Archive for the ‘My views on Indian Education System’ Category

How teachers can make teaching of Science interesting?

November 18, 2013

Science study is all about discovery; it cannot but be interesting. While unusual individuals like Rishis of yore or Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan in recent times, can start exploring Science all by themselves, many of our generation are fortunate to be taught Science in schools. Luckier than the students who learn Science in the classroom are those of you who teach Science to the youngsters. Here are some tips to make Science teaching and learning interesting

 

1 Explore: As I mentioned earlier, it is all about discovery; learning by doing is as important as learning to listen to the teacher in the class or to repeat the experiments in the Laboratory. Do not structure it too much; let the students not try to match exactly the results the teachers expect, but let them “deviate”; in the process, they will explore and learn. Some of the greatest discoveries in Science happened due to such “deviations”. Who knows you may discover yet another Isaac Newton or Srinivasa Ramanujan right in your class!

 

2 Science has no boundaries: For the sake of convenience we divide Science into Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and so on, but Science is a continuum; do not limit to Physical Sciences alone; Social Sciences are equally important. Let the student discover what she / he is best at; help the student to explore further. It is particularly important in India, where we tend to put Physical Sciences (that need expensive equipment) at a higher pedestal than Social Sciences (that can be done at near zero cost).

 

3 Go out to discover: In traffic-infested cities in India, you have no option but to confine the students to the crowded classrooms. Those of you who are lucky enough to have space around, do encourage students to look at Nature – insects, animals, water, air, fire and more importantly stars; there is so much to explore. The buildings around you temples and cathedrals have so much to teach too. Do not underestimate them. Encourage the students to ask questions; there are NO stupid questions!

 

4 Internet and Gadgets are great: Nothing attracts today’s GenNext (Facebook, Twitter generation) better than Internet gadgets. There are amazing pieces of content – Courseware (OCW), Encyclopedia (Wikipedia), for example, or Apps like “Periodic Table” that are at once absorbing and immersive. Make use of them if your children can afford. There are some amazing games too that are worth looking at; not all games are violent games that keep children hooked for hours!

 

5 Go beyond gadgets: It is equally important for the children to explore Science in everyday life; ask them to discover patterns in “rangoli”, “pallu design” in Kanjeevaram silk sari, “ragas” in music or “moves” in a chess game. Ask them to look at traffic pattern in a busy intersection, disease occurrence pattern in your neighborhhod, or waiting time outside an elevator; they have so much to teach!

 

6 Do not underestimate the power of books: Books will continue to be an important part of Science learning. Amazing books by outstanding authors (in electronic or print form) will continue to engage and inspire. Look at recent options like Pratham Books (thanks to Rohini Nilekani) that are very affordable even for rural children.

 

These are just a few tips; a teachers network will let you find many more! Go explore and lets together create a generation of children interested, excited and inspired by Science. The second half of 21st Century in India will be far more interesting!

(Appeared in Times of India November 18, 2013)

Ten Tech Tools – A must-have for Higher Education

October 1, 2013

Every student and teacher in a University setting – be it science, engineering, medicine, business, law, architecture or music – must have mastery over some key tools that are “must have”. Here are the Top 10 tools (my pick!)

Higher education is all about Lectures, Laboratories and Library; together with the other three Life it makes up for the 4L’s of Learning. I have picked nine tools for the first three and one tool for Life!

  1. Learning Management System (LMS): LMS provides electronic support to the entire learning environment outside the classroom. This includes electronic delivery of slides and other lecture notes, reading materials and case studies; distribution and collection of home works, projects, assignments and examinations; feedback to students by way of corrected answer scripts and optionally online polls, surveys and feedback to teachers from students, typically, at the end of the term. Of the many LMS tools Moodle (Moodle.org) is the most widely used one across Institutes of higher learning in the world; it is free, open source, easy to customize, and, enjoys large base of developers / volunteers to help in customizing and bug-fixing. Blackboard (www.blackboard.com) is another widely used commercial LMS tool. LMS tools have been around for more than a decade.
  1. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC): MOOC represents a new trend in higher education. It is an effort to democratize higher education and take the best learning experience available in some of the best Institutions in the world (Stanford and MIT, for example), to any one in the world, using the power of the Internet. MOOC’s go beyond just the lecture materials and videos (MIT’s Open courseware or IIT’s NPTEL). MOOC provide lectures AND assessment. Coursera (www.coursera.org) started in 2012, is perhaps the best known among several MOOCs today. Pioneered by Professor Daphne Koller of Stanford University, Coursera has courses in Computer Science, Business, Engineering, Medicine and Social Sciences from 70 Universities including Stanford, Princeton and University of Michigan. Interestingly, Professor Daphne Koller is the first recipient of ACM Infosys Prize in 2007!
  1. Inspiring online talks: Teachers who inspire are small in number, but a very large number of students would naturally like to benefit from them. Making many inspiring talks available to everyone on this planet has been the motive behind many experiments including Khan Academy (www.Khanacademy.org), that makes more than 5,000 videos on many subjects accessible to school children. For University students, the best source of inspiring talks is undoubtedly the TED Talks (www.ted.com); these are 18-minute long, very high quality videos of inspiring talks from the world’s best known experts (Nobel Prize winners, outstanding professors from Ivy League Universities and other leading thinkers). As of today more than 1,500 TED talks are available for free viewing online and they have been watched more than one billion times!
  1. Studying together: Students everywhere, and more so in India, like to study together. It is one thing to communicate – talk on the phone, SMS, Chat, email and Facebook; but what is more important is to seriously collaborate and learn from each other. LMS helps to collaborate with the teacher; but a lot of learning happens when students collaborate with other students (seek clarifications, clear doubts, share common ideas, work on a project etc.,). With Internet being available everywhere (at least for University students) what can be better than to use the Net as a key collaborative platform. While there are general purpose tools (SharePoint from Microsoft or Acrobat from Adobe), OpenStudy (www.openstudy.com) is perhaps best suited for studying together with other students in Institutions outside of your own. You can ask questions, connect with other students across the globe and get help. Starting at Georgia Tech, OpenStudy has grown today and benefits 150,000 students in 180 countries! Interestingly, the co-founder of OpenStudy is Chennai-born Preetha Ram!
  1. Virtual Labs: In addition to lectures, lab experiments form a key component of learning. Much lab equipment is very expensive; they need technicians who can be expensive too. A number of attempts have been made in the past decade to make some of the Lab equipment available for students outside the laboratories (often only found in rich universities and research Labs). iLab from MIT (ilab.mit.edu) is the best known among such experiments currently underway at many Institutions, including some of the IIT’s and IIIT’s in India. Using sophisticated software to schedule and interface with a variety of equipment like spectrometer, signal analyzer, heat exchanger and robot, iLab makes costly sophisticated equipment available even to poor students in remote rural areas.
  1. Cloud storage: A key requirement of a learning environment in a university is to keep track of a variety of instructional materials (lecture notes, slides, exam copies, project presentation, Lab reports, field visit reports, photos, audio / video recordings of interviews etc.,). In today’s online world, you need a storage piece that is not tied to a specific piece of hardware (PC, Server, and Mainframe), software (Unix, Windows. Mac, iOS and Android), or even an organization (department, college, university). This is where cloud storage comes in handy. Though Google (Google Drive) and Microsoft (SkyDrive) offer their own versions of cloud storage, my favorite is Dropbox that is a free service that lets you store documents (reports, spreadsheets, databases, PDF files), photos, songs, audio / video recordings effortlessly across multiple devices. Create a “DropBox” folder on every device that you use and the files stored on this folder are available on every device; Dropbox magically “syncs” the content automatically when the devices are connected; in addition, you can access them from anywhere using a Web-browser.

 

  1. Scholarly search: As you go past the first couple of terms in any University, you soon realize the need for reading a lot of research papers on a daily basis; you also need to organize the papers you read /referenced and finally the papers you author. You need to organize bibliography too; there are specific ways in which specific journals expect the author to cite references, including web references, and formatting & re-formatting for submission across multiple journals can be a non-trivial task! Later, when you meet other colleagues in conferences or apply for jobs, you need a count of citations of your papers (a first-level indicator of the quality of the paper) as well as impact factor of the journals a first-level indicator of the quality of the journal) you publish or plan to publish. Though there are tools from IEEE and ACM to help you with some of these tasks, Google Scholar is perhaps the best tool for your scholarly search. As a source it indexes the full text of scholarly research (both free and paid sources) across many disciplines; unlike expensive options like Scopus (from Elsevier) or Web of Science (from Thomson),  that only rich universities can afford, Google Scholar is free. Interestingly, one of the two architects of Google Scholar is IIT-Kharagpur alumnus Anurag Acharya.
  1. Personal library of research articles: Todays students and faculty members in Universities have access to good Library that subscribes to hundreds of journals. As a growing researcher one starts building personal library of scholarly literature that includes “must read” papers. Till the year 2000 when many journals embraced the digital world, most Libraries of Universities (except those that were part of rich Universities) could not subscribe to scholarly research journals. Things have improved in the past decade, thanks to Consortium-based subscriptions like INDEST. Google Scholar type services provide good indexing and abstract services, but access to full text is still limited to Libraries. There are many attempts to create “personal library” of full-text papers including services from IEEE and ACM, but JSTOR (www.jstor.org) is my favorite particularly for those outside of Computer Science area. JSTOR – a not-for-profit organization – meets this demand; over the years, JSTOR has digitized and indexed a very large number of journal articles and makes the full text accessible to even Libraries with limited budget. Current issues of many paid journals too are available after a “moving wall” (a specified period after the journal is published)
  1. E-Book Reader: As the Gen Next moves to an all digital world, todays students and faculty members need access to scholarly search and personal library of research articles as well as full texts and technical reports (often embellished with multimedia, hyper-text references to Web-sites and even some Lab equipment (as in MIT iLab). In short, access to e-Book Reader is a must; the reading experience must be great, the collection must be rich, there must be a way to book mark, there must be a provision for resonantly large collection (dozens, if not hundreds of books) and the interface must be intuitive. While there are a large number of formats including open formats like ePub from IDPF (idpf.org), my favorite is Apple iBooks and Amazon Kindle. Apple iBooks is an application that is extremely good to read, annotate, share and search eBooks (from multiple publishing formats), though only available on Apple products (Mac, iPad, iPhone). Amazon Kindle is a hardware device as well as an application that can be used over multiple OS (Windows, Apple Mac and iOS); Amazon has launched an India-store as well. There are still several issues on the formats and the business models that are being fought in the courts, but as “a budding tomorrow’s professional”, you should start getting used to one or the other e-Book Reader.
  1. Data-based decision tools: Unlike the earlier nine tools, students and faculty members in Universities should start looking at ways of getting the facts right about many events, things and organizations around us. Search engines like Google and Bing give us pointers to data, but not often data itself; also the data is inaccurate, not from reliable source or dated; in fact the data is not good enough for any meaningful decision making. As tomorrow’s decision makers, it is important that University students cultivate a habit of data-based decisions. In this direction Wolfram Alpha, from the same people who gave us Mathematica is something that you all must watch. Wolfram Alpha calls itself “a computational knowledge engine”; it provides data about a town, an Institute, a country or about a phenomenon in a meaningful way using “curated” data and not mere pointers to websites that have information. Try “MIT”, “New Delhi”, “United Kingdom” and “Bangalore Weather” on Wolfram Alpha to get a feel for computation knowledge engine. It uses extensive computation and uses a very sophisticated knowledge engine. Such services will evolve over the years but it is high time you start getting used to such a service that goes beyond lecture, laboratory and library into a life skill!

All the best

Professor Sowmyanarayanan Sadagopan is the Director of IIIT-Bangalore. These are his personal views. He can be reached at s.sadagopan@gmail.com

(Appeared in EDU Magazine, October 2013)

Cutoff marks – Do they cutoff the opportunities too?

June 29, 2013

Come June every year, it is ”admissions time” and one starts hearing “cutoff marks” used by different Institutions. It could be Delhi with so many constituent colleges or Bangalore with so many autonomous colleges, but the story is same. Students are frustrated with artificially high cutoffs like 99.999, if not 100%; parents are aghast with the insensitivity of Institutions; and, the general public gets a feeling ”it must all be a farce”. Why is it so only in India?

 

It is not unique to India, but nowhere else it is this acute. The reasons are varied though.

 

First and foremost, as a country we have not been successful in creating large enough number of high-quality Institutions in the past 65 years. The regulations in India punish the honest ones and reward the dishonest ones! Naturally, much larger numbers of students seek admission into far less number of seats. China has done an amazing job of creating a large number of first rate Institutions with large capacity in the past two decades, and, we should learn from them.

 

Second, is the lack of transparency. Most Institutions do not publish as a standard practice, the actual percentage of students who finally joined the college. What you get to see is the first set of announcements; since the same students apply to dozens of colleges, the actual position is known only after several weeks! No one bothers to share that information transparently. It is due to this reason that the applicant to student ration in IIT’s is higher than MIT or Stanford! It is worthwhile emulating USA that has SAT (after High School) and GRE (after Undergraduate degree) as Common Admission Test for admission to all colleges across the country.

 

Third, is the lack of coordination among Institutions; students in India have the option of studying anywhere, but they have to apply for every Institution or a group of Institutions) independently, often at great cost and effort. A small country like UK has an online system UCAS, that processes millions of applicants from around the globe, to thousands of courses spread across hundreds of Institutions. With its IT prowess, Indian companies are able to build such systems for overseas clients, but not for any clients in India! One hopes that in the near future systems like UCAS in UK that addresses the entire life cycle of the admission processes – information, guidance, counseling, actual application, tacking, final admission and publishing tons of useful reports for guiding students, parents, education administrators and policy planners.

 

Fourth, is the societal issue; parents not going through a rational process, but using all forms of pressures to get admission for their wards into Institutions, and admission decisions of even well-run Institutions not respected by the Civil Society. In the process, even courts are brought into the picture. Courts should interfere, if there is anything illegal about admissions, but in India courts sometime are forced to decide, even if a question is out of syllabus or whether an IIT has been very harsh with a set of students in their evaluation! Plus the artificial barriers created in the name of equity to rural / urban, poor /rich, advantaged / disadvantaged that creates more division than inclusion!Good institutes and their administration with excellent governance must be trusted by the Society at large; with less legal and social pressures colleges too will play a more natural and transparent game that will benefit everyone in the long run!

 

(Appeared in Times of India, June 29, 2013)

Chennai-based IMSC (Institute of Mathematical Sciences) of the Department of Atomic Energy commissions supercomputer Annapurna

July 31, 2010

On July 30, 2010 DAE (Dept of Atomic Energy) Chairman Banerjee inaugurated the Rs 6 Crores supercomputer built by IMSC (Institute of Mathematical Sciences) scientists. It is the third fastest machine after the ones at IISc (Indian Institute of Science) and TIFR (Tata Institute of Fundamental Research).

Sometime back a team from IMSC built one of the Top 500 global supercomputer “Kabru” under the leadership of Prof Hari Dass. Using just about $ 500,000, the group could build a 144-node Linux cluster which was the fastest tera-scale facility (1.0002 Tera-flops per second) among educational institutions in India then. Interestingly, this cluster was one of the Top500 Super-computers in the world in the year 2004.

Premji University is a reality today

March 18, 2010

On March 18, 2010 Karnataka Assembly approved the establishment of Azim Premji University with a single-minded focus on improving the supply side of high quality teachers and educational administrators – the corner-stone of the emerging knowledge economy of India.

It is indeed a welcome development. The University has seen homework for nearly two years!

It is strange that politicians oppose any move just because they are in the opposition!

IIMA Professor on IIM pay packages

March 12, 2010

For a while the Indian media have been projecting a “much more than rosy” picture of the “fat” salary that IIM graduates reportedly get

Figures of “Crores of Rupees” routinely get mentioned.

This has led to “heart burns” for students and the general public who actually get salaries that are far below.

The mushrooming B Schools in the country use such news item to “lure” potential candidates

Unfortunately, so far most Institutes were not “bold enough” to tell the world that what gets reported is NOT truth, though the item portrays the Institutes in a formidably positive way.

In this backdrop I am so happy that Professor Saral Mukherjee, Placement Head, IIM-A decided to write a very balanced article “Truth about astronomical IIM salary packages” in Economic Times on March 12, 2010.

The learned professor’s words “”It is a signal to the world that IIM-A students are mature enough to disassociate themselves from a very flattering portrayal if the portrayal is not true” should make IIM-A proud

I wish EVERY member of B School Management, faculty and students read this article

Theater @ Campus in IIIT-B on Feb 13, 2010

February 14, 2010

It was truly amazing to see YoursTrulyTheater Group an interesting form of Theater that involves the audience!

Their ability to “in situ” create scenes out of just a few words from the audience that too relating to the particular campus was touching

We were proud to have our own alumnus (Sumit Acharya of the Class of 2004 who works for Oracle) as part of TAC Group

I do hope one day we can teach Software Engineering through such form of Theater!

Reliance Foundation to set up a world class university in India

January 10, 2010

Reliance Foundation (the philanthropic arm of Reliance Industries of Mukesh Ambani) is planning a full-fledged University (on the lines of Harvard and Univ of Pennsylvania) in India.

It will be an interesting to watch.

Except BITS Pilani no private enterprise has ventured into higher education at this level. Reliance University could be a tipping point!

IIT-The Road Ahead

November 1, 2009

Education Times Division of Times of India is starting a new feature “Interaction”

As part of the new initiative they had organized a Panel Discussion on IIT-The Road Ahead on October 31, 2009 (3 to 5 PM)

I was asked to modetate a panel consisting of distinguidhed individuals –

  1. Prof R Natarajan,   Former Chairman, AICTE (Former Director, IIT Madras)
  2. Mr Ananth Koppar, Founder Kshema Tech & KTwo Tech (IIT Kharagpur Alum)
  3. Mr Ashok Kamath Chair Akshara Foundation & Former CEO Analog Devices India (IIT Bombay Alum)

I was invited thanks to my 16 years at IIT Kanpur (and a year at IIT Madras too)

We deliberated on five issues

  1. The recent controversy on cut-offs for JEE aspirants moving from 60% to 80%
  2. The percieved brand dilution due to hurriedly starting seven IITs in just a year
  3. The recent stand-off between IIT faculty and the Government and the resultant strike by IIT faculty
  4. Are  IIT’s contributing enough  on research front?
  5. Do students join IITs only for lucrative managerial careers by joining IIMs?

It was interesting to listen to the esteemed Panelists and the interaction between them and the 50+ audience consisting mostly of IIT aspirants in Schools and their parents

IIT faculty on hunger strike

September 25, 2009

Without hurting teaching and other academic activity the faculty members of the prestigious IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology) went on a hunger strike protesting against the spirit of Government control and the pay structures announced recently.

It is a sad day; sad that IIT faculty have to resort to such a measure; added to this sadness is the fact that a well-meaning Government, Minister and the establishment have to let such a thing happen.

One hopes an early end to this deadlock; there must be a better way to resolve such deadlocks!