All entries for Sunday 15 July 2007
July 15, 2007
What is the most beneficial aspect of acquiring a Western education? Is it the lucrative job that probably follows it?
Or is it the degree that not ridiculed by half of the developed world’s universities? Or is it, for some at least, the approval stamp of a foreign university that seems to be so much more alluring than an Indian one?
For me, however, studying in Britain for five years has been all about widening my horizons. From the moment I stepped off the plane at Heathrow in 2001, the world has suddenly seemed a much larger place. I seemed to be in a straitjacketing cocoon in India that cracked the very first day I spent alone in another country.
For one, you learn to be a lot more aware of your surroundings because you haven’t got your parents to cover your back. In 2007
- after finishing my A-levels, then a degree and then working for a year in the United Kingdom - I’m left with a far greater understanding and deeper appreciation of what the world around me is like.
Everyone invariably speaks from within the contours of his or her particular context and experiences. I am no different.
Much of what I feel are the strengths of Western education comes from the fact that I studied a joint honours degree in History and Politics, and not Information Technology or Medicine that most Indian students tend to prefer.
Aside from the possible availability of better research laboratories in the UK, I cannot comment on the merits of the education system in science-related subjects in the UK.
I remember one of the major things that alienated the Indian school education system to me was the expectation that students can memorise large chunks of information to reproduce in the examinations. Another was coercing students to study certain ‘compulsory subjects’ beyond a certain age.
I really didn’t want to grapple with the intricacies of Hindi linguistic theory beyond Class X, but as my first language I would have had to.
I didn’t feel the need to memorise even the finest details of the subjects I studied at A-level, although the points of Lord Asquith’s cabinet in the first decade of the 20th century, or European competition laws were taught in their finest detail.
The trick was to do plenty of real-life case studies and projects in the classroom, which automatically drilled the knowledge in the students by the time the exams came around at the end of the year. I could give the exam without even spending too much time on revision because of how deeply the knowledge had penetrated my intellect—and I still remember those details.
Half of my friends in India cannot remember a word of most of their study materials from Class XI or XII.
Moreover, it always occurred to me that classifying students by academic streams viz. science, arts and commerce was rather unnecessary and arbitrary. There is none of that in Britain, and students are free to choose whatever four subjects they want at A-level.
I chose Business Studies, Government and Politics, History and Information Technology. This would have been impossible in India. This allowed me
- and all students - to focus on what I liked, and since the interest was already there, to genuinely care for what I was studying.
At the school, and later on a much greater scale at the university level, there were two key strengths of the British education system compared to the Indian one.
First, the focus on improving the students’ methodology was very strong. Indeed, strong historiography was rewarded much more than listing every single fact you knew about a topic.
Students could get top marks by listing 70% of the facts, but stitching together their answers in an academically sound manner. The converse was not applicable—all facts and a poor structure will not get you more than 60% (B).
I was noting down footnotes diligently while I was doing my school project on Indian independence. At university we were taught the intricacies of the Oxford and Harvard system of referencing and I adhered strictly to the former. My friends in Indian universities had no clue about the proper methodologies even after graduation.
The second thing was the emphasis on developing student-generated original research, particularly at the university level. Perhaps here is where the difference between a developed and developing country is blatantly obvious. Not many government departments in India, let alone universities, can boast of annual revenues of ₤300 million (Rs 230 crores) to upgrade university facilities.
Every single journal of repute in every single subject was available to us on our computers. Most books of note published in every subject were in our library, which was adding to its shelves on a daily basis. Books are being converted into e-books, journals are stored electronically to free up space for new entries and magazines were held dating back to the previous century. None of this is present in India.
All this helped students to be up to date in their opinions, and this in turn fostered their minds to devise original answers to questions on the basis of a strong research-oriented outlook. Answers with original content backed up by heavy research were handsomely rewarded, while mugging up won’t even earn you passing marks.
A wide number of workshops, projects, seminars and discussion sessions helped us bounce off ideas against each other. The actual curriculum stipulated one seminar discussion with a professor every week on each module, where students basically threw seething criticisms at their colleagues’ thesis while the sober academic calmly took notes of how each student defended his/her ideas.
This personalised treatment was present even in schools. Each answer of mine received details comments
- positive and negative - by the teachers. I used to put my mugging up skills to good use initially, but after the structural defects were pointed out by my teachers, I slowly changed track and acquired those very important methodological techniques instead of writing whatever I knew about a subject.
On the other hand, I have always found that students
- and adults - prefer to quote eminent personalities to defend their views. Is it because they lack views of their own?
I haven’t mentioned anything about extra-curricular facilities that are part of the holistic education system in the West. But you can get details of student union parties, impressive sports facilities at particular institutions and the local nightlife in any careers magazine in India these days.
I have instead focused on the core of what advantages there are of a Western education system apart from the added frills. Needless to say, some will scoff, saying that I am servile to the West. But dear reader, do you think the education system in India is actually Indian in nature? Hardly.
Our curriculum content, ideologies and structures within which we educate our students are bad emulations of Victorian England [Images]. There is nothing authentic about India’s education system, so we should stop defending it as if it’s the direct descendent of the gurukul system.
I have tried to portray how structural and methodological changes can greatly help our students without the need for installing expensive facilities, which seems to be a convenient excuse for the current stagnation.