Monday, November 23, 2009

The 'F' letter

When as an undergrad I came across the Feynman lecture series, it was an eye opener to me as a young guy trying to figure out his major options. I will not claim that I have become a master in physics, but, definitely that particular rendezvous with the series was one of the many incidents that motivated me to pursue the subject even though I terribly failed in capturing the intricate details of simple phenomena. That's a different picture all together. But the reason I write this, since today I am standing at a point in my life where very soon I will be facing the undergrad, that I was long-back, trying to figure out his or her options. But before going into anything else, let me go back few years to April 2005, when Matthew Sands wrote the story of the series in Physics Today. If you follow the link you will read that, this series is actually a compilation of lectures given by Feynman to undergrads at Caltech. There I remember reading a particular section where Feynman asked Sands, what was the class average for the final exams. Sands thought it was pretty good at 65%. Feynman's response was something completely different. He simply said the students should have done better and Feynman was a failure. The reason for pointing out this particular incident is that the overall performance of the class does not only reflect on the class or batch but on the teacher too. This simple fact is ignored by most teachers now a days when they face a difficult class.

I do not have a lot of teaching experience and the small amount of experience that I have, I am not sure if I failed or not. Anyway, coming to the 'F' letter in academics it stands for only one thing probably when come to classroom teaching that is fail or failed or failure. It can stick to both students or teachers. But in India, teachers are non-sticky like the famous special material coated non-stick cookware. Nothing sticks on them, whether they dole out the famous letter or force somebody by their action to leave this earthly abode. The main reason for writing this blog is not criticism but rather an insight into my own ideas about a feedback system that is needed for higher education in India. The system judges the students by taking exams and tests and accordingly rewards it in various ways. A similar evaluation and reward process should exist for teachers as well. As a student I felt that reward system does exist for teachers in the form of promotions, special chairs etc but I am not sure if as a teacher the person sees them as reward or his birth right. The more important thing is that, the student and teacher should be more of a friend, rather than being enemies out there to outsmart each other and in the end if the teacher is outsmarted he forcefully fails as many as he can. The learning process I believe is most effective if the environment is cordial. The effort to create such an atmosphere should come from both sides-the teacher and the student. The teacher being a very powerful entity in the Indian sense, with the special letter, the move to lighten the atmosphere should come from the teachers end and then the students have to reciprocate accordingly. I do remember some incidents from my undergrad days when friendly teachers were considered as meek. That, I feel was the problem of the system unable to control its components. But in a system, say like the premier institutes in India, where indiscipline is dealt swiftly and strictly, evolving a cordial system may not be completely impossible. I guess there is no pride in giving the 'F' letter. The more you give the more you yourself fail but care should be taken that one is not too lenient as well. After all a system is designed to fairly judge ones accomplishments. The line between a fair judge and an outsmarted teacher is very thin and that is where lies the distinction between those who nurture great minds and those who kill the society with a red pen and a simple letter.

1 comment:

Shubhro said...

What a wonderful heartfelt congratulations for this one....the remark that you've so aptly put in here is sure to be achieved and my heart definitely goes out to those who has suffered so much being on the receiving end of this system....a very well written article...