The ability to “THINK INDEPENDENTLY” is vital. 28 years into existence and having studied in India, I tend to reflect back on my journey. I have lived here in the US for over seven years and interacted with many kids and their parents.
A senior engineer from a reputed structural engineering firm was once giving us a guest lecture and at the end of it, posed a simple question. “Why should I hire you and pay you the salary you ask?” The answer was pretty simple. “TO THINK”
Life is all about having a solid foundation on basic principles, but at the end of the day, there are not many textbook problems in everyday life. The Indian system of education is very highly regarded in the world. After having been through the system, I find a few things that leave a sour taste.
In India, if you are one in a million, then there are a 1000 other people like you. The level of competition is ridiculous (I could not find another superlative). I know of parents waiting overnight in lines, that looped around the block two times, in order to get applications for enrollment into the top notch elementary schools. Every parent in India dreams of putting their child through the best education system that they can afford.
However, the system is ridden with problems. There is a very strong emphasis on Math and Science, not so much on art, literature etc. I come from a family of engineers and doctors (like most middle and upper middle class families in India). You would think that in a country with so many engineers/doctors/scientists, having the ability to think independently would be a given. In India you are not taught “to think”. I am not sure if you can really be taught to think, but you are not even encouraged to step “outside the box”.
The goal always is to score a better grade than everyone else. What this amounts to is rote learning. No one cares how much you actually know about a subject, rather how much you can regurgitate in a closed book examination.
I cannot think of any class (other than a solitary history class in Sixth grade) where I had an open book exam. It was all about memorization. You were taught what your teacher was taught when he/she was a child. There were never any discussions in class about current technology or new emerging trends. We always talked about pre-historic stuff. I understand the importance of knowing the past in order to understand the future, but many of my Indian friends will agree with me here on how dated our education is right from elementary school all the way through undergraduate programs. Few will argue that the IIT’s are comparable to any other school in the world, but IIT’s are not for the mainstream.
I am sure many of us Indians would have had exams with questions that read “Explain in your own words……” and I am willing to bet that 95% of the answers were the same (maybe with a few sentences changed). I did not ever see the point of “Explain in your own words” in a Science exam where everything is based on facts. Scientific principles don’t change based whether it is being said in your own words or Newton’s words. It all came down to rote learning.
A physics, mechanical engineering, statics/dynamics class should not be about memorizing the formula, but about how to apply the formula in a real world situation. Sadly,
none almost none of my Engineering classes had that as a core principle.
A sample physics exam would have an option of choosing between working out a problem or regurgitating how a Van de Graaff generator works. Again 90% of the students would take the safe bet of writing a long winded answer about the generator rather than take a chance working out the problem. Therein lies the problem with our system. The system always provided kids with an easy way out and given the competition, it was always prudent to get a better grade by answering the easier option.
I won’t even get to how many local university systems work with their question banks. That’s for another day.
The other big difference I found between India and the US is in relation to Magnet schools and gifted programs. In India, a smart kid was never given much attention because he would figure it out somehow. A lot of attention was given to kids that needed help. I am not saying that it is necessarily bad. In the US, if you are really good at something, there are more avenues for you to improve your already top-notch skills and make you the best at what you do.
I strongly feel that Indian system produces a lot of average Joes and a far fewer great minds than what it is really capable of. We are probably a lot better off making the above-average person into a really talented person, rather than make the below average into mediocre.
There I said it. Those were my $0.02. Always willing to have an open discussion. Feel free to comment.