Tuesday, 22 December 2015

higher ed woes

Higher ed. woes in other countries.
Here, this attitude is common amongst students who enroll in BCom classes. Most of them are sons (this is more common in boys) of businessmen and some are very rich. Their pocket money often exceeds the salary their teachers get. So they feel "what can I learn from a loser like  you?" They join college in order to become a "graduate" thus enhancing their value at the marriage mart. However, I must add, some of them, just some, are already handling their family businesses and are often too busy to attend classes. Some work evenings at their businesses and look upon college as a break from the hard work during their evenings. But these are usually in the minority. Most of those who study for a BCom degree, just have a good time and expect to be handed a degree at the end of three years, no matter what they do, since they have paid for it. 

Higher Ed Rant AGAIN !

This post was written a few years ago but I did not post it since I am beginning to feel like one of those old fogies who keep saying the same thing every time you meet them. However, even at the risk of sounding boring, I shall keep saying it till someone realises undergrads are not all in IIXs and that the science in university affiliated colleges is purposeless.

A friend has sent me a questionaire regarding an article on higher education in science.
There are many discussions on higher education in sciences in India.

In none of these is a serious discussion of what a student does with a science degree other than do an MSc and PhD. Is producing more Chemistry profs the purpose of the life of a Chemistry Professor?  Are we in the cloning business?

After the study of chemistry / physics / whatever,  a few of the students must be ready (and encouraged)  to take on an MSc and PhD.* 
But what of the others? What should they do with their BSc in Chemistry or Physics or Microbiology?
 If we believe that a person must get a PhD in Chemistry  in order to teach a few hundred people Chemistry so that they in turn teach a few hundreds each, I shudder at the thought.
So why is there never a mention of how a post school science degree enables a person to get a good job in a science-related field? In fact does it enable? In what way is the BSc curriculum doing this? Or is it?  Do they know what jobs are available to them? Are they trained for any such job? 
They are trained to pass the university examination.
The university has no real incentive to change the syllabus or exam pattern, except to show the NAAC that it has. 
The university has a Board of Studies which calls for a meeting of a representative section of the college teachers once in 3 or 5 years. At the meeting, some thinking BoS chairman proposes an innovative syllabus. The teachers specially from the mofussil areas are outraged. They insist their students cannot learn these new things....perhaps they cannot teach these topics..... and veto the additions. So syllabus revision is simply a rearranging of syllabus.... put topic x in paper III instead of paper II and so on. The minutes of the meeting are filed and the NAAC inspection shows there has been a syllabus revision once in 3 years. The file looks good, NAAC gives an A grade, everyone is happy. 
Except the recruiters. Industry HRDs are finding it very difficult to employ these science students since even those with  MSc or PhD are not competent. 
My case is for a two track BSc .. one for those who are interested in science but not passionate enough for the long haul of academic research and another for those few who show desire and aptitude for research. Those who teach the general track do not need a PhD-- they just need to be competent in teaching, while the other set of teachers must be involved seriously in research...not just get a distance mode PhD for Rs 100,000.  
This prerequisite of a PhD for teaching even in an undergrad college is making an industry out of churning PhDs "as one researcher who has studied doctoral-education trends puts it, is that you can “grow PhDs like mushrooms”."  

The govt target is 30,000 PhDs by 2020.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

An example

For anyone who does not believe me when I say undergrads need basic education not research, I recount an experience.
I frequently go as an examiner for Chem practical examinations to different colleges as do most of my colleagues. A few years back, the university decided that the 3rd year undergrad student must do a "project" for his paper IV chemistry practical exam. The "project" involved looking up the internet and downloading IR, UV, NMR and mass spec of 6 simple compounds, assigning the bands/peaks/signals and submitting. In the college I went to as an examiner, the students had all photocopied a set of spectra, probably provided by the teaching staff and submitted them. Everyone had the same set. What is worse, the fifth page was so blurry that it was blank with a few spots of black. Nothing was visible. Only 2 people had even noticed that the photocopier was not copying properly and had tried to improve the quality of the copy. THAT is the level at which students are.  They are not capable of even finding published spectral data for a common compound like acetone or nitrobenzene, and what is more do not even care enough to check if the copier is copying the project report properly. I could not fail the whole class though I was tempted to.
So when people argue that undergrads must be exposed to cutting edge research, I feel so frustrated at their ignorance of reality. I will be very happy if a student graduates BSc  with the ability to read and understand a class XII text book.

Higher education in Indian state universities and their affiliated colleges.

The ORF has come up with a report on the status of science education in Indian colleges.
For once, someone has seen the things that stare at one in the face.
Usually the narrative on science education has the students at IISER and IISc and IITs as reference and it is furthered by people to whom "student" means person studying in one of these. So everyone says undergrads must be exposed to research. To me this is the academic equivalent of Marie Antoinette's alleged "let them eat cakes" statement.
There are about 3 million  undergrads in science streams of which the IISERs, IITs, IISc, central universities, and a very few good colleges have, let us say, 100000 students as a rough estimate. The rest go to state university affiliated colleges or the private deemed universities. So let us talk not about the  less than 1 or 2% and talk instead of the 99% of undergrads in BSc classes across India.
These 99% need to learn the basic concepts of the subjects they study before one can even think of introducing them to research.
So I appeal to those who have some control over undergrad education in India, please design curricula and pedagogy keeping this in mind. Do not force college teachers to undertake spurious research projects published in spurious journals which is just chemicals down the drain (literally, since no one does safe disposal).        

Thursday, 3 December 2015

The last time I attended a course in order to learn was in 1977. I went for a short introductory course recently. It was a social science course and the pedagogy was excellent. The co-learners were a mixed lot from a 21 year old undergrad to me, a 60 year old. there were professionals with varying experience, and laypeople like me who had never studied social science. Perhaps the experienced people were disappointed in the course, but I found it really interesting with not a dull moment.