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Walking down the stairs of my office for a class, I overheard a group of my students discussing about a colleague:  “yaar, that Prof is OK, but he makes us work so damn hard! Why? Why do we need to work so hard on assignments, projects, seminars etc. when we don’t need half of that in the courses? Why can’t we do what we wanted to do?” I smiled at the concern — very true.

I had no reason to interrupt, did not want to interrupt in the conversations either, so hurried down the stairs. But, have been thinking about these statements since then.  In fact, have been thinking of  a tea-time conversation during my student days, when one of my seniors said mockingly, “these young faculty members are such chameleons. The moment they turn their tables from student-ship to faculty-ship they think that they are Einsteins. Damn! they make you work so hard unnecessarily!”  In another instance, a student wrote, “she/he thinks he/she is a great Prof. and makes us work more than we would have worked in an Elec course”  …. True — very true 🙂 .

Let us try turning the tables. A colleague who teaches in another University in Western India recently confided,  “I have a strange issue. What do I teach my students? They seem to be knowing everything from the Internet — whatever I need to discuss with them, they already know that. I am facing a problem of too much knowledge rather than too little. ” I gave it a thought and said to her,  ” is it the problem of too much-knowledge or half-cooked knowledge? Maybe we need to recycle  the knowledge already available on Internet and deliver the applications of that, so as it make it possibly more interesting for people who are learning?”

True that ignorance can be handled, but over-intelligence is a tough-nut. However, my observation is that if the world is producing over-intelligent, hyper-think-tank people, then where are the gen-next Einsteins or Keats or Sartre or Virginia Woolf or Wiener or Gallagher? No, I don’t mean to say that these were the only great people of the world or that there is some canon there — my concern is that are we actually finding academic egotism in places that are supposed to be higher in the so called “rankings”? Some of my friends who have not been in any Indian ‘great’ academic systems and belong to humble colleges across the country have shown much more intellectual breadth and  broad-mindedness than many of the ‘elites’. It is a subjective issue you would argue.

Why are we not producing lateral thinking, perspectivizing human beings, rather than ideologically stubborn, information-crammed citizens? In the last guest post that was published on Iris, a reader commented that ‘people comment on only love stories and Bollywood masala rather than on issues of social and emotional concerns’ (paraphrased). That is perhaps because we live in a world of denial rather than acceptances. Simply knowing facts and relating facts to knowledge  are two different things.

There is another aspect that comes to my mind when we are talking of teaching and learning.  This part pertains to the social dimensions.  When people have thoughts that they are over-working due to unnecessary pressure, there are also places in India including some legendary colleges and universities where there are NO teachers and where there is an acute shortage of faculty — forget about quality faculty. There are strikes and sine die in many Universities and Institutes just because there is no one to teach. There are learners but no teachers in these places. Many new aided-colleges across India have students who might have paid an amount that would be difficult for their parents or themselves to arrange. There are institutes of high repute which face faculty crunch due to geographical deterrent or else managements or cultural factors. The supply demand chain is highly skewed there — students are willing to learn but there is no one to teach there.

Places like IITs and Central Universities have been fortunate to attract some bright people as students as well as faculties. But on the one hand when there is an excess, on the other, there is also an absence. Sometime when you work in a village school taking a break from your ‘high-profile research’, you will be suddenly refreshed — not because there is a glorification of your education, but because there is a yearning to learn. An acqauinatance who is a senior scientist in a research lab came from a humble village school. He was the only person in that village who subscribed to an English newspaper during his high-school days and the newspaper would always be three days delayed from the date of publication — yet, he would enjoy reading it.

Another small example of the yearning to learn. This time it is Prof. P.C. Kar’s (I am deliberately taking his name) example. Those who know him, know that he is an extremely humble human-being, but one of the strongest academicians in Literature.  As a graduate student, I had once had a chance to  closely observe him during a workshop. We were making series grad-student presentations on theory. During each presentation I saw him quietly sitting in a corner and taking down notes. Whenever he had a query he would either request the student to help him learn or else he would go back read the notes, read and come back to discuss. Any new book that would come to the library, he would suggest: “If you cannot read the book, at least touch it and smell the pages — there is something very enigmatic about the smell of the leaves of a book”.

Evan Esar once said, “America believes in education: the average professor earns more money in a year than a professional athlete earns in a whole week”. In India the scenario is skewed and strange. We cannot take the American model always in our own context — the Indian psyche works at a different scale. In my opinion, education here has a different rationale — we still need a lot of teaching along with the emphasis on research, because the level of education and understanding is yet to reach the global benchmark. The concern is not learning, teaching or ignorance — the concern is an apathy towards knowledge in a consumerist society.

This time the other section of my readers will complain that I have not got any humane tale to narrate for this weekend’s post, no Bollywood and no love stories — let us keep that for the Valentine’s week 🙂 . Just a short unrelated gossip — late evening I heard someone singing outside with a dholak, “Saajan mera ush paar hai milne ko dil beqarar hai” (“my love is on the other side of the riverbank, and my heart craves to meet him”) … curious that I am, went to out to see from my balcony where the wedding was. To my surprise, I found a group of middle-aged women singing the song in the courtyard of the nearby temple. This happens only in India — we rationalize everything as philosophy.

On that note, signing off. Goodnight! Take care and keep reading 🙂 ….

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