Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Letter to my Professor

Recently, one of my professors commented about how he too had once been on this side of the wall, and that he had gone through more than 20 years of academics to reach the other side. He further went on lecturing us about how we cannot and should not try to outsmart him when it comes to studies, assignments, exams, marks, etc. He further, rather subtly, threatened that he could, in all his academic glory and further glorified education values, set an examination paper which would bring us(the not-so-sincere students) down to our knees.
He must be in his 40's. Which means, his twenty years of schooling/college must have happened close to 15-20 years ago. This is a letter I would perhaps like to send to him, though not sure when.

Hello Sir,
I wanted to speak to you about your claim of knowing what it feels like to be a student, and it's possible you are right. I have my own thoughts on this subject, and I hope you can see them with an open mind.

Rather than jumping to judgmental conclusions about your claim, I request you to examine this point a bit more deeply first, through the following points.How much can the world, and especially the students' arena change in 20 years?
1. This is the twenty-first century. The world is changing so fast that the US Department of Labor estimates that today's learners(Grad/Post-Grad) will have 10-15 jobs by the time they celebrate their 38th birthdays. This is in direct contrast to the times in which you studied. In your time, to get one permanent job, with job security, was the ultimate dream. It ain't so anymore. The aims and aspirations of this generation are vastly detached from those of your generation.
2.Many of today's college majors didn't even exist 10 years ago, and the one I am enrolled in is so new that it's first batch is yet to pass out. Further more, the top 10 in-demand jobs of 2010 wouldn't have existed in 2004.
3.The amount of exposure the 21-year olds(Grads/PGs - Urban) of your current class have had is exponentially more than the exposure you yourself would have had when he was 21. A normal student in your class would have seen more than 10,000 hours of television and would have spent more than a thousand hours surfing the Internet, and atleast a few hundred hours on video games.Apart from this, they would have recieved more than 20,000 e-mails/text messages, and are members of various groups/communities online.
4. Google alone gets 3,000,000,000 searches per month. To whom were these questions addressed before Google? The point here being, the students of today not only have the liberty of asking questions but to get and make the answers as well.
5. The amount of technical information is doubling every two years. And this time period will only decrease. How much information can a human brain be expected to retain? And you take great pride in announcing that you are only teaching us what you yourself learnt during your days of college, your point being you enjoyed your college years and see no point we shouldn't.By the end of 2010, the time period for the doubling of technical information is expected to be less than a month.

A few more searches on Google and we'll have hundreds more of such numerical facts which will strengthen my own claim: A professor today was a student yesterday. But that doesn't mean he can understand what it means to be a student today. He cannot, for, Shift happens. This shift just cannot be stopped. We are currently preparing students for jobs and technologies that don't yet exist. They'll be solving problems we don't even know are problems yet. How can they be expected to have the same thought patterns as a student of pre-globalization era India?

Albert Einstein said,"We cannot solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when creating them", and this pretty much sums up my feelings for my professor's thoughts. There is a generation gap, and we have to accept it and modify accordingly. It is ridiculous to keep fooling yourselves that the world hasn't changed from where you stand. It is though, ironic that it is sheer economics that drove us to Liberalization and Globalization, as a result of which Indian students have way higher access to all those things that my professors blame for the students' so-called degradation - Internet, Video Games, I-pods, Laptops, PDAs, etc.

On the other hand, the field of education is fast becoming stagnant and redundant - Nintendo invested more than 204 million US dollars in their Research and Development; The U.S. Federal Government spent less than half that amount on research and innovation in education. Any guesses on how much India spends on changing the way education is imparted in it's schools and colleges?

The stubborn-ness on the part of the people on the other side of the wall to see this as plain, neutral change, rather than to label it as rot, social crisis, spoilt-brats-phenomenon, etc. will help a lot in decreasing the student-professor communication gap. The tutorial/classroom environment is a thing of the past. A student can learn economics on his computer listening to Pink Floyd, while getting updates on his personal interests from his internet feeds. He'll be learning on his own terms. The student of today will learn what he wants to learn, but does not generally want to be taught what he doesn't want to learn. The professors want to teach us what they learnt, but they have to realize that we want to learn something else.

This entire argument leads up to the illusion of a paradox - we have convergence of the world and yet, the students want to diverge. This is the thin fine line between intellect and intelligence. Between knowledge and thought. Between being taught and learning. Let the students learn, and in the process, I am sure so will you.

Yours Sincerely,
One of those usually-absent students.