Monthly Archives: March 2009

A Teacher Remembers Fondly What it Means to Teach

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Mr. Arshad Nissar is a Senior Design Engineer atAdvanced Micro Devices in Boston and wrote the following piece in response to one of my discussions on LinkedIn.

Dear Uma these are very inspiring words..!
Having been a teacher myself and having been born to a father who was a great teacher, I can very well understand the noble emotions behind your words. I once did travel the path that you are exhorting. I am still enjoying the tremendous bliss that I found along this path. I want to share some of my own experiences.

I finished my BE from REC Srinagar (now NIT Srinagar) in 1989. That was actually a water-shed year in the history of the valley. Everything changed forever in this year. Insurgency broke out and was at its peak in early 1990's. A meek person like me would have promptly moved out of the valley and pursued higher education or employment elsewhere. However I had an ailing father to care for and he was reluctant to move out of the valley. In addition to this emotional consideration, I found a practical way of contributing to my beloved valley. In retrospect it was time well spent until 1996, when I moved to the United States.

While being a student I almost always had discovered some easier and more interesting way of understanding difficult concepts in Math and Science. I used to make a mental note of what would have been the ideal approach to teach some of those concepts during student days when I was at the receiving end. I would dream-up a whole different way the teacher could have treated the same concept. This helped me to look with introspection into my student’s mind when it was my turn to be a teacher.

Also a teacher MUST challenge the understanding of the students. It is so important. In Indian class rooms, students usually are always found nodding their heads in agreement out of respect for their "revered teacher". Respect for a teacher is in order, but when that becomes too overwhelming it can affect the teaching/learning process. This is mostly culturally driven. Very rarely will you find students who challenge their teachers. Not because the students can’t, but mainly because of cultural mores.

I took a lecturer's job (while still being a BE) at REC

Srinagar

. Having a good a merit and due to the shortage of staff, they let me teach at undergraduate level. I enjoyed it immensely. Since I had been a careful student myself and tried to learn things thoroughly the hard way, teaching was a pleasure. We had to face countless curfews, crack-downs, bandhs and hartals and sometimes simply could not venture out in main parts of the town for fear of my dear life. Against this backdrop, I started a teaching center in my home basement. I taught Physics and Math to high school kids, with emphasis on practical learning. This was something strange at that time as most of the teaching that happened or still happens in Indian schools, colleges and universities emphasizes learning by rote. My approach was to combine the traditional rote method but introduce hands on practical demonstrations and thereby reinforce the theoretical fundamentals.

I had a workshop where I used to devise physics experiments out of wood, wires and other junk that never ceased to surprise my father and my students. Borrowed tuning forks with water level controlled air columns to do experiments on sound, blocks of wood and marbles to do experiments with mechanics, circuits with wires and magnetic needles to do experiments on electricity, medical syringes and tubes to do fluid-mechanics and so on. No experiment was superfluous. Everything was designed to reinforce some concept from course work. I did this work for a short period of about three years.

Eventually I had to leave the valley to pursue my MS at SUNY Buffalo.

This was all about twelve years ago. Some of my students of those days have come quite far. This approach of looking at things beyond the traditional rote method made a difference in the way the graduates of Newton’ Center for Learning (my teaching academy) looked at learning itself. Some may argue there are laboratories in Indian high schools. My argument is, the way these labs are used and how accessible they are to an ordinary student is pathetic. Also the way you could bring the white-board and the lab-desk together presents enormous possibilities. And finally from the brief teaching assignments here in the US and watching my teen-age sons study, doing the experiments hands on has a stronger imprint on the student's mind. Computer simulations as some critics suggested as alternatives to the hands on experiments, do not go far as a learning tool, in my opinion.

My heart yearns to go back and do it all over again, but on a bigger scale.

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The Bloated World of Higher Education and the Need to Get Back to Basics

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Individually education and entertainment have great value and a great place in American society. As Americans, we have an incredible love affair with education and entertainment. Each has a long and rich history that shows incredible progress and amazing ingenuity. Each has inspired us and taught us.

 

We have built our dreams on the foundation of education and on the wings of imagination of entertainment. It would be hard for us to live without either. Yet, education and entertainment cannot be interchanged. Education is hard work. It may be boring and tedious bordering on drudgery at times, but it is designed with the stirring goal of helping us to stretch and reach beyond our limited and biased view of the world. It is a friend for the long haul – each day, motivating us to be a little more about the world we live in; each day, challenging us to contribute a little more than we did yesterday, and each day inspiring us to enhance our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Education is hard work – we cannot equate education with entertainment; educators cannot pretend that their primary goal is to entertain students – engage our students, yes; entertain, no. Unfortunately, some colleges and universities propagate the idea that education without entertainment will not attract good students.

One reason why the cost of higher education continues to soar is because of the increasing demand placed on campuses to entertain students – from athletic facilities that look like Jurassic Park to campus gyms fit for celebrities, from sophisticated computing facilities to fancy class rooms, and from dorms that are mini Ritz-Carltons to dining facilities that offer world cuisine.

 

When we direct precious resources to entertainment rather than education, we defeat the purpose of both. States from California to Florida are in trouble because it is difficult to sustain an education-cum-entertainment model. Like children on Christmas eve who want Santa Claus to bring them more and better gifts each year, students and parents want entertainment for the price of education. Unfortunately, it does not work that way!

Dr. Uma G. Gupta is the President of USAsiaEdu.com, a New York based educational consulting company that specializes in higher education in Asia.

Sponsored by University of Phoenix.
Become part of the solution to California's looming workforce shortage. Think Ahead.

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Is a college degree worth it?

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Recently, there is a growing debate about the worth of a college degree, particularly an expensive college degree. Burdened with college loans that suck the life line out of our young graduates, many are now questioning the real value of a college degree.

Unlike some nations where not every high school graduate is expected to go to college or earn a four-year degree, corporations in the

United States

require or prefer a college degree for many entry-level positions. When you probe this somewhat indiscriminate requirement, hiring managers often confess that the reason they look for at least a college degree is because students, particularly high school students, and now even college students, are not adequately prepared to meet the demands of the workforce.   So does this mean that if you don’t have a college degree you cannot make a decent living? Be a part of the American dream? Become an entrepreneur? Far from it! What this means is that you must have a love for learning and knowledge – whether you get it online or in a class room setting. You must continually learn new things; take a course or attend a workshop or become an apprentice. You must invest your time and effort in developing the right skills for the workforce and the right attitude for success. So what are a few important skills for the workforce (with or without a college degree)?

  • The ability to read, write, and speak. In short, communications. We may not all be perfect at all three, but it is important to have above average skills when it comes to communications.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: Can you take a problem, analyze it thoughtfully, and come up with a meaningful and comprehensive solution? Or, do you expect your boss to hand hold you every step of the way?
  • Understanding of the fundamentals of the business world: one may not all be terrific in accounting, but one should have some understanding of business functions. A holistic understanding of the business world is important.
  • Can you speak a language other than your own? If you plan to serve more than your street corner, language skills become vital.
  • Good ethics: what will you do when no one is watching? Do you have an understanding right and wrong?

These skills can be honed, with or without a college degree and for those who do, success is assured.

 

Dr. Uma G. Gupta is the President of USAsiaEdu.com, a New York based educational consulting company that specializes in higher education in Asia.

Sponsored by University of Phoenix.
Become part of the solution to California's looming workforce shortage. Think Ahead.

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qacct:"p-484F6I4JDVMDA"
};

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College is not for everyone, but wisdom and financial success are within reach

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Recently, there is a growing debate about the worth of a college degree, particularly an expensive college degree. Burdened with college loans that suck the life line out of our young graduates, many are now questioning the real value of a college degree.

Unlike some nations where not every high school graduate is expected to go to college or earn a four-year degree, corporations in the United States require or prefer a college degree for many entry-level positions. When you probe this somewhat indiscriminate requirement, hiring managers often confess that the reason they look for at least a college degree is because students, particularly high school students, and now even college students, are not adequately prepared to meet the demands of the workforce.

So does this mean that if you don’t have a college degree you cannot make a decent living? Be a part of the American dream? Become an entrepreneur? Far from it!

You can – provided you invest time and effort in developing the right skills for the workforce and the right attitude for success. So what are a few important skills for the workforce (with or without a college degree)?

  • The ability to read, write, and speak. In short, communications. We may not all be perfect at all three, but it is important to have above average skills when it comes to communications.
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving: Can you take a problem, analyze it thoughtfully, and come up with a meaningful and comprehensive solution? Or, do you expect your boss to hand hold you every step of the way?
  • Understanding of the fundamentals of the business world: one may not all be terrific in accounting, but one should have some understanding of business functions. A holistic understanding of the business world is important.
  • Can you speak a language other than your own? If you plan to serve more than your street corner, language skills become vital.
  • Good ethics: what will you do when no one is watching? Do you have an understanding right and wrong?

These skills can be honed, with or without a college degree and for those who do, success is assured.

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR MINORITY STUDENT SUCCESS

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Like the Ten Commandments, the key ideas and principles to ensure the success of minority students looks simple on paper, but will take soul-searching and tireless effort to implement. Here are my Ten Commandments to assure the success of minority students!

  1. Raise the bar. Have high expectations. Expect great things from minority students, instead of diluting standards, explicitly or implicitly.
  2. Elementary school is not just playtime. Lay a strong foundation. Do not treat students as if they are on an escalator that automatically moves to the next level. Instead work to ensure that the foundation is strong.
  3. Don’t treat schools with heavy minority populations as second class citizens. For all the talk on equality and importance of education, schools with heavy minority populations are shamelessly neglected.
  4. Invest in libraries. Read to young children. Reward them for reading. Make reading the nerve center of schools.
  5. Open their eyes to the world. Minority children need to develop a global view. Multi-culturalism and global competencies are keys to their success.
  6. Find mentors and role models. If there is one thing that has a long-lasting impact, it is having a mentor.
  7. Expose them to new and emerging careers. Many students still believe that nursing and fire-fighting are the only two careers available to them.
  8. Inspire the community to ensure that every minority kid is a success story. It takes a village to raise a child.
  9. Pay teachers well. Respect and honor them. The work they do is challenging and often goes unnoticed.
  10. Hold parents accountable. School is not a day time nursery and they have a role to play in the education and well-being of their child.