Friday, June 11, 2010

College - Massachusetts or Madras?

I stumbled upon this site http://CS50.tv while searching for lectures on Computer science. The lecture videos on this site on the course “Introduction to Computer Science” were so impressive that I decided to probe a little more about the admission process and getting into Harvard and a few other American Universities. It is then that the stark contrast between our Indian system and the American system of Higher education jolted me. Here are some insights that I had derived…

mit-seal_400x400 MIT



First and the most distinct difference between US and Indian Colleges is the importance given to extra-curricular and co-curricular activities. Most Universities, if not all, in the US have a credit based course system. So, you get credits for every useful contribution you make to the university and towards your personal development. In the freshman year, which is the first year of college, you get to taste all the varied branches of study of your choice and have to choose the subjects you want to major in only before the beginning of the second year (Sophomore). This gives the students a very good exposure and inside view of all the courses offered by the University before making the choice. Compare this to the Indian system where a 12th pass adolescent, with all the hormonal surges, makes the choice of course based, mainly, on peer pressure and half-baked knowledge of the courses from their seniors. About 90% of the students don't even know what they want to do in life at that point.

Once they choose their course, they're stuck with it for the next three, four or five years. Some of them go into depression, not able to cope up with the work load that the course demands or having chosen a course that is diametrically opposite to their interests. Even after passing out from the course, successfully at that, 80% are considered unemployable. Why? You know why!

Now, going back to the US counterparts. Credits are awarded for any which way you prove your mettle. If you are a good sportsman, you are awarded sports credits for every training that you attend, for every match you play and for every game you win. If the student is interested in a project that benefits the society at large or the society within campus, he’s given credits. All this adds up. (S)he’s not penalised for not attending class, not performing extremely well in exams. Exams aren’t the be all and end all of it.

This doesn’t mean that people don’t need to study. The students at US universities work much harder than their Indian counterparts. As far as I’ve heard from my friends who have and are studying in US universities, everything is practical. You are swamped with assignments, projects and experiments that demand the application of the knowledge you have obtained in the classroom. It is not rote learning and vomiting in the exam paper as it is here. The courses are very demanding.

To add to it, the lecturers & books here spoon feed the students, making them lazy.

I'm guessing that this part of the reason foreign universities (in the developed world) produce quality than quantity of graduates. Here in India, every dog on the road (pardon the language) has a University degree. It is too cheap, too accessible and too easy to get a degree in India. Whereas in the US, nothing is as subsidised. Either you perform well to get a scholarship or be born in a filthy rich family to get a degree.

Another point about the US higher education is that students don't join a University course immediately after high school. Most of them work for a year or two, learn to earn their living and pay for their schooling themselves which inhibits many of them being able to afford or even preferring to get a degree to advance themselves, but those who do and everyone else realise the difficulty and value of the degree that they've earned.

I would like to say this at this juncture. In the US, degrees are earned, here they're awarded!

At these times of major education system overhaul at the primary level by our Education Minister Kabil Sibal, hoping to have something similar at the University level as well, I rest my case.