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My visit to MIT, Harvard and Michigan State University, last year, has been a great learning experience. I felt and found that, this is a great time to be a teacher. The classrooms are the center of constant innovation in learning activity with the teacher’s role increasing in subtlety and sophistication vis-à-vis the learner. Anyone like me who was a student within the last decade or so will find the scene almost in MIT or Harvard, a 180 degree phase shift, both in terms of classroom environment and procedure.
With fusing boundaries in various disciplines in their curriculum, like medicine, architecture and applied sciences, penetrated into the study of aeronautics, space or nano-technologies, the new liberal eclecticism that is practiced in those universities are focused on enabling the learner to develop in multiple ways instead of merely leading through tunnel vision towards examinations. The challenge in these Universities is to learn as much as possible and discover oneself in novel ways instead of being merely judged by what one does not know.
These Universities have gradually reduced the predominance of traditional examinations and mark sheets with the aim of making learning more rewarding and motivating. Students also, I felt, have responded very positively to this change, thereby proving that learning is a natural process and intrinsic to human nature. In fact, it has always been an illogical notion that examinations are the sole way to make students learn.
Teaching and learning in MIT is a concept of knowledge flow, where a learner becomes so creative and deeply engaged in a task that all sense of passing time is lost and the deepest mental effort is poured into doing the industry projects at hand. Though there are financial remunerations, but I feel no extrinsic reward can bring about this state of being totally engrossed with a project or any other subject. To create such a passionate interest in the learner for the subject is the teacher’s greatest challenge in India today.
Another reason why this age is so vitally interesting is because of the information explosion by internet and digital technologies. A student can access entire information regarding curriculum by a click on his mobile through web-surfing. The challenge for the teachers, anywhere in the World, is to lead the student from random information through facts to wisdom. Teaching solely from the textbook in this day and age is an insecure refuge, being merely a refusal to look at reality happening all around.
I am skeptical about the belief propagated by a few tech nerds that a good teacher can be replaced by some software gizmo. A teacher is not by definition a pre-programmed entity. To be able to confront the unexpected and deal with it in the most humane way possible at the cost of immense personal sacrifices in time, money and energy is teacher’s description in an Engineering institution. I am not surprised that most young engineers in India prefer to beat a safe retreat into the Industry or IIMs for more secure niches of our socio-economic structure. Thus the dilemma faced by academia in India today is shortage of good teachers. There are some qualified teachers and some good teachers-but often the two do not coincide in the same person.