Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Tue, 01 Jan 2008

Trying some encouragement


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A student wrote:

i actually stopped studying anything out of frustration in the middle of the semester and i have really bad grades in every course.

I do not know what counts for you as "really bad grades". I remember my third semester in IITK as being one where I was annoyed by the teaching/teachers and the books they had chosen. I spent most of my time studying set theory/logic and programming the PDP-11. I ended up with B's and C's in all courses --- including mathematics!

There are some things that the IIT system teaches you:

  1. How to complete work under a deadline to other people's satisfaction.
  2. How to learn anything to the extent that one can answer basic questions about it.

Once I absorbed this my grades in IIT stabilized. I also realised that I needed to learn some things to my satisfaction and wanted to be able to study and answer non-trivial questions about them --- but that was to be done outside the IIT coursework --- on my own time.

i started having the feeling that education would not help me in any way, it only gives degrees and the real work is done in industries and companies.

It is to some extent true that all colleges, especially those in India, have become about "certification" rather than "education". However, this certification provides you with opportunities which are otherwise much harder to come by. So it is a good idea to extract the best possible benefit out of the educational system without missing the chance to learn more on one's own. Note that most of the courses that are being taught are subjects that have a lot of depth --- even if the teacher or the chosen text books are not able to point it out. Finding that extra material is fun!

It is always difficult to do creative work --- perhaps more so in India. In addition, if one is a student who has "shown promise", there is also the weight of expectations. However, all these are background issues which in various ways affect the precise task that one sets oneself. After that one must approach this task with concentration and complete it to one's own satisfaction.

Some additional remarks

As a teacher and researcher in Mathematics working in India, one can feel that there is no point to one's work:

  1. Almost all good students in Mathematics at the +2 level go for engineering --- and get a better education than the B.Sc. colleges can give!
  2. Almost all good graduate students go abroad for higher studies --- and get better research guidance than they would in places in India!
  3. The remaining people in India are perhaps insufficient to keep the culture of Mathematics alive in the country.

This makes a "vicious circle".

Given all this I do occasionally feel like "giving up". However, I know that there are a lot of students who are interested in Mathematics. Secondly, this too is a mathematical challenge --- to make Mathematics accessible and interesting to a wider section of people. In the process one also discovers new theorems!


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