“Education ” By Question Banks


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/639810/education-question-banks.html

We are in the middle of the academic year. Students are busy taking periodic tests and midterm examinations based on the portions completed. Their answer scripts are being evaluated and assessed. Parents are being apprised of their ward’s performance.

Teachers’ meetings are being conducted to analyse their inputs and involvement in their responsibilities.

Everything seems to be going on like clockwork — just the way it should. Or, is it just a mirage? Perhaps this is the right time of the year for the parent, student and teacher to do a reality check.

Most schools have revision sessions before tests and examinations. They generate a question bank of sorts. The children are told directly or indirectly to concentrate on the revision sessions.

Parents and tuition teachers help the children out with the preparation. Most pupils get thorough with the “necessary portions” and score well. The tests and later on examinations are taken and evaluated — well, you know the drill.

While the process seems natural and harmless, it can turn out to be a quite a negative influence. It can uproot the fundamental aim of learning and education. Young students are being led by the nose to take up tests which prove to be a test of memory rather than understanding.

The very schools which claim to give holistic education shrink even the prescribed syllabus so that the students are not strained to look beyond a few questions.

Limited reading

Reading textbooks, ancillary reading material, referring to class notes are all relegated to the backburner because they do not count as “test portions”.

The learning that can be evinced from group study, working out varied problems, reference works are increasingly becoming non-existent because extensive reading or learning need not be displayed in answer papers.

The young learners cannot be blamed for wearing blinders because they are made to wear them by their teachers. When we look at the problem from the tutors’ point of view, it appears that they are shackled by several constraints. They are expected to cater to unwieldy numbers which makes it almost impossible for them to correct notebooks sincerely.

Then they have to live up to the expectations of the management and deliver cent per cent results as far as possible. When their increments and sometimes their employment depend on the results they deliver, they find it convenient to create “question banks”. This way they hope to step up the level of the results.

Multiple choice papers

The parents for their part do not really seem to mind this new infusion into the system right from primary school because their accountability comes down considerably. Sometimes, schools also opt for multiple choice question paper models partially or completely to make it easier for evaluation.

This method not only encourages blind guessing among students, but also conveniently circumvents the need to comprehend, work out or articulate their thoughts. The net result of this phenomenon precipitates as a mockery of education. No one is any wiser at the end of the day though everyone, the students, parents and teachers have gone through the exercise.

Today, we live in a world where education has been systematised. Learners go through the process of education in a set pattern and emerge as ‘educated’ people at various levels.

Where will all this spoon-feeding and holding hands lead them in the long run of life? Will their education stand them in good stead? Will they be in a position to think out of the box and handle unforeseen circumstances in life?

Can they come up with original or creative solutions to deal with problems? Will they employ just means to achieve their ends? How will they compare with their peer group across the globe? Will their accomplishments fill the lacunae that exist in the world?

The concept of “Question banks” was introduced at the university level, to help examinees to focus after browsing through an exhaustive material. To introduce the same, while shaping minds in their formative years in schools, amounts to committing intellectual suicide.

It is time to break this pattern and pay attention to learning for learning’s sake so that we can pave the way to developing inquisitive, fertile minds that are willing to go that extra mile before arriving at answers!

Evaluation of Evaluators


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/615851/an-evaluation-evaluators.html

The citizens in the world of academics are only too aware that there are wheels within wheels. Students, their parents and their teachers know that the path to progress is many tiered.

Students have to imbibe what they are taught, customise their knowledge to cater to the needs of the examination system and then await results post evaluation. The process appears to be ancient, normal and warranted as far as one can see.

The evaluators take over from the point the students finish their examinations, and it is this factor that most students and parents are apprehensive about. Realisation dawns on them that the ball is no longer in their court; their results are in the hands of unknown evaluators especially when they take up the board or university examinations.

The routine of nervously scanning through the Internet and news channels for the forthcoming results can be quite draining to all examinees, no matter to which age group they belong. Though the law of cause and effect is well known to be proportionate, it is apparently not applicable in our desi educational system to a large extent.

It appears that the shloka from the Bhagavad Gita which says, “Karmanye Vaadhika-raste, Maa Phaleshu kadachana,” which means “You have the right only to do your duty, but never anticipate the fruit for your deeds” is applicable to the students who complete their examinations. That is why we find students spending their vacation with fingers crossed for the outcome of their performance.

The anomalies in the realms of examination results can range from appearing late to appearing wrong. Though all boards and universities do have channels for re-totalling, revaluation, availing copies of answer scripts and even provisions to appear in the court of law, the number of mistakes that happen have not come down considerably.

It is understandable that to err is human. After all, it is the teachers who correct answer scripts. It is quite possible that they could have made an error or two out of sheer oversight or fatigue. Considering the fact that they are also willing to recheck and award rightful scores when approached through proper channels also speaks for the fairness and the transparent nature of the system.

All the same, the students find it difficult to repose faith in the system because many of them have been unsuspecting victims of sheer apathy and convoluted processes which have scorched their spirits and singed their opportunities.

Shortage of evaluators

When the matter is scrutinised from the teachers’ point of view, many factors that seem to justify their slipshod job come under the magnifying glass.

Firstly, there is an acute shortage of evaluators. Since most teaching jobs are offered by private educational institutions, they have a floating population of teaching staff.

Teachers resign their jobs at the end of the academic year in search of greener pastures and are sometimes willing to take an unpaid holiday while in the process of switching jobs. This trend automatically shows a large dip in the number of evaluators during the annual academic break.
Teachers who are hired on a contract basis for the occasion try to earn a little extra money by hurrying through the answer scripts.

The teaching faculty with secure jobs usually decides to put up their price during this season and prefers to go on strikes and dharnas. They feel that it is probably the best time to make their presence and value known. The harsh truth is that teachers are the lowest paid educated class in society.

It is a fact that teachers are burdened with the onus of wading through a sea of answer scripts without respite and the remuneration mostly does not match with the effort put in.

Apart from that, the evaluators are answerable to the chief examiner as well as the students if they have bungled in the process of correcting an answer script or totalling the marks obtained. They can be even sued in the court of law for not taking up their responsibility seriously.

The callousness in assessment of students can be averted to a large extent if knowledgeable and conscientious teachers are chosen for the job consciously. In addition, they should be given their due importance, respect and remuneration. They will be only too delighted and diligent to carry out the responsibilities bestowed upon them. And then, the rest assured students can enjoy happy holidays.

Teach Them To Cheat Not


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/605715/teach-them-cheat-not.html

The examination season is on. This year appears to be no different from the examinations conducted over the previous years. It has almost become a habit for most under-performers to try their hands at some hanky-panky.

Students have been caught cheating, warned and even debarred when they have proved themselves to be incorrigible.

Diligent students who have worked hard right round the academic year feel let down when they find themselves being treated on par with some of their classmates who have been promoted as they resorted to copying in examinations.

On the other hand, students who do cheat feel that if they did not risk the malpractice, they would never hear the end of it from their parents besides being looked down upon by their peers and siblings.

Then there are instances of students running away from home and even attempting suicide when caught red handed in the act. When such a case is visualised in proper perspective, it is evident that the squad had meant to check the smooth functioning of the examination entered the room where the errant student was writing the examination, sending a chill down his or her spine resulting in the unfortunate decision of the student.

The copycat who deserves punishment ends up as the hero at the end of the day by sometimes making it to the newspaper headlines. The squad, the principal, the teaching and non-teaching staff are sent on an undeserving guilt trip for simply carrying out their duties sincerely by identifying the malefactor’s blatant blunder.

Then, when the surface of the matter is scratched and deeper introspection is employed, one can see that a lot of invisible hands are involved in doing the dark deed quite unintentionally.

‘Great expectations’
The system and the expectations of the parents, teachers and the peer group are collectively responsible for the immature decision of the wrong doers. Students are pressurised to give their best shot to excel in examinations so that they can emerge as victors in the rat race.

One cannot really discount episodes where the students are led to believe that they could get away with unethical practices.

There are instances where the invigilators actually promise candidates to look the other way for a price when the black deed is being carried out in the examination hall.

There is also a section of candidates who opt to pay for a fake course certificate to university crooks to facilitate their job search.

Compromise in integrity

Compromise in integrity and ethics in the examination happens with unfailing regularity because the educational calibre of a person is determined by the marks obtained by him or her as a student in the board and university examinations.

Personal interest of the student and the core competency for studying the subject appear to be the subject of little or no interest to most of the parents and teachers.

It is a common practice in our country for students scoring high marks to be absorbed in the mainstream or the science stream by the colleges impervious of the fact whether the student has the aptitude for the subject. The cream is expected to opt for professional courses like medical or engineering.

These toppers are the most sought after in the marriage market and job scene, and are regularly placed in the summit of the social ladder.

Those who do not fare well in these examinations are largely doomed for the rest of their lives because they could not prove themselves academically. This practice has almost become a tradition in our educational system much to the chagrin of the students who may have talent and aptitude for other aspects.

It is high time we as a society start respecting the individual’s decision and his/her field of interest. Youngsters should be told that it is important for them to do well in the chosen area no matter what it is.

Innate qualities like honesty, sincerity and sense of purpose should be nurtured in young minds by both parents and teachers to build their moral profile. They should be sensitised to the fact that it is better to fail in honour than to flourish by cheating. Only then can we hope to populate our nation with responsible, dependable and sensible citizens who realise that education is a means to the end and not an end in itself.

With Mind, Heart and Some Hard Work – Learning Sanskrit


http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-edu

Isn’t it sad that Sanskrit has become merely a ‘scoring’ subject? With a little interest, one can not only learn the language well, but also fare better in exams

Preparing for a Sanskrit examination can be very different from studying for examinations of other subjects. The language is exact in terms of phonetics, grammar, and syntax and very vast in terms of literature. The usual methods of learning by rote or trying to stick to important points based on previous years of question papers will actually prove to be detrimental to students. This is one of the reasons why students who usually perform very well in academics fail to make a mark eventually, because they do not score enough in the language paper. This syndrome is true across students of schools, pre-university, undergraduate and post graduate levels. A close observation of the performance levels of students reveals that their marks mostly does not construe to their learning curve. Most students take up Sanskrit, because they are given to understand that their subject will be taught and tested bilingually. In other words, one can answer the Sanskrit paper partially in English or in the vernacular. This facility has been assigned to the study of this language because it is no longer a popular spoken tongue. Students are deprived of a healthy exposure to Sanskrit in their daily lives. Its ancient, immense and precise nature can prove to be a little intimidating to a first time learner. Hence the system considered it fit for the language to be studied through another language. Over a period of time, teachers and students alike have gotten used to the support, to the point of converting it into a crutch of sorts.

It is mandatory to realise that each subject has its own nuance and should be approached with an open mind. Sanskrit is a phonetically accurate language, where we write exactly as we read or speak. Students of Sanskrit, no matter to which age group or class they belong to, will do well to read and write their alphabet all over again. Once the student is thorough with the alphabet, learning to split random words and rejoining them in terms of vowels and consonants will give the learner a deeper understanding of spellings, pronunciation and meanings. In the long run, it will also sensitise the student to the joining and splitting of words.

The next step forward will be to learn declensions of nouns, adjectives and pronouns. This exercise akin to learning multiplication tables in mathematics will make the student realise set patterns of declensions in terms of gender, number, case and the attached prepositions. Similarly when students learn to conjugate verbs in Sanskrit they will become aware of the root forms of verbs, person, number, tense and voice.

Buying a modestly priced Shabda Manjari will prove to be wise investment to a conscientious student. They will do well to practice the same by writing out the declensions and conjugations using different examples and also reading them aloud so that they become familiar with some basic vocabulary. This knowledge in turn will help a pupil to form simple sentences, do translations, and answer questions that follow comprehension passages besides framing basic letters and writing undemanding paragraphs.

Learning to distinguish between declensions, conjugants and indeclinables will set the stage for the learner to become familiar with the art of arriving at participles quite on the lines of forming or balancing a chemical equation. Besides the learner will find it easier to grapple the basics of Sandhi or the joining of words and samasa or the formation of compound words which is peculiar to the language.

Acquiring these fundamental skills will equip the student to not only score appreciable marks in the Sanskrit section but will also prove to be helpful while answering the rest of the paper in English or in the vernacular. Examiners normally appreciate the use of the Devanagari script in answers written in the other lingo especially while using proper nouns, key words, quotations among such others.

If for some reason, a student of Sanskrit has neglected the basics, it is never too late to repair the damage. All it takes is a little interest, time, effort and dedication.

cationplus/with-mind-heart-and-some-hard-work/article17534267.ece

 

New Age Challenges of Teaching Undergrads


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/587593/challenge-teaching-age-undergrads.html

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.

Science Psyche & Entertainment


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/580202/science-psyche-entertainment.html

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.

 

Finding Your Footing


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/578136/finding-your-footing.html

 

The other day, I was swollen up all over. Not with importance! And no, nobody had beaten me up. The long hours of travel caused edema in my limbs. I knew that some professional massage will set matters right.

Along came the therapist – a slim, young smiling lady. She ushered me into a room to knead my limbs back to normalcy. We indulged in rambling small talk. She casually mentioned that she was a student of engineering. I thought she was kidding. Why on earth would she be rubbing oil down my limbs then?

I gave her a long look. She appeared to be serious. She told me she had completed three years of the course. She could not continue with the seventh semester because she had not cleared any of the examinations thus far. In answer to my questioning look, she said that her father’s unreasonable tenacity to make good of his money compelled her to study engineering.

After a moment of fleeting silence, I asked her how she had landed this job. I realised that I had unconsciously switched over from vernacular to English. The lass lapsed into the queen’s lingo when she said that she had trained for six months as a masseuse. I noticed that her language was deliberate and heavily accented.

The teacher in me popped another query. Should she not be working on her backlog and passing the examinations? She agreed. That would be the most ideal thing to do. However, she could not do it. I wondered why not? She said that she could not cope with the course. I blurted, “Then, why did you take it up in the first place?”

“Ah! That was a mistake. My dad worked for the local MLA all his life, so the politician gave me a free seat in his engineering college as payment for my dad’s services.” She nodded away and swore it was true. She had passed her class 12 with difficulty and that had proved to be unfortunate. She had switched back to Malayalam. She did look earnest. I decided to take her word for it.
When I reflected on our interaction, I realised that the girl had essayed the role of the obedient child quite like Casabianca. When she could take the heat no more, she had the courage to accept her limitations and abandon the beaten path.

Practical common sense had ruled her decision. She had donned her new hat with ease and relief, without ever feeling apologetic. By choosing her own path she had carved a niche for herself by alienating herself from the rat race. Hats off to her!