(Although I had written this blog entry for the Contemporary Pedagogy Course in Spring 2012, based on the discussion that we had in the last class, I feel that it is relevant for this course as well.)
Indian students are generally forced to choose between one of the two fields – engineering or medical. “3 Idiots” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1187043/) is an Indian movie which has depicted this fact beautifully. One of the dialogues in that movie goes like this – “My father wants to know the sex of the unborn child as he wants to know whether there will be an engineer in the house or a doctor. If it’s a boy, he will be an engineer and if it’s a girl, she will be a doctor”. Although it might sound funny to people who are not used to statements like these, believe me, when I say that it’s one of the most commonly-held sentiments in an average Indian family.
The general view of the masses is that only an engineer/doctor can bring prosperity to the house. People (especially boys) who want to pursue a life in arts/humanities are typically termed “losers” and in order to succeed, they not only have to compete against their peers but the society (social stigma) as well. Considering the fact that India is the second most populous country in the world, one does not need the brains of an Einstein to figure out the immense cut-throat competition that a child has to go through to survive the first twenty years of his/her conscious existence.
However, there is a positive side to this as well. The individual who comes out of this highly pressurized system is ready to face any challenge that is thrown at him/her. Irrespective of the stream that he/she has followed, once he/she emerges successfully out of this “system”, he/she becomes an asset to the company/firm that he/she joins. He/She can hold his/her own against the toughest of opponents and the hardest of situations. It would not be wrong to say that he/she is the “coal” that has metamorphosed under immense pressure and strain to become what the world cherishes – a “diamond”. Thus, although this kind of an “education” system might be unbalanced and painful for those in it, in the long run, it does benefit the individual, in particular and the society at large.
Whereas my last blog (Higher Education System in China – as viewed through the eyes of a Foreigner), was directed towards higher education in general, this blog entry is focused more on the students that I have come across here. By here, I mean the North China Electric Power University (NCEPU) situated in the 5th ring of the bustling city of Beijing, the capital of China.
Till now, I have had the opportunity to talk with quite a few students who are pursuing their higher education here. We have had discussions in the presence as well as in the absence of their advisers, both inside the school as well as outside. And the quality that was most salient during all these discussions with them was the high level of motivation that they possessed. Irrespective of their individual fields of interest and number of years in school, their hunger for knowledge was as apparent as was their level of sincerity and dedication.
I have given two presentations till now and both of them have been followed by very specific and to-the-point questions. It was really amazing to see them pick things up as fast as they did and then try to apply it to solve their own problems. Their curiosity to know more about what people from other parts of the world are doing and their eagerness to learn those new concepts and incorporate them in their work are definitely the reasons why they are coming up so fast. As for me, to present about one’s work in front of such a talented group of students has been a rewarding experience in itself. As is to be expected, the discussions that have followed these talks have been highly mutually beneficial. I am eagerly looking forward to more of such interactions in the next few days.
During the course of this semester (Fall 2012), I got a chance to visit the North China Electric Power University (NCEPU) located in Beijing, China. I came here to give a talk on the research that I had done in my field at Virginia Tech. This trip provided me with a wonderful opportunity to view up-close the higher education system of the power group at NCEPU and through it, that of the nation itself. The fact that I am writing this blog while still on Chinese soil is an indication of the influence that it has had on me.
On my first day here, I got a chance to interact with the students who were working under the guidance of the professor who had invited us to China. We started talking about courses, research and classes. They had three, 2-hour courses for every subject in a week. I found out that here, more stress was given to the teaching done in class rather than homework/take-home assignments. There also appeared to be no mid-terms and surprise tests; just a final exam (although these could be specific to the program they were in). A lot of stress was given on publishing the results and making others aware of the work that they had done, as was apparent from the number of papers that the group had written in the recent past. Novelty of work was also emphasized as their PhD committee included two people which were unknown to the students and who would independently judge the quality of the dissertation.
Regarding the students themselves, the first thing that I noticed was their sincerity and dedication towards their work. The language was indeed a barrier initially (the courses being taught in Chinese, and all) but once we got over that, I found the students to be very bright and exceptionally fast on the uptake. The questions they asked were to the point and valid and the discussions that ensued were beneficial to both them as well as myself. I was also amazed to see the amount of respect and devotion that the students had for their professors/advisers.
It has been an interesting two days that I have spent here and am really looking forward to knowing more about the “Chinese way of imparting education” in the coming week.