he was thrilled. His interests range from dinosaurs to nebulae. He can distinguish between different dinosaurs...some 50 of them.
He asked me if I knew about atoms and molecules (his father told him I did). Then, if you cannot see them even with a microscope, how do you study them and get to know about them?
I am not sure if I answered that to his satisfaction.

Monday, 25 April 2011

on being 'monolingual'

I just found out that if you speak only Tamil, you can't take part in conspiracies. Does this rule apply to people who speak only Bengali, or only Gujarati?
Only non conspiratorial crimes occur in rural Tamil Nadu.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

NAAC and ISO

Our college is applying to NAAC for accreditation. The whole thing is pure babudom and we all have to pitch in.
I think I have written this before, but still do so-- I was constructing my house a few years ago and the builder was an ISO 9000 company. I used to have long discussions with the architect about the design and there was a huge fat file with my name on it. The file had meticulous record my every word as if I was some Messiah.
However, when it came to actual construction, it was another story.
None of the beautiful drawings made by the architect was given to the site workers, and even if it had been given, they would probably used it to pack their lunch. Nothing of what you asked for was done on site unless you stood there and made them do it.
Well, that's ISO for you! Beautiful records and meticulous files!

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Foreign students in Indian colleges

A recent blogpost brought to mind the difficulties faced by foreign students as well as some of their successes.
Every year-end, we have a farewell party for the outgoing batch. In that, the best outgoing student is voted/selected. This year it was an African (Tanzanian I think) student. A foreigner, who has learnt English and "koncham koncham" Telugu and a little Hindi in his three year stay and managed to get good marks and make a huge number of friends.
This is unfortunately, not common. Most African students have studied in Arabic and cannot understand English. The amount of science they have done in school is also not adequate. With these two huge handicaps, many of them are unable to cope.
In addition, they meet with a lot of prejudice amongst society as a whole and are unable to get houses for rent etc.
(Some of the prejudice is understandable, since in Hyderabad, there have been a few cases of Nigerian drug peddlers posing as students.)
The University, through which they come, should call them six months in advance, teach them English and a little bit of the local language before they enrol in the colleges.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Projects for NSTS and KVPY

I just saw the blogpost about the first batch of undergrads at IISc.
The KVPY on which this is based, requires that the applicant should present a project report.
This reminds me of the Science Talent exam the NCERT used to have. We needed a project for that too.
There were a few people who had qualified in the NSTS who had done amazing projects. One project was a chromatography-based drug detection unit. This was done in one of the well known research labs of those times, where the student's father was a senior chemist. In 1970, chromatographic methods (barring paper and tlc), were quite uncommon and I, as school student had not even heard of it. I was totally impressed and wondered how I, with my school-girlish project had qualified. I still do!!
The point is, if a scientist father/mother/uncle.. gives a good project idea and explains how it should be done, then the student has a brilliant project even if he/she is not too brilliant. To defend it, one only needs to be fairly intelligent, not really brilliant.
School science fair projects are often done by fathers/mothers, very few are the childrens' own ideas.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

http://www.paniitalumni.org/paniit-initiatives/classle-knowledge
An idea.
How well will it work?
Most ideas for student driven learning assume that the student wants to learn.
Is that a valid assumption? if so, for what percentage of students?

Sunday, 10 April 2011

isb conference

The ISB is holding a conference about education to foster innovation. The registration fee is
Rs 8000/-
The 'who should attend' list includes school and college principals, citizens who are interested in education....
Can teachers or private citizens pay this much? I would have like to attend it, but it's too expensive.
Most of their second day's programs must be addressed to teachers...those who will actually be doing the job!
For example, the lecture "Pedagogies / Teaching Methods in Higher Education to Enhance Innovation Capacity ", should be heard by teachers not the vice president of some company.

We have conferences in posh places where a few people in positons of power debate an issue much like a school debate competition....."full of sound and fury signifying nothing"
The real people who should be debating and deciding and doing are left out of the discussions.
Jairam Ramesh's discussions with the general public and different stakeholders about the introduction of bt brinjal, was the first time the people concerned were taken into account.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

ceremonies

In orthodox Brahmin communities, any special occasion involves rituals. The ceremonies associated with death are more so; and since they all involve the soul of the dead relative, it becomes almost impossible to not follow them exactly.
Yesterday, I was going through such an occasion. Since the relative had died a year ago, my mind was not preoccupied with thoughts of the dead person, but was wandering, and I could not help feeling that the rituals resemble the actions of persons with serious OCD. The darbham grass must be placed just so, 4 in four directions, a line should be drawn from the top right to the bottom left...no!no!...not bottom to top! The junior priest would measure the grass and nip it to exact lengths...... These rituals may have some meaning attached to them, but without knowing what that is, it's a lot like OCD.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

peculiar observation

Just now, I am using my desktop. The keyboard was dirty and so I had brought some cotton-wool and spirit and was cleaning the keyboard. A small fluff of the cotton flew and got stuck on the screen. So far OK.
But, when I was viewing my blog, the dark blue background made this white fluff look orange. When I switched the screen to another page - white background, or light blue background, it looks normal.
As a rough guide, a normal object appears orange in ambient light if it absorbs blue and reflects the orange. However, the screen is emitting some dark blue light-- I get this far. But further, I am stumped!

Security

A recent blogpost brings me to the subject of security in crowded public places.
One big city railway station 2009... an entry was setup with a metal detector through which about 20 diligent people like me queued up and went and had our bags checked. The rest of the sea of humanity that visits the station on any given day, just walked in anyhow and the three police personnel watched them.
Again the same station some other day in 2009, people were let in from the side entrance with a constable checking the bags with a metal detector. They then put a small sticker on my bag and let me in.
What is the point?
Another big railway station 2008.... My son and I were going to Chennai, and we had a couple of large suitcases. I stood at a spot looking after the luggage waiting my son. I noticed an abandoned suitcase with a hole in it. Ten minutes later, it was still there. I got a little worried and moved behind one of the large pillars-- just in case. Another five minutes, my son came. I went off to find a policeman on duty I found one and informed him about the suitcase. He peepd from his position and there it was at some distance. He stood and watched it. Then two cleaning ladies came along. They said it was just an empty suitcase.However, they went to investigate. It was really just an empty suitcase, probably abandoned since it had a hole in it.
Come to think of it, what else can you expect?
Only solution--If you are religious, pray to God --if not, become religious and then pray to God

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

smaller dams or reactors

In every case, I vote for caution-- be it GM food or large nuclear plants or large dams. These things are not reversible...you cannot say "Oops! sorry" and move on.
When I was a child, all movies had Films Division documentaries before the show. One was on the rupture of the Koyna dam due to an earthquake. Many people had warned about this, but were told that they were anti technology, anti progress etc.
The same kind of dismissal of nay-sayers has happened years later in the case of the Tehri dam.
I am sure any odd person who was concerned about having so many reactors together at Fukushima would have also been told the same thing and any suggestion that a mega earthquake could strike would be countered with an assurance that all precautions had been taken.
I am also sure that in the case of the Jaitapur reactor complex, teh same thing will happen... "all precautions have been taken" " no earthquake above 7 on the Richter scale will ever hit this area" etc. until something does happen.
Instead, why not have more number of smaller things -- whether dams or reactors?

Saturday, 19 March 2011

The army wife

The Army wife is unique. One year she makes her home in a bungalow that had once housed Winston Churchill - a bungalow with a dozen rooms half of which need not be used (but still has to be dusted daily) with a garden enough to grow maize, seasonal veg, all kinds of flowers and have a lawn as well. The next posting lands her in half a barrack with two tiny rooms and she sets up her home in that too with equal ease. At all times her home has to be spic and span.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Friday, 11 March 2011

old films

Chupke Chupke and Sholay are two films that I did not see when they were released and even if I had, might not have appreciated. But now I appreciate them, specially the former. I have seen Chupke Chupke on the TV many times and never feel bored. I don't know what makes some films immortal-at least for some people.

language

"There is a huge amount of research which shows that the language skills are the best predictor of being a successful professional, and that is why the entire world considers these skills as amongst the most important parameter for both under-graduate as well as post-graduate admissions."
Tell that to the Board of Intermediate Education, Andhra Pradesh.
All the junior colleges and hence all students who enter the degree college, consider language skill of least importance. In college, the students bunk most of their English classes and all their second language classes because they consider it to be a total waste of time. No amount of explaining that language is the only vehicle for thoughts, is of any use, because all through their school and junior college, they have been told that they can ignore the languages. Most of the students I see have very poor language skills whether it is English or their mother tongue.
"the degenerate orbitals split up" is the same as "the d electrons split up" and I cannot make them see that it is not only not the same, but splitting electrons would be amazing new science..

Sunday, 6 March 2011

coaching -- again

An interview with the toppers of last year's CAT is all about strategy and practice. So the person who has a test-cracking technique and has practised a lot can get 100 percentile. Of course inherent ability has to be there too. This is where the coaching industry scores.
Now this is not a bad thing for CAT since a degree in management means you are going to work for/ start or some business. Here such skills like strategising, juggling with what you have etc is important. So the successful test taker will also make a successful manager. The coaching matches the future career requirements to some extent.
But when it comes to science or research, these are not the most important skills. At a basic level, you cannot even make a curry without planning, but beyond that, science requires other skills. So coaching is fine for CAT, but is it fine for exams like GATE? or even for the JEE? Is coaching developing the kind of skill needed for that particular career? Therefore, should such exams be "coachable"?

This blogpost(thanks to prof Giridhar) is one viewpoint. The engg college entrance exams are perhaps the most coached-for exams-- particularly the EAMCET in AP. Is that why the students learn very little?
Coaching is nothing new. Oxford had its crammers for the various scholarships they had...the cram system is well established there since centuries. Does it produce scholars?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Appreciating the pioneering scientists

I find it difficult to make students appreciate the pioneering scientists.
To go far back, it must have taken unimaginable courage for that first human to have taken fire from some source and use it. He or she would have to overcome a great instinctive fear to do that.
When I teach the course titled "Science and civilisation", I try to make them imagine what that must have been like-- the extraordinary courage of such unnamed, unknown individuals --and to appreciate what they have done for the human race. Maybe some students do.
But when it comes to chemistry, I don't think I do a good job at that.

Friday, 4 March 2011

microfinance

Why is microfinance suddenly in the news for the wrong reasons?
First it was the suicides in AP and now the Grameen Bank and its tussle with the Bangla Desh govt.
Apart from the problems created by the collection methods, finance to SHGs is being attacked with the contention that it has social repurcussions-- one woman says that since she could not pay back her loan on time, her relationship with her group members is strained. That's serious in a village. There is the contention that some people take microfinance and buy themselves luxury goods instead of using it to start some enterprise. They are then not earning enough to repay. This leads to mounting debt and suicide.
There is the AP court ruling ordering regulation of these MFI.
However, how has Ela Bhatt managed her SEWA for so many years, growing to great heights without any such controversy?
It is difficult to know what is hype and what is true about the current crop of MFI.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Kids' prayers

A link
http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/video/video.php?v=1636447999119&comments

I liked the efficiency advice the best-- why kill people and then make new ones?

A rehash

This is a copy paste of an early post in this blog. What I have said re BSc also holds for economics, sociology etc.

When I see some of the boys and girls who go to various colleges, I wonder why they are there. It is obvious that they are not interested. They do not wish to learn whatever is taught to them. They just want the degree. They do not attend classes, give fake medical certificates and just a week before the exams, buy themselves a guide book, memorise a few answers and pass the exams. Why should they waste time and money doing this? I seriously believe a BSc or BA is for those who wish to learn something. But societal compulsions makes it imperative for everyone to get a degree. To enable such students to pass, our exams are also tailored to this mode of "study".
So I suggest, in every subject, there should be two streams-- One catering to the guide book types and another that provides an in-depth knowledge of the subject. You get your degree by passing anyone, but if you pass the second option, you get an honours degree. The honours degree should have stringent attendance requirements, lab requirements, and the questions in the examinations should test the analytical abilities, language skill and general awareness of the student.

Another alternative is to bring technical education (like ITI and polytechnics) into the mainstream. You can get a BSc in electrical works or a BA in office management. A BSc in horticulture can set you up as a high end garden landscaping consultant and a BSc in wood technology can setup a carpentery and interior design company. This reduces the pressure on everyone to "do" science. They get a BSc degree anyway. The BSc science programs will then cater to students who want to study Physics/ Chemistry/ Biochemistry etc. Then we can make the science courses truly rigorous.
Until this pressure of everyone needing to get a BSc is reduced, there is no hope for undergraduate science education in India.

Fragility of children

Nowadays, children are mentally fragile. Why?
I know I looked after my children with much greater care and attention to detail than my mother did for me and my brothers and she did more than her mother did. The young mothers I meet now do even more than I did.
But is this fine tuned attention making them too sensitive?
Children commit suicide if their parents say they cannot give them money to buy something fancy or if parents scold them for not studying...minor things. It is scary.
Maybe a bit of healthy neglect is good for the kids.

in praise of not praising indiscriminately

I had posted earlier about praising children excessively. Here's some research on this.
It does not talk about the quantum of praise, but on what you praise. I totally agree that praise should be for the genuine effort made by and the sincerity of the child rather than on the outcome.
In life, outcome is not always proportional to effort and diligence. A child must grow up to value herself highly if she has done her best, no matter what the outcome.
However, self worth is quite ephemeral. I do not think it is fair to put all the responsibilty on parents. My childhood was peppered with stories of boys who studied under the street light and suffered neglect but rose to be great men. These boys had no praise, some of them had to live on charity....each day of the week, they would be fed in different households. No one told them they were great. Self worth is a much less cause-effect phenomenon and perhaps comes from something within us.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

retirement

Today, we started our practical examinations. Last week, I had gone as an examiner to some other college to conduct their practical examinations. I was quite exasperated since my viva could not go beyond "what experiment are you doing today" or "what is the compound you have just prepared?" Just the title of the experiment or the structure of the compound was enough for me to give 2 marks.
But students in my college are no better.
Whatever happens to all that we teach them? Where does it go?
It is at times like these that I feel I should retire right now.

an email

A source of happiness-- an email from an ex student who has just got into a PhD program in Germany. I have got quite a few such emails, but this is special, since after a lot of personal sorrow, the boy, I hope, has found some peace and hope in his life.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Remembering Miss Compton

Miss Compton's premise was that a good teacher could teach anything and teach it well! This was of course at school level.
She taught me Geography, Macbeth, Art and Religious- and-Moral education at various times in my school career. She had also taught Math, History and English language to others at different times. In fact, she told us that she had taught everything except Hindi and Sanskrit.
I remember her geography classes the best. She taught us physical geography. Every Monday afternoon, we would take some sandwiches and go for a trek - different directions on different Mondays. Once we reached the top, we would all take out our notebooks, draw the contour map of the opposite hill, or make a note in the map of the exact position of the scree, or just map the landscape. On the way back we would stop at the roadside teashop, and drink hot, sweet wood-smoke flavoured tea. Those cold evenings were really enriching.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Walk the talk - Gaddafi

http://www.arabist.net/blog/2011/2/22/seif-qadhafis-phd-thesis-from-lse.html
sent to me by Arjun

malkangiri questions

The collector of Malkangiri seems to be very popular with the local tribals. He seems to have inspired great loyalty in his engineer who has worked with him for a mere 3 months.
Will the government see light and allow him to work in the area for longer than usual time and give him support?
Will the Maoists see him as a threat, eroding their support base?

teaching

I am contemplating my retirement, due in a couple of years. It has made me realise how much I enjoy teaching.
When I had completed my PhD, the idea of teaching in a college was totally unappealing. I thought teaching the same syllabus over and over would be awfully boring. I was very keen on research.
After a hiatus of 10 years, when I realised that I could not go back to research, I applied for a teaching job with utmost reluctance. It was a case of making do. In fact, I hated my first teaching job and was really bad at it.
But now, I find teaching really enjoyable. I have realised I am good at it.
I do not find teaching the same thing again and again, boring at all.
It is the students you are teaching to, that determine your lecture, not the content. Every time I teach a topic, it is different both in how I teach it and how it is received. In fact, after the first time, the lecture gets more fun for me. The first time I teach a topic, all my concentration is on the content. I have read up a few books, made my notes, but I am not fully clear with how I am going to explain the concept. The second time, I am better...my concentration is half and half..... a bit on the content and a bit on the actual teaching.
After that, my whole effort is on the teaching process. I am fully familiar with the content and the lecture becomes better and it is really enjoyable.

Friday, 11 February 2011

students and environmental studies

The University has a few compulsory, but pass-fail type examination for all its undergrads. The first year students do a course called 'Indian heritage and culture', the second year students as in all other universities do a paper called "environmental studies" and the third year students do a paper called 'Science and civilisation" .

Year-end exercise for us is setting papers in these and correcting the answer books.
The papers used to entertain me in the past years. In fact, my children, when they were in school, would wait for me to bring home the science and civilisation papers. The answers would lead to much hilarity in the household.
But this year, it is depressing me terribly that we have a generation of students who think global warming and a hole in the ozone layer are the same things, taht in the aquatic ecosystem, the tiger is the secondary consumer.......too many such things.
I am not amused at all this year.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

women in science

I was a little disappointed with the WiS report (Rohini Godbole et al).
Here is one article that I feel, presents the situation better.
Women leave "voluntarily" - they take themselves off the career path not because that is what they wish to do, but because they cannot cope otherwise.
Wake up early, make breakfast, fill water in the kitchen , in the washing machine (there is always water shortage), wake kids up, clean up the boiled-over milk, chuck the burnt toast, make fresh toast, find socks, find misplaced car keys, make packed lunch for 4 people, drop kids at bus stand, clean all the mess you made while running frantically, get ready go for work.
After this, stand in the lab for 10 hours inhaling benzene or whatever- get back before the kids get home, (the time doesn't add up does it?), picking up vegetables for the next day, make dinner, check homework, clean up and then hopefully go to sleep.
Mainly, the time doesn't add up.
Can you be surprised if the woman drops out of research ?

Janet Rowley's interview

Two things brought out in this interview
1. In this age of limited money , "fishing" expeditions do not get funded. But if you only look at
what you already know exists, how will you find what you don't know exists? The envelope is
not going to be expanded.
2. What women can do when working part time, in between childcare responsibilities!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

"Faced with power cuts, water shortages or crumbling roads, we get angry and vocal about our unhappiness. The media are only too happy to amplify the discontent and the politicians take note and try to respond since that gives them an opportunity to talk about having done something to address the needs of the public when the next elections come by. Sadly, we don’t seem to get angry and vocal at all about the fact that we haven’t been able to ensure a quality education for every single child, even 60 years after independence."
It is human nature to react to problems that have short term consequences and never to problems whose consequences are felt much later.....anthropogenic climate change is the best example. Like the frog in water that is slowly heated, we don't react.
That is the reason why we do not accept power cuts, but accept bad quality of education. We know theoretically, that if we do not educate the children of all economic classes, we will produce a generation of unemployed youth ripe for a life in crime. But all that happens in a time frame of twenty years. Who can think so far ahead?

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Two Indias

In one of my previous posts, I had written about heaping too much praise on children for trivial achievements. This culture of hyping has spread everywhere.
Young people who barely cross the line of being 'besura' give long performances singing difficult songs with great, but misplaced confidence. Those who have barely detectable grace and flexibility, go on stage and dance the 'salsa' - the desi version of salsa. Everyone applauds. Am I the only fly in the ointment?
At the risk of sounding like the archetypal old lady, bands that performed at fests of yesteryears were really good else they got booed or had rockets thrown at them. The rockets were made of punch cards and were pretty accurate. I remember a band from St Xaviers Calcutta which was amazing... I still recall it.
At the same time, I hear of amazing youngsters. Young people who design amazing stuff, who come up with brilliant devices for the handicapped as part of their BE project. Youngsters who start enterprises that are based on brilliant ideas. Brave young people who don't hesitate to work in the villages of Jharkhand to undertake social audit braving Naxalites and cerebral malaria.
In this too, we have two Indias.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

No easy solutions

I always feel slightly guilty flushing the toilet, but where is the option? There is a lot of talk of green toilets. and chemical or solar toilets.
All these need land. They are fine for rural settings, rich people's farm houses, holiday cabins etc, but living in Ameerpet , Hyderabad or Mandaivelli, Chennai, can it be even thought of?
All solutions I have heard of need space-- a lot of space.
In fact, when I built my house, I had a small extra sink put in the kitchen where I planned to wash my rice/veg etc --no vim/detergent. This sink had a drain that simply led to my small back garden. I was very pleased with my design sure that I didn't need sand filter/soak pit etc for this.
I moved in and used this sink for about a month. Soon every time the breeze came through my back window, I could smell something rotting. Sure enough-the drain. I promptly connected the drain to my regular drainage.
I do not have enough space for a grey water treatment system, which is why I had left my washing machine drain alone , but wash water from rice/dal I thought would not need treatment.
Well it does!
Lesson learnt, there are no easy solutions.

Friday, 28 January 2011

A must-see hoarding

This is a verbatim reproduction of a hoarding advertising Oakridge School. I saw this huge hoarding beside a flyover, a few days back, but waited till I could get the exact words. Today I passed by this place again and noted the exact words, believe me.
"16 Nobel Laureates now faculty to Oakridgers at Stanford." (don't miss the NOW)
I haven't made up my mind whether I find it funny, atrocious or plain stupid.

Friday, 21 January 2011

IISER again

The IISER students I met were from Pune. I checked all the IISER websites. Mohali did not load. It's only Pune that has this system of no major. Tvm and Kolkatta have 2 yrs of courses in all subjects and in the third year, the student chooses his/her major.
The IISER Pune grads are not eligible to teach in any college in India. Of course I am sure no one who graduates from IISER will want to teach in a college in India, but the point is the govt should encourage them to do so since these IISERs were setup with the aim of improving science education in our country. The fact that the institution itself is making it impossible for the one odd idealistic graduate who wants to provide quality teaching at one of the colleges in India, is defeating the goal with which these Instts were setup.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

IISER

Today I met some students from IISER who are conducting their student-run test-- a sort of science talent test.
It seems they do their 5 year course with no majors. They just choose courses they like and do them. This may sound good, but it will lead to a good outcome ONLY if the student is very savvy from his 1st sem. For every course he plans to do by the end of his 5th year, he must plan in the 1st year, do the prerequisites and then progress. I am sure no one has this vision at 18.
If after his third year, he likes organic chemistry, but finds he has not done Chem 211 or whatever that is prerequisite for organic chem. But to do Chem 211, he has to have done Chem 103 in the first year. So now where does that leave him?
I think it's dicey. Or each student must have a jolly good course counsellor...and what do you think are the odds of that?

In the WSJ on child rearing

Some of my relatives live in the US where they are bringing up their children. One thing that strikes me is that they never reprimand their children for wrong-doing, and for every small thing the kid does, they lavish extravagant praise. Children as young as 3 do know when they have done something wrong (even dogs do). So some form of reprimanding must be done.
As for extravagant praise, by the time they are 8 or 10, they too can see it is not merited....picking up clothes from the floor does not merit a national award. I think such spurious praise damages self esteem as much as denigration. Children have no motivation to improve.
Of course the other extreme is dangerous notwithstanding what Amy Chua says.
I have brought up two fairly balanced, fairly happy children. I still have no idea how it must be done, but one thing I am sure-- there is no model, no procedure, no right and wrong way for bringing up children.
From my Inbox

Dear Sir/Madam,

Greetings form City Academy.

We are the Premier Coaching Institution since 1992, having branches in various state capital cities. We are dealing with many recognized Indian and Abroad Universities in offering Guidance, Counseling and Coaching for various courses from 10th to Ph.D levels.

In this context, we are very happy to inform you that we have been tied-up with some of the Universities as Service Providers in connection with M.Phil and Ph.D Programs in almost all subjects.

As such, we need a large number of Supervisors (Guides) to be approved by such Universities, to guide the Research Scholars of M.Phil and Ph.D Programs.

Hence, I request you to accept our proposal to be an approved guide in your Subject for the students enrolled in M.Phil/Ph.D Programs through CITY ACADEMY from time to time under remunerative basis.

For other Terms and Conditions, you may kindly revert back at the earliest possibility by attaching your resume and specifying your SUBJECT in capital letters under ‘HEADING’.

Thanking you,

This is a letter I found in my inbox. An academy that coaches students for classes 10 to PhD.

Which are the Indian and "abroad" universities that awards the PhD/MPhil?
Another question, how did they get my mail id ?

Sunday, 9 January 2011

IPL auction

I maybe old fashioned, but the statements made in all the news channels all through the last two days about who is sold for how much, sounds so terrible. I wish they would come up with an euphemism for the IPL auction. Actually I wish they wouldn't auction people at all, but if they must, please wrap it up in some pretty paper.
Does it not offend anyone else?

Saturday, 8 January 2011

chemical bond

After 10 years of not even seeing a book on chemistry, I interviewed for my present job. One of the panel members asked me to define a bond in one sentence. This stumped me since I could not think of a one line definition....I thought there are too many kinds of bonds and we cannot define the chemical bond in a single definition. So I answered in a general manner something that I thought did not exclude any of the different kinds of bonds I knew of. The person was not happy. He wanted a single line definition and he then gave me such a definition. I do not remember it, but even after the 10 years hiatus, I thought it was too narrow and excluded ferrocenes, and such molecules.
Now an interesting article .

Friday, 7 January 2011

documentation.

When I was getting my house constructed a few years ago, the builders were ISO 2000 certified. So every decision of mine--where to have my windows, where to place the washbasin etc was documented, signed in triplicate etc. But at the site, there was no paper. The contractor and the masons decided what to do based loosely on some vague idea they had.
So my file looked wonderful, but everyday I had to get a window's position altered or a washbasin shifted or simply curse. That is ISO for you.
Colleges that get accreditation with a good grade are also very good at documentation. A NAAC A grade says just that.

When I was a child, festivals were fun. They were about good food, perhaps new clothes, some token praying (from the kids' point of vie...