Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Tue, 16 May 2017

The points don't matter ... too much!

grading, philosophy [link] [comments ()] [raw]

"The only purpose of doing well in examinations is to open doors for you."

The primary reason that past achievements matter is to that they give you the opportunity to have people listen to you. Ultimately, what you place in front of people should (and must) matter more. In a truly scientific setting, they should only accept what you say if it makes sense to them.

To me this is (was?) the great difference between science and religion. We can look at Einstein or Grothendieck or Gauss or Newton and say something to the effect of, "This part of what he wrote was wrong." It does not matter that they are all demi-gods in science, when we judge their ideas to be wrong we must say it out aloud!

A long time ago, after an examination (which in hindsight was a very minor one) where I did not do as well as expected, my father made the statement that starts this blog. It has taken me a while to realise that this needs to be said again and again, especially in India.

We area very populous country with not enough resources. So we seem to perpetually want to stand out from the crowd, to get noticed. Doing exceptionally well in school is one way to do this. The faculty of institutes like IITs, IISERs, IISc, TIFR, ISI is largely populated by people who did exceptionally well all through their school and college years. They are justifiably proud of it. However, when they use (distant) past academic achievements as the gold standard with which to decide the worth of a person or his ideas, things are going too far.

As an example, let us take a student who has received a 'D' grade in a certain course at IISER Mohali. The meaning of the 'D' grade is "Marginal", so if we trust the system, then the student has managed to pass that course. The next higher grade is 'C' for satisfactory. So this means that the instructor did not judge the performance of the student in that course to be satisfactory.

Does this mean that the student is rated "'D' for dumbo" in that subject matter of that course for life? As soon as it is expressed that way, it should be apparent to most people that this would be a ridiculous position for anyone to take!

While it is true that a 'D' student would need to demonstrate that they have outgrown that (ultimately) minor infraction, once that has been demonstrated (for example by doing well in a later course in the same subject area, or by writing a research paper on this topic later in life!) this 'D' cannot be used a permanent branding marker!

Unfortunately, regardless of how many examples one gives of great scientists or lesser scientists, of academic excellence dimming into scholarly cynicism or of embers that lit slowly to make a raging fire, it seems to be impossible for Indian Academia to get rid of the phrase "brilliant academic career". It is routinely used to paint in bright god-like hues those who have it, and to condemn to the dungeons those who do not.

Let's resolve to stop doing this! Let's resolve to be as scientific and current as possible while evaluating a person's suitability for a job or the worthiness of their ideas. The past should merely be an indicator, not a measure!

This needed to be said by someone who has, by many measures, had a brilliant academic past ... and thus ends the rant for the day.

Wed, 17 Aug 2016

Teaching and Learning: a matter of terminology

Sun, 03 Apr 2016

RSS and the concept of India

Tue, 01 Mar 2016

The Tyranny of the Right Answer

Wed, 03 Feb 2016

Remaining Positive (as a Teacher)


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