Friday, 11 May 2012

Higher Education: Aims and Objectives

 In response to Mr. S.R. Durai Eswaran's letter published in Reader's
 Mail section of New Delhi edition of The Hindu dated November 07, 2005
  
   Reader's Mail (The Hindu)
   http://www.hindu.com/2005/11/07/stories/2005110705770300.htm
  
                      IIT Roorkee's ways

   I joined the M.Tech course in the Earthquake Department of IIT Roorkee in June 2004 after clearing GATE with a score of 92.85. GATE-qualified candidates are eligible for an MHRD (Ministry of Human Resource Development) stipend of Rs.5,000 per month. Then I came to know that in the Earthquake Department during the previous year the professors had detained and sent out 50 per cent of the students registered with the department (including many with GATE scores above 99), wasting their one precious year. They were asked to pay back the total stipend to get their GATE score card back!

   As I was not ready to take the risk of wasting one precious year, I left that course and took another course in the Civil Department in the self-financing category. I thus lost my monthly stipend of Rs.5,000 because of the arbitrary policy of the Earthquake Department. How can they detain 50 per cent of the students thus?

 S. R. Durai Eswaran,
 F-105, Jawahar Bhawan, 
 IIT Roorkee.

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It is indeed heartening to note that the students at IIT Roorkee feel
free to voice their opinion publicly on issues pertaining to academic
matters of the institute. This proves that I.I.T. Roorkee has
succeeded in creating an open environment on the campus in line with
Sri Rabindranath Tagore's dream (as envisioned in his celebrated
poem--Gitanjali). Unfortunately, Mr. Durai Eswaran has chosen to
imbibe only the freedom of expression and seems to have given the
emphasis on knowledge and tireless striving a complete go by. Mr.
Durai Eswaran has not presented the facts correctly and seems to have
concluded hastily on the basis of inadequate/wrong data.

We wish to put forward the following points to ponder in view of Mr.
Durai Eswaran's comments.

Factual Errors:

The figure of 50% of the registered students being sent back is
not correct. The academic programme of a total of 6 students
out of 21 registered that year was terminated at the end of
first semester on account of poor academic performance. The
Grade Point Average of these students was in range 1.3-4.67 as
against the institute requirement of a minimum of 5.00 (out of
a maximum of 10.00) for continuation of programme. Such a low
grade point average clearly indicates these students had
serious difficulty in coping with the academic workload and had
performed poorly across the board in all courses including one
offered by the Department of Mathematics. This is particularly
so when the evaluation for a course in I.I.T. is done
continuously over the entire semester and is not based on the
performance in just one final examination. Given the heavy
subsidy that goes into funding of the higher education, the
students are expected to earn their assistantships--not claim
it as a matter of right!

Difference between Undergraduate and Postgraduate Education:

Each milestone in the process of learning is associated with a
set of target skills and values. While the undergraduate
education is all about development of problem solving skills
with the application of existing knowledge, the emphasis of
postgraduate education is on the development of analytical
ability and capability to develop new knowledge and
methods/techniques. Familiarity with the fundamental concepts
in science and engineering is considered as a given in
postgraduate education. It is the students' lack of
appreciation of the objectives and aims of postgraduate
education that leads to a miserable performance in postgraduate
courses even though they had demonstrated excellent problem
solving skills (a.k.a. high GATE scores).

High GATE score: Is it a valid measure of intellect?

The GATE score is just an index for the purpose of admissions
to academic programmes. It is--like any other objective measure
of intellect--not without its limitations. Like the Joint
Entrance Examination for admission to undergraduate programmes
in I.I.T., several coaching centres provide intensive coaching
to secure high score in GATE--an examination to test the
problem solving skill achieved at the end of undergraduate
programme. This does not necessarily imply that a person with
high GATE score will have very good analytical skill.

We are thankful to Mr. Durai Eswaran for giving us an opportunity to
address our concern at root of this problem of non-performance of
supposedly good students in some postgraduate programmes. The quality
of undergraduate technical education in the country has been declining
steadily over the past several years. Most of the students that we
admit to our postgraduate courses are completely blank about the
fundamental concepts. This complete lack of analytical ability is
possibly caused due to encouragement of learning by rote in most of
the universities and colleges in this country. The picture is rather
gloomy as the academic performance of a student in most of the
universities and colleges is measured on the basis of scores in final
examination which encourages memory driven approach to taking
examination--not quite sustainable in the long run!

Finally, we would like to point out that mere securing admission to an
institution of higher learning does not guarantee the award of a
degree from that institute. The students have to earn their
degrees/diplomas and having earned them they should feel proud of
themselves!!

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