Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Critique of the
University Scheme

By Adnan M. S. Fakir

Out of all the hypocrisies, shenanigans, malpractice and abuse of power that we often love to impose on ourselves (call us Homo Masochist Sapiens), one of the greatest follies that we have managed to inject into our system is the education system. This is no joke. No one takes it as a joke and neither does our government take it as a joke. In fact our government is so concerned about providing education to the people that they spend a whole 2.6% of their GDP on education. It doesn't really matter that it is the lowest in the South Asian region or that only 9.1% of that 2.6% is spent on tertiary education (above high school). Clearly we don't want graduate intellectuals in this country.

With the government not being able to handle the situation despite their greatest sincere efforts, the private sector boldly stepped in, and along with them came the good, the evil, the awesome and also the bad. Since we are of a race who likes to adore talking about the ill of things, without much ado I shall move on to the negative criticism which everyone seems to notice but do nothing about. “Out of chaos comes peace,” or so they say.

Entry Placements
The ingredients of a mathematical model consist of three major things: variables, constants and parameters; and such are the ingredients of Math 101. Heck they probably even have a+b=c, so what is b? I understand if one were learning this even at O Levels or the HSC, but forced to start off with such basics at university, and basics as a course and not just revision, is simply an assault on the students’ sense of dignity. For students from non-science backgrounds who have never done mathematics this is definitely a good course, but pushing those who have already done integrals to do this again is simply a waste of time and concentration, and can easily be translated as a mean for universities to just pile on semester fees. The same argument applies for English and other relevant subjects.

Universities can squabble that they have placed the students according to the admission test results, but honestly if you have an ear and listen to the students, this system of placement is not working, maybe due to non-friendly administrative staff or for simply ignoring the students' potential. One may again bicker that this is good that students are revising old stuff and refreshing their memory, but spending an entire semester of doing droning and mundane stuff which they have done before, will only cause the students to lose concentration and get diverted. Students need challenges to stay vigilant and hence to study; not keep on repeating what 1+1 is.

If the universities are adamant about making every student grind through this torture that the victimised apprentice will clearly spend either snoring or passing love letters, then at least they should arrange exemption exams (although I agree that exams are not the best method of making an assessment, but apt enough for this case) which will let students who have covered the relevant topics before avoid taking respective 100 level courses. This will not only allow them to take more higher level courses and encourage critical thinking (if the higher level courses are taught that way) but also let them learn something new and make use of the money that they are paying.

The Scare of Words
One thing for sure is that many students don't read and don't like to read. Sadly the universities have just accepted this notion and succumbed to the degrading lecture-notes culture. Providing reading assignments, be it journal articles or essays, where needed is something that should not be avoided and reading habit among students has to be encouraged by the professors. Another more shocking revelation was the lack of writing papers. The academic system in the world revolves around writing; if you are going to disseminate any ideas you need to be able to write in a convention that is readable by the lot of the world. It is very shocking when you find that despite your professor being quite knowledgeable, he assigns only exams and no papers for a course such as the history of economic thought for example. By doing this one is implicitly encouraging memorisation, which has long been a great fundamental enemy of our education system, instead of critical thinking.

Yes, the problems of plagiarism are present due to the idiots and lazy dumb idiots out there, but this is something that every professor should be able enough and willing to deal with. A few strict examples of expulsion or suspension should be enough for students to start shaking in their boots at even the thought of plagiarism, but this should be no argument for not giving paper assignments in class. Of course this also means that students have to be taught to be able to properly paraphrase and cite their sources. When they graduate and move on to the real world they will need to write papers at some point and unless practiced earlier they will be left absolutely handicapped.

The Utility of Professors
Being a professor is not a walk in the park and certainly should not be considered as a leisure profession. Then again, the payments that public universities tend to provide to even full time faculties is certainly not an incentive to become one. Blame the government for that. However, private universities nowadays do provide, maybe not the best, but certainly a heftier amount moving to 85,000+ for full professors. So a faculty should not expect to put in the same amount of effort in a private university as that in a public one; quite literally, the incentive is more so the sweat should be more also. Out of their own will they should put in as much effort as required to properly teach their courses to the students, be it by improving oneself or by one-on-one interaction or both. Professors are vital for motivating students and if the professor him/herself shows hesitance and lack of willingness to teach, the students will certainly be happy just passing snappy remarks behind their backs.

In other words, even if students are lazy and tend not to study, professors need to get a hold and actually enjoy teaching, not only through lectures but with proper interactions and discussion encouraging arguments if the need be. Creating such an environment is probably the hardest of all. As for public universities, the same thing applies and yes it has been well past the time that the government increases the faculty payment structure so that they don't have to hunt other jobs and get distracted from teaching.

Coup d'etat?
As an ending note, just generating CGPA 4.0s is not a solution for anything other than an inflation of them while they suck on lollipops. Creating effective and practical people who have the incentive, intellect and knowledge to bring about positive changes is what we need. They can also go and suck on lollipops with one hand but with the other help improve lives and be the heroes that they are. Long live the awesomes!



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