Education today

Amal Chatterjee
8 min readAug 20, 2017
Source : Google photo

When I was a graduate student here in the Philippines at a local university, there was one professor who taught nothing during the entire semester and spent his time smoking outside the class room and chatting with some students. His favorite ploy was to give the students a topic on which he was supposed to write a paper with another co student and solely graded on its basis.

I have attended three different universities in three countries and can fairly asses the qualities of teachers in each. I was told that in pedagogical institutes where the teachers are supposed to be trained in the art of teaching, they are taught to prepare a lesson plan, a plan for the whole semester to cover the curriculum and the dates on which exams are to be held, a deadline for the submission of term papers etc. The teacher is supposed to do this on his first day of teaching a class.

In reality I have never seen any teacher do this and lay out a lesson plan in undergraduate or graduate studies level so students are kept in the dark. It gets worse. Often the teachers ask the students to refer to a certain text book in the library to learn more on the subject but the library keeps only one or two copies so the students jostle for the book but find it hard to get it.

Some students who have a large allowance from their generous parents borrow the book and rush to photocopy it but not all students have generous allowances. In fact most struggle to meet their expenses. Most of the well written text books are imported from abroad because they are not available in cheaper Asia Edition that McGraw Hill and others publish in India on cheaper paper keeping the text original.

The cost of imported text books are so high that it is beyond the means of an average struggling student unless he is backed up by wealthy parents or a scholarship leaving most student to fend for themselves.

At CalPoly in San Luis Obispo where I did my graduate studies, I had a wonderful professor who lent me his lab key so that I could work there at night and he paid for some of the materials I needed to write my theses. Such teachers are rare and exceptional. On the whole I really liked the American educational system where the teachers took their job of guiding a student seriously and helped anyway they could so that the student graduated with good grades and on time.

He took us on many field trips where we could learn in practical ways about soils and how to take samples. Another teacher took us to the Yosemite National Park where we learned about the conservation and talked to park rangers.

In India where I started my college education, we had a professor who was exemplary. He loved teaching and loved his students. He took us on field trips to teach us practical agronomy. There was almost nothing he would not do for his students. In return we loved him and mourned his sudden death.

These examples show that not all the university level teachers are bad but the current trend is definite worrisome. The publish or perish syndrome that most professors in good universities suffer from in the United States and elsewhere puts enormous pressure on them to write and publish articles in respected scientific journals so they spend a lot of time doing just that.

The tenure system also can be very stressful for those who aspire for the tenure because it takes into account how many articles one has published so far instead of concentrating on quality teaching that students expect.

What I find very distressing is the fact that the students are required to remember a large amount of knowledge learned from the books and the classroom that they must recall instantly during a time pressured exam. This makes the students memorize by rote instead of deep learning and understanding the subject at hand.

There is a laxity prevalent in many educational institutions where the graduate students are given total freedom to choose what they want to learn, how long it takes them to learn and to present a theses without much help from his advisors. Often you will find students who say that they are still writing their doctoral dissertation after seven years at it and not making much progress.

Granted most students just want to graduate as fast as they can completing all the requirements demanded of them and move on to the next phase in their life which is to get a good job, get married etc. but there are those who hang around the campuses for a long time as if they want to be a student forever. Now some universities are getting tough on these professional students and give them a definite time to graduate or leave making room for other students.

In Japan and Korea, the students are very hard pressed to first get into a college of their choice and have to pass very tough entrance exams to get there. Once admitted, they are subject to endless pressure to learn by rote and complete all the requirement to graduate. Then the job hunting starts that is also very stressful. They learn practically nothing outside their curriculum as general knowledge so the universities all over the world turn out the graduates in large number each year who have passed their exams this way but are ill suited to the modern world. Many remain jobless even after many years of search because of their mismatch with the demands of the employers. I call them cookie cutter graduates because they are so alike.

I know many people in India who go for graduate studies on study leave from their employment just so that they can get a promotion and soon forget what they learned by rote in their class. They do not care about grade or excellence but only how to pass the exams. Some of them are not so smart.

The struggle to get into school in India starts as early as childhood where every parent struggles along with the child to do homework every day that the teacher demands the next day. The competition to get into any school worth mention is fierce at that early age because the schools are few and accept only a certain number of pupils each year. It gets worse later.

If the kid passes high school ,his struggle to get into a college starts where again the competition to get in is fierce and only students with high grades are considered all because of limited number of seats and great demand. Now if you are the son of a prominent politician or high official, then the process becomes easier so that is where the corruption kicks in.

I know how stressful it is for a student in Hong Kong or China to get into a college of their choice and how hard they have to prepare for the entrance exam just like in Japan or in Singapore.

As the world gets more technologically wired for the next decade , there is more pressure on students to get the kind of education they need to get a good job right away . A degree in anthropology or liberal arts does not cut it anymore. In some countries like India a single vacancy attracts thousands of applicants because almost everybody goes to college these days including girls.

So I have to come back to the topic of the quality of education and the right kind of education that makes a graduate employable.

It is a known fact that rote has a role to play in the education of any one because it acts as the basic building block on which the education edifice stands later on. If you can’t remember what is 2 times 2 or 17 time 5 then you can’t learn mathematics so we as children memorized the multiplication table the same way we memorized the conjugation of ba , be , bi, bo, bu, by etc. It helped us learn English and pronounce words correctly.

If you can’t remember the formulae in math or Chemistry, then you can’t do the complex equations. It goes for any subject that requires memory and instant recall because that is how we learn and make progress in our studies.

If you want to be an engineer of sorts then you must pass math that may include arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry etc. In your profession later on, you will be required to perhaps design and build a complex bridge somewhere so you must be competent to do so.

If you want to be a doctor then you must study biology, chemistry etc. and remember thousands of things you were taught in your class.

So it begs the question — What is the purpose of education? Is it just to pass the exams through rote memory so that you can get a job later on or it is to expand your ability to comprehend all kinds of things and be knowledgeable?

I just asked a woman who was Hess and she answered that she had never heard the word in her life. She does not read anything and she does not know anything that her teacher in high school did not teach so she has absolutely no knowledge of the world. This is true of most people these days even if a vast amount of knowledge is available through google now.

One fellow on TV said that the capital of Myanmar was Burma showing complacency toward ignorance that is not only pathetic but outright silly.

The education that I received as an agronomist was given to me by very qualified teachers who loved teaching and practical methods that made me a good agronomist. So every child depends on his teacher for his formal education although some lucky children get some help from their parents as well if the parents are educated. But what if your teachers are incompetent like that professor here in the Philippines?

What if your teacher did not care whether you learned something or not and gave you a minimum passing grade just because you are a valuable basketball player in your college team? I know this happens in many countries.

What I would like to emphasize here is that although formal education is very important for anyone to get a job, it is also very important to have out knowledge about a wide range of subjects that they do not teach in your class room. You should not only know who Hess was and what role he played in the last war but should gain out knowledge through massive reading and sourcing knowledge through many different outlets like encyclopedia, internet, books ,magazines, newspapers and other means.

The world is full of knowledge .The internet is bursting with knowledge on any subject .The libraries have numerous books that one can borrow and read. You can download thousands of books from the internet for free. That is how I read Mein Kampf. But to say that you do not know anything and have forgotten most of what they taught you in your class is pathetic.

There is a wall in our college in India where it is written in big bold letters the following: The purpose of education is to free your mind.

Does you education really free your mind so that you can absorb the world of knowledge? If yes then you are a truly educated person. I respect such people.



Amal Chatterjee

I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.