Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A lack of education

I came to India expecting to find very strong secondary education institutions - and, indeed, quite a few do exist. After all, everyone in the US knows that engineering seats in the top phD programs across America are filled with Indian and Chinese students (I say only half jokingly!). What Greg and I have both found surprising, though, is the lack of education that seems to take place at many of the universities here.

The main issue is that many students seem to have a difficult time understanding English, the language of instruction in almost all universities. Greg was at a university in southern AP where this was most pronounced: the professor lectured for 45 minutes in English. Then, recognizing that most of what he said was totally beyond his students, he gave a 15 minute re-cap in Telugu. Students are not receiving the full picture on two fronts - first, because a 15 minute summary does not compare with the details present in a full lecture. Second, Telugu just doesn't have all the appropriate words English does, especially in engineering or science disciplines. (aside: I have read articles about trying to "invent" Telugu words for modern research).

I was recently at a university screening the film, "Home," to increase environmental awareness. Students were reticent to offer their opinions in the discussion session, I assumed because they were embarrassed to speak in front of their friends or because they didn't really have an interest in environmental issues. The Indian guy with me, though, asked them to please speak out, "in any language." Still no one took him up on it, but after class the professor again explained that, even in this English-medium university, students had difficulty expressing themselves in English.

How, then, are all these students managing to graduate? We've also learned that the university grading system is - not surprisingly - completely different from the U.S. In many instances, small colleges are affiliated with a large name university. The main university sets a syllabus and writes an exam. All students across all the colleges take the same exact exam at the same exact time. Thus, all a student needs to do is study to a very objective test, that his or her own professor may or may not grade. Anything beyond the scope of the test is lost - the system takes "teaching to the test" to the extreme.

Our Indian colleagues at work were shocked when we explained that, in the US, two students can have the same major at the same college and not take a single class in common. They hardly believed us when we said that many high level classes don't even have exams - a grade is a combination of class participation in seminar discussions and a paper or project. They were incredulous to learn how much leeway an individual professor has.

Perhaps we need to take a broader view - perhaps we are missing something. Certainly at the highest institutions, what described above is not the case. But I can see a lot of room for reform at the mid-level universities that most students attend.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Jet Lag

Jet Lag is a whole new ball game with two kids. Traveling with William, we never thought it was that big a deal as we could alternate in the night who woke up with him. With two kids, though, we've had to take on a "divide and conquer" strategy: Greg sleeps upstairs with William and I sleep downstairs with Patrick. That way, we only wake up when our assigned child wakes up and not each time each child wakes up.

The funny thing about having Shabu and Sarwary around is that I felt compelled to explain the situation to them so they didn't think something funny was going on. After all, they would notice that two beds had been slept in (yes, confession, I do not make my bed on weekdays). I didn't want them to start wondering if Greg and I were fighting!

Five days post-trip, William is almost adjusted. He's now waking up just once/night. Last night, he played with his blocks by himself until Greg decided to go put him in bed.

Patch, though, is still confused - and I'm confused as to why he is confused. He's awake for his normal schedule during the day, but at night he's still waking up every two hours and usually has about an hour to two hours of play time. Plus, now that he's so mobile (bi-directional rolling, clockwise and counter-clockwise spinning), I can't just let him lie awake in bed while I sleep. Hopefully he'll get back to his good sleep schedule soon!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Shall we play cricket?

Maybe it's because we're all a little delirious with jet lag - but William is just cracking us up tonight.

Greg received a viking helmet as a gag gift from work years ago. William often likes to wear this helmet, which is funny enough, but then when you add the Indian accent ("Mama, I'm wearing my yel-met!"), it borders on ridiculous. Now add him in all serious asking an exhausted father: "Dada, shall we play cricket? I can wear my yel-met and hit the bawl!"

Some people take melatonin for jet lag. Some people exercise to keep them awake. We have William, a cricket bat, and a Viking helmet.