20 September, 2010

My Tryst With Education


This is my third day for a course in the Mumbai University. PG Diploma in Philosophy of Communal Harmony and Social Peace. And I have a story to tell. It’s unpleasant and disappointing.

I came across this course on the University website. The modules were very interesting. My aim was to gather knowledge, to broaden my horizons, to do something productive with my time and along with it all get the  Post-Graduate Diploma. I spoke to the course coordinator much in advance before the deadline, checked with her the requirements and planned my date for admission.

Day 0: 
I reached the department of Philosophy. I got lost since the course coordinator couldn’t explain the directions to the building. I somehow managed to reach by a round-about route (when a gentleman agreed to show me the way) by traversing small streams of gutter water, dingy unkempt corridors. Finally reached a small room (cannot call it the office) of the Course Coordinator. She smiled at me.

“Hello. Here are the certificates copies – my bachelors degree and the postgraduate one”, I said.
“Oh, the Bachelors degree is fine”, she said.  

She took my degree copy and directed me to the fee-payment procedures. That completed without any delays or issues, I was admitted to the course. I was tres happy. This was the first admission of my life where there was no waiting, no dodging, no expecting and hoping, no running from one desk to another, no uncertainty. It was as easy as 1-2-3!

"See you at 1pm next Sunday," she said.

I harped to all my friends about the existence of such a course. They made fun of the big (and a bit melodramatic) course title. I smiled and laughed with them - there was no way of explaining them the "why" of doing this course! I let them be in their bubble, while I remained in mine.

The night before the 1st day, I prepared my stationery. I thought of the course mates I may have, the teachers, the abundance of knowledge waiting for me to untap. 

On the morning of Day 1, my phone rang at 10am. The professor called in to say that the course will be delayed for another two session of the weekly-once-course (i.e two weeks). In the sleep muddled head, I was a little surprised at their so 'professionalism' of informing the students merely 3 hours before the course began! That too for the first class!!

Shit, thought I! But what could I expect from a government run body in India? It's okay Kirti, I consoled myself. It will all be good. Anyway, glad for the extra hours of sleep, I dived back into my duvet.

When my friends asked, I told them, it was postponed for two weeks. And they laughed again.

On the third session, I reached the university. On reaching the building, the main gate was closed. It being a Sunday, the area was deserted, with not a soul to ask. I called the Professor, and she told me to come through the back door. (huh?!) Again, I traversed through canals of gutter water, garbage, the dilapidated and empty concrete building and reached the so-called-office.


In spite of being 20 minutes late, I was the only student present. The course coordinator was waiting for the rest. We waited for 10 more minutes while she made calls to the other students. And then I suggested, if we can start something – at least I was there. So, we started the first session – Introduction to the Social Structure in India. She started speaking, branching out in various directions while I tried to decode the language. 


Let me clear one thing here: I have nothing against people who aren’t fluent in English. But she was different. She was perhaps one of those who knew a lot about the subject but didn’t have a sequential thought process and couldn’t frame proper sentences to explain her thoughts.  She tried not to get into Hindi. This made the whole understanding bit a little (actually quite a lot) difficult.

And so, while we were in the middle of the 'vedas and upanishads', another lady walks in. (understand that we are sitting in the Professor’s office) She slumps in the chair next to me and starts talking to my Professor. "A journalist has come from HT. She wants to ask about the growing interest in Philosophy in Mumbai."

My Professor excuses herself and starts talking to her. So, there we are - my professor sitting with books and papers, me sitting opposite her, and unwelcome professor beside me, and an apologetic journalist at the door.

"I am sorry, can I speak to you for a few minutes," the journalist asks. 

“Sure,” my Prof said, excused herself, handed me a few printouts and books to read and exited the room.

She returned with the journalist about half an hour later. The journalist wanted to speak to a student and so came to get my views. “Yeah, I was always interested in philosophy and wanted to do something productive with my time.”

“Cool,” the journalist replied. Turned to my Professor, “And what is the qualification for this course?”

“12th pass,” replied the professor.

Wait a second, this is a post-graduate course, how can it be 12th pass??

“You mean, Bachelors Degree?” I asked.

“No no, its 12th.”

Not wanting to argue in front of the journalist, I kept quiet, thinking that I misunderstood.

After we both were alone, I asked her again – “Isn’t the qualification a Bachelors Degree?”

“No, no. We changed it to HSC so that more students can apply.”

“But you told me the Bachelors degree was required!”

I was taken aback, disappointed and angry. After taking all the shit of them treating a student in the manner they had and with her horrible teaching (with no induction to the details of the course – the professors, etc.), here she was telling me the course title was a mere certificate. I felt deceived. What was the guarantee that next week she wont tell me that she would take all the modules!!

Then, we argued for a bit. She apologised saying that perhaps she missed telling me that. That, after repeated requests, the details on the website weren’t changed by the concerned people. That, I should understand the bureaucracy in the university. That they had changed the qualifications so more students could join, that she wanted the course to reach more interested students without such a higher restriction.

“I am not concerned who is to be blamed. The point is that I was misinformed! The point is that there is too much lack of sincerity in teaching. The point is that there has been many rough starts in this course from the beginning!”

The saddest part was that in spite of all these reasons, I was the only one who was present at the course! The others for whom she had made provisions of reducing the eligibility of the course were nowhere to be seen.

“I am sorry,” she said. What else could she do now. I asked if my fees will be refunded, since I don't want to do a diploma course. "You can request, but I can't promise."

But what was I expecting? This is the government run educational body, which was imparting "cheap" education. This is all I could get. We do not expect excellence from these professors. We accept (and many a times expect) the mediocre. It is indeed my fault that I went there with pure thirst of knowledge, expecting pure excellence. It is indeed my fault that I did even think of putting my trust in such an educational body.

I have concluded that getting any education anywhere is not easy at all. It’s not about the expense, donations or corruption. The problem is in the ideology of the education system. The system sways dangerously between the “do-good-to-the-society” and the “commerciality” of it all without taking a stance.

I, for one, would never delve into this area ever again. I have decided that with an open, intelligent mind and the world of Wikipedia, freely available texts, I can self-learn. Fuck the certificates or the Diplomas.

5 comments:

  1. realisation u had in the end is quite a thoughtful one...but at times only the net-study may not be enough...teachers in person are never to be replaced...one teacher's reluntance should not be enough for one to end in a disappointing note...but i coherently feel always study for ur knowledge with no heed to any bloody degree

    Actually the subject u chose had something to do with ideology...and these days this term is gradually reaching a slump...so even ur frndz(with whom u can share ur ideological views too) laugh at such a prospect...may be if the subject was something like 'PG Diploma in Sex Philosophy',(please dont take that I have any objection to this branch of studies) there would be no reluctance on the part of students or teachers.

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  2. It's not a conclusion after 'one' teacher. :) For all our lives we have been cribbing about the horrible teachers. I had a Physics teacher who used to teach jackshit and we had named him "headlight" because he had a bump on his head. Then we had a Chemistry teacher who was only interested in the "chemistry" of girls. Then there was a Hindi teacher who used to simply ask us to write, write and write (practice Hindi she said!)... and the list continues...

    And all along, we laughed at the horrible teachers and we called them names and we were eternally grateful for the excellent ones. The excellent few surely do make up for the many horrible ones.

    That is the problem - we always adjust for the mediocre. We are taught to "adjust" from a young age. And the sad part is that we are "adjusting" to be educated.

    ps: my friends can laugh and criticise me. It didnt make a difference because I knew what I was going to learn. But this is where perhaps the cynicism of these friends turned out to be true. :D

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  3. the polite trollSeptember 21, 2010

    not that this is very comparable, but i just came across Gurcharan Das' 'The difficulty of being Good' last week, in which he discusses morality in the modern life through a discussion within the framework of moral questions posed in the Mahabharata; and to write this he needed to learn Sanskrit, and he chose to learn it under a teacher at a US university rather than a university at Benaras. Perhaps my point is that when it comes to education in the finer fields, such as philosophy, psychology or liberal arts, a conventional education in India is, for the time being, clearly a bad idea. And perhaps the major reason for it is the lack of incentives that the system has for good teachers, but in a course such as the one you tried, good teachers are not even going to find enough worthy, intelligent, knowledge-hungry students such as yourself to make it worth their dedication.

    As you concluded, auto didacticism is the only manner to begin with. And then, through your journey, if you're lucky, you'll find others like you, and through them, unconventional teachers who'd help out. Till then, I wish you all the best as you start out.

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  4. it was inspiring read... I agree with most part of it. It needs a complete revamp for sure, but not all teachers are bad.... Trust me. I have been a teacher who was the only one to use a course plan and learning activities in a Govt school.. there are many more influential and great teachers too.. dont write the lot off pls...

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  5. Damn!! Is this really.. I mean really really true? That too in Mumbai? THE MUMBAI!!! Am left horrified!!!

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