New Age Challenges of Teaching Undergrads

By S Radha Prathi, Dec 21, 2016,

Teaching at the undergraduate level is increasingly becoming a challenge even to the most enterprising, enthusiastic and experienced of teachers these days. Barring a handful of undergraduates, most students are hardly ever interested in the course. For most urban youth, it is a passage of rite to be fulfilled before they enter the world at large to pursue their vocations, businesses, jobs or personal lives.

Lecturers and professors both old and young who had gathered at a national seminar seemed to be speaking in one voice on their pet subjects. They began with the most sacred ritual of marking attendance which gains sacrosanct dimensions especially towards the end of the academic year.

The UGC insists on a minimum of 75% attendance requirement before taking up the prescribed examinations from time to time. Every student who falls short of the mark, unable to get a proxy or have the means to circumvent the problem, makes it a point to be there towards the end.

These students add to the nuisance value in the classroom because they are unaware of what is transpiring in the room and that naturally keeps them diverted. Interestingly, they are the ones who come up with ideas of having special classes in a bid to step up their attendance quotient.

These days, the courts stand testimony to the increasing numbers of affidavits filed by erring students suing colleges for depriving them of the attendance that would have enabled them to take up examinations.

Attendance has been boiled down to the level of being physically present in the campus. Never mind if you are late, distracted or have misbehaved in the lecture hall. A couple of medical certificates and wedding cards genuine or otherwise have the powers to set matters right.

Neither the students nor their parents seem to be unduly worried about the learning curve that could have shot up if discipline and diligence were employed. This act  is nothing but a sterling example of how colleges inadvertently nurture downright carelessness laced with rudeness which gains legal validation because of obscure processing.

Gone are the days when lectures were interrupted by garrulous youth and giggly girls who indulged in small talk or biting into a morsel of food during the serious hour. These days they are otherwise occupied checking or sending messages on their cell phones, that is if they are not playing or shopping.

If they are asked to deposit their instruments outside before a guest lecture, each one will take their own sweet time to make “suitable arrangements” before taking leave of their external organ for an hour or two.

Internet age
Taking down lecture notes is passé, because graduating youngsters believe that everything worth learning can be found on the internet. Necessary course material can always be bought, photocopied, scanned or stolen if necessary. Most pupils are not interested when there are relevant digressions from the topic because they do not figure in the scheme of the portions prescribed for examinations.

On the one hand, they want to be treated like adults when reprimanded for permissive public behaviour; on the other, they want to be spoon fed with the exact mark allotment for each question.

It is ironical to note that the youth of the world which believes in worldwide networking do not make an attempt to see the interrelated nature of subjects which can go a long way in shaping them as sensible and sensitive global citizens.
The harsh truth is students no longer learn to gain knowledge but to earn degrees. They attend college for the frivolous social ambience and not for getting a panoramic on various subjects. Politics, groupies and sectarian views have substituted the secular outlook.

Examinations, mark sheets and certificates have become passports to the first jobs which are usually procured through campus interviews. Hence, it is no wonder students are becoming increasingly removed from the teacher-taught equation. They have forgotten that being a graduate is not about procuring document, it is about graduating to a higher phase in life and emerging as a better human being who has some expertise over the chosen subject.

Matters will improve only if we are able to instill a love for learning in the young or just devalue degrees of the ones who do not measure up to display basic knowledge of the chosen subject and show evidence of etiquettes demanded of a graduate.

Outsourcing is the Word

Everything we ever want is available to us just at a click of a button, well almost everything. The things that cannot be achieved directly by technology can be outsourced for a price tag.

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Science Psyche & Entertainment

Of late, people have been getting hooked to horror movies and scary TV serials that have made it to the big and small screens like never before. Modern technology has facilitated these pieces of art into spectacular and stunning bits of entertainment.

Creative directors and story writers are taking advantage of this provision. So now we have snakes slithering into the bedrooms, fires emanating from water, lemons morphing into ferocious animals, earth cracking under ones feet, spirits, goblins and ghosts rubbing shoulders with their mortal kin, occult, black magic, voodoo among other things.

Subjects like life after death which was in the realms of theosophy and philosophy have been given a new lease of life by being introduced into the story line. So now we have a series of “murdered characters” flitting about as enraged or morbid souls in finery seeking revenge by entering the bodies of their erstwhile enemies.

For good measure, they also settle other minor scores giving scope for eerie humour. These stories which made the rounds mostly on late night shows have been gaining visibility even during the day. The escalating TRPs are proof of their popularity.

What is more interesting is the fact that modern science has facilitated the access to these unfounded, medieval, dark age stories and belief.

In other words, poppycock nonsense has regained its past glory by the very science that was used to expose it. The most bizarre ideas are translated into the visual medium by intelligent minds who know how to wield the essential equipment. Truth be told, they are doing a splendid job.

On the one hand, this trend speaks of the might of human intelligence which is able to cater just about anything that is demanded of it.

On the other hand, it is a little frightening to know that people who do not exercise their grey cells are lapping up the farfetched stories of another era which were retired as redundant, obsolete and illogical. It is when viewers start attaching value to it beyond the entertainment quotient the trouble begins.

There have been news stories about audience responding to this genre of entertainment in hitherto unheard ways. The first category of people get inspired by what they see. They utilise their limited knowledge and make use of horror to derive some thrill by frightening their friends and enemies out of their wits or skins. The other category is the typical hero worshipping admirers of the subcontinent, who do not mind throwing away their personalities and sometimes even their lives in the name of adoration.

Scientific temperament

They are the naïvetes who start believing and imbibing the various concepts and ideas that are presented to them. They lose track of their scientific temperament and never care to verify the truth before communicating the same to others. It is alarming to know that a large section of population who belong to this category happen to be women and children who may or may not be educated.

It is ironic to note that the very science that was/is used to enlighten the human mind and help it overcome baseless fears, superstitions and beliefs is instrumental in worming into our wisdom.

While there is nothing wrong in using science to aid creativity, one must also curb the tendency to spread irrational thinking in the name of entertainment. The intelligent brains that come up with exotic and innovative ideas must also keep in mind they are indirectly responsible for shaping the minds of their consumers.

They must remember that people like to copy, adulate and emulate what fascinates them. Statutory warnings or censor boards can be inadequate in stemming the possible damage to the human psyche. Hence, it becomes the sacrosanct responsibility of the ingenious ilk to use their expertise judiciously.

Technology has come a long way and shrunk the world beyond imagination. It has made the world closer and sometimes closed as in the present case. Today, more than ever before, we must ensure that the role of science makes a positive impact on modern man’s life.

Science should be  used to open up minds to newer possibilities because it can sustain, empower, help us evolve and emerge as better people or very simply decimate us to being mere mindless zombies who stop living and start existing.


In Pursuit of Perfection

If Steve Jobs were around, he would have turned fifty seven last week.  Jobs, one of the most famous men who walked our planet, began his rendezvous with computers in the garage of his humble home in California. His passion for electronics and his understanding of the arts found their culmination in the unique creations of his company.

It is said that if one takes care of the details, the big picture will take care of itself. Young Jobs learnt this mantra from his dad who was a car mechanic. His dad insisted that one should work carefully on every aspect of a project and use parts of good quality even if they were not visible to the naked eye. Later on in life, he ensured that even the screws of his Apple products were well plated though no one was likely to see them with the exception of the repairman! One can well imagine the pride he took in his work when he made the entire team sign on a sheet of paper and enclosed it in the Macintosh!

‘Never judge a book by its cover’, goes a popular adage. Mike Markkula, a father figure to Jobs, made him believe otherwise. Jobs understood the importance of presentation in a competitive market. He not only started paying attention to the packaging and the labelling of his products but also shed his hippie looks and gave up on barefooted jaunts at work!

It would surprise you to know that Jobs never really cared for power point presentations because he thought if a person is thorough with the subject, then there would be really no need for any electronic prompting.

His company had its share of failures and setbacks. None of it would faze Jobs and he would not hesitate to begin from scratch. He possessed the art of turning every setback into an opportunity.

There was a time when he was alienated from his company because of his temperamental nature. It was during this time that he translated his dream of uniting the sciences and the arts by venturing into film making and making ‘Toy Story’, a fabulous animated film.

Later on he also paid a rich tribute to the world of music by launching the iPod, which could hold innumerable songs, and an iTunes store to sell music legally at a nominal price.

Jobs set great store by simplicity and simplifying. He got the best compliment ever for his implicit faith in Zen-like simplicity when Noer of Forbes wrote about a six-year-old illiterate stable boy in Colombia who used the Apple iPad without any kind of initiation. His belief that “simplicity is the greatest form of sophistication” guided him in his journey which has made the world tarry a split second to ensure the context and meaning of the word Apple, whenever it is mentioned.

A Cup Full Of Woes

The teaching profession has to contend with poor pay packages, and bad work conditions. This is putting off many youngsters from taking up teaching as a career, writes Radha Prathi

Today, in India, the number of schools run by the government and private managements have shot up like never before, but the education scenario itself does not present a rosy picture. To a large extent, formal education does not guarantee a high moral character nor does it assure academic excellence.

When several educators were consulted on the subject, it was like opening the proverbial Pandora’s Box.

Our education sector has a multiple personality disorder which effectively puts off teachers. Dilapidated buildings sans furniture and lack of even basic amenities, have all encouraged government teachers to constantly apply for transfers. There are schools which are run like corporates with uniformed staff, sporting activities like golf, and excursions to international destinations. Yet these schools face attrition as well paid teachers are expected to function under overwhelming constraints. The middle-path institutions have troubles of their own. They invariably do not have enough funds, space for laboratories, libraries, or even a playground, and they tend to operate from different venues adding to the chaos and confusion. Sooner or later the disorderliness puts off even the most dedicated of teachers.

Many school managements say that most youngsters who take up teaching no longer have the dedication, passion or knowledge like tutors of yore. Many of them take up teaching as a stop-gap arrangement until they discover greener pastures. Some others take up the job because it promises shorter work hours, or provides them an option to work on a part-time basis.

When some young teachers were confronted with this accusation, they quipped that it was an open secret that a teaching job did not attract money. The salary of teachers compares poorly with that of other professionals like software engineers, doctors or lawyers. Some educational institutions do not provide provident fund, gratuity and retirement benefits to all their employees. In fact many of them do not even give a certificate of experience to teachers who serve them for less than a year or two!
Teachers fumed that many a time their vacations were cut short unceremoniously, and that they had to face a cut in pay when they availed long leave for medical reasons or due to a bereavement.

Many teachers confessed that their teacher’s training courses hardly equipped them for any real-life teaching situation.

There was one common problem that all teachers — right from kindergarten to the post-graduate level — complained about, and that was how the teacher-student ratio had reached ridiculous levels giving them little or no opportunity to have a “one-to-one” relationship with their students.

Their energy is spent maintaining discipline in the classroom, and that too without taking recourse to corporal punishment. They are not able to focus on content beyond the syllabus because they constantly live under the terror of “portions to be covered”.

The introduction of the trimester system in schools, and the semester system at the undergraduate levels has left teachers harried even as they try to strike a balance between curricular and co-curricular activities.Though the CBSE, ICSE and pre-university courses still follow the annual system, their curriculum is  packed, and co-curricular activities are sacrificed in order to accommodate “main subjects”!

The use of technology in education has certainly helped teachers save a lot of time in preparing power point presentations and acquiring extra information on the subject. At the same time it has brought about a certain monotony and repetition which impairs originality in presentation. This can kill the joy of the teaching experience in the long run.

Several teachers complained that, many times, they are roped in for administrative and clerical duties. It is sports, arts and crafts teachers who are generally asked to substitute absent teaching faculty, giving them little or no time to prepare for the class, relax, gather their wits or even have their lunch at times.

Since teaching also involves constant testing and evaluation, teachers are invariably caught in one of these activities from time to time. As managements believe that 100 per cent commendable results can prove to be a veritable advertisement for the next year’s admission, teachers of private institutions are under more pressure than their government counterparts. On conditions of strict anonymity one teacher revealed, that sometimes marks of students who fail are enhanced to save the pride of the school.

Sometimes teachers are instructed to look the “other way” during invigilation. Lecturers also confided that the internal assessment marks of some students are tampered with in order to “teach them a lesson” or simply give them the “boost” to get that much coveted rank at the university! Some teachers who took up this noble profession in good faith have been disillusioned with the system.

Despite the many hassles, the teaching community is helping our country inch forward. If their contribution has to be qualitatively enhanced, the government and school managements, must redress teachers’ grievances, and help them become truly committed and competent.

With Designs On A Creative Career

nterior design courses offer excellent opportunities for those who wish to be self employed, or work part time. It is one of the few professions where one can operate from home with a minimal investment, writes Radha Prathi

The rapid paced urbanisation and influx of several multi-national companies and offices in the country has created a never-before-expected demand for professional interior designers. Indians are becoming more and more conscious of their surroundings and do not hesitate to spend a good bit of money to alter the home and office spaces they inhabit. As a result the right brained students of India have never had it so good, considering the fact that they have a plethora of options to pursue a course that matches their interest.

Housekeeping no longer remains the domain of homemakers. Ambitious and creative students can actually pursue a course in interior decoration and make a brilliant career out of it. An enthusiastic professional will find each project challenging for he will be expected to come up with resourceful and ostensible solutions in order to achieve a dream interior setting chalked out by the client. Candidates with creativity, aesthetic sense and the ability to transform a vision into reality can opt for the course. Interior design courses offer excellent opportunities for those who wish to be self employed, or work part time.  It is one of the few professions where one can operate from home with a minimal investment.

Just about anybody who has completed his or her intermediate or graduate studies from any discipline can take up the course. But unless the candidate has the aptitude for the job the course will amount to fitting round pegs in square holes.

These days several interior design schools have cropped up in all the major cities of India. They offer courses ranging from a period of anywhere between one month to three years during which time the students are taught the nuances of working in a three dimensional perspective and spatial flow. Students are also given training in lateral thinking, drawing both on paper and also on computers. Courses which run for a longer duration familiarise students with history and the role of decors in the ancient and medieval world. Most interior designer schools in Bangalore revealed that they also conduct classes in spoken English and basic arithmetic to help their students to communicate more effectively and to reckon with the necessary transactions while dealing with the job when they are on their own.

The students are given several practical sessions in their in-house studios and they are also encouraged to do a short internship with leading architects. Most students consider this aspect to be the most valuable part of their courses for though designers work over flexible timings they invariably have to work towards fulfilling looming deadlines.

A random survey revealed that serious fledgling designers generally opt to work with leading architects for a song to learn the ropes of the trade. Once their mission is accomplished they quote their price or simply drift away from the mother company to initiate one on their own. Divya Ponnappa, leading architect revealed that graduates in interior designing from the universities of Delhi or Mumbai had a better welcome in the market because they were considered serious students in the profession. Anuradha Palekar successful designer who has done her course in the famous JJ school of Art from Mumbai endorsed the view and added that the certificates mattered only in the initial stages but in the long run it was not where and how the course was taken but the performance which was rated. The architects of Space Artists revealed that they were not very concerned with the certificates as long as the candidate displayed his or her intrinsic aptitude and flair for the job.

Gayathri Vissa who has her own firm confirmed that once the initial struggle was over and the goodwill of the market was earned life for interior designers was good.
Successful designers have an entire retinue of carpenters, electricians, tile layers, and masons on their pay roll. They also have regular suppliers of fabric, paints, artifacts and such paraphernalia to deck up a home. It was amazing to note that a successful interior designer will have the ability to activate employment and in turn step up the economy with his dedication.

It is clear that if a potential interior designer has tons of creativity and a tremendously observant eye for beauty and when moulded by experts in the field by way of training he will find the world to be his oyster.

Losing Our Roots

It is sad but true that the human race has lost its touch with its roots. We have happily forgotten that we belong to the earth and it is not the other way around.

When Kahlil Gibran said, “To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands. It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied. Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.”

It is obligatory for us to acknowledge that everything that man possesses today is a gift of the earth in some way which has to be shared and enjoyed by her inhabitants sans disparity of any sort.

Man gave up barter system and switched to the concept of using money only to make life simpler. Ironically this very step has pushed him into the abyss of ethical degradation which has been taking monstrous forms from time to time.

We could live in a world free of wars, pollutions, scams and indignity if we could reconnect with the earth and use her resources prudently without upsetting the larger picture.

Bribery and scams have become the order of the day. Malpractice, mismanagement and corruption are all around us. The bonhomie and effective teamwork which must have been the driving force while doing the dirty work suddenly frays when a hole is picked in the fabric of corruption. While some prefer to act righteously indignant, there are others who plead innocence while yet others do not mind playing the blame game or simply pass the buck.

It is sad but true that hardly anyone who is caught red handed is repentant or at least is filled with a sense of shame when they are faced with the facts.

Apparently these culprits have lost the distinction between need and greed. They have forgotten that life is punctuated with death, the point of no return.  They do not realise that the wealth that they have stashed away cannot be taken forth and that they are spawning a decadent set of descendants who are likely to be idle bones.

If the observation made of the scamsters reveals a bleak black picture, the profile of the common man is no better for his character can be identified in the various in-between shades of grey.