Ban on LAN...

The fear which I had, just after the recent suicide, has materialized. The first lines I said after hearing the suicide about it was that LAN and internet in IIT are going to be banned (how insensitive of me!!!). It was not a random statement at all. The authorities needed a reason and the poor guy was in fact a gaming and movie freak. So here we are – on the verge of losing our oh-so-dear virtual lives.

The authorities have a reason to do so – that being that LAN has led to decreased academic interests and performance. The 80% attendance rule does force the students to attend lectures but they prefer to sleep through it rather listen. Once a child underperforms the system becomes draconian for him - Hence the depression and hence the suicide. So looking at it from this perspective, banning the LAN is hitting at the root and hence the best solution.

I suggest another perspective. The students coming to IIT are undoubtedly the best of the lot who chose to do engineering. And I guess IIT draws most of its reputation and pride from this. I assure you, everything else in IIT is just outdated and average compared to the world levels, some professors apart. So what is it that draws the best minds of the country towards gaming, movies and general “lukhkhagiri” on the internet? I believe that this should be the real question that should be asked, not just by the students but the authorities and the faculty.

I have no experience of the previous years but I am told that there used to be a wonderful interactive and friendly atmosphere some years back. Today what is left of it is the limited interaction in the classroom and a mutual hate once out of it. Okay, I agree that a teacher just cannot hate his students. But most students deride their professors. And we have professors who complain that the “quality” of students coming to IIT are not good enough anymore, that they are miffed why we no longer prefer engineering jobs and lots more. If the quality of students has decreased, then the JEE (the single greatest pride of the IIT’s) has failed blatantly. It kind of has become a mutual hate community, a kind of us against them.

Since the interaction has decreased, the faculty is no longer aware of the real needs of the students. I tell you many students after having taken JEE successfully, just want to relax and have a nice time because a number of years have been invested to get here. No games, no fun, and no girls in these JEE prep years, when we kids are supposed to have fun does take a toll. And IIT are not to blame for this. The intake to rejection ratio is just too high so the pressure and the requirements of JEE demand this. Anyways this is for the policy makers of the country to decide.

And then there is the conflict of desires of the students and the faculty. Before coming to IIT, the students (again, in general) are motivated because of the glamour, the money and the pride of being an IITian. Once the students are here, the motivation, the vision and the desire to achieve is gone. They know that even if they don’t learn, cramming before the exams will fetch them good enough grades for a decent job. The initial motives (those of before coming to IIT) are fulfilled without much effort, or thought. The algorithm for navigating through IIT academics is pretty simple if found out early. It is as simple as - get the best notes, do the tutorials, start cramming a week before the mid-sems and end-sems and you are through. The professors would like to see the students learn from their hard work in the lecture rooms and before it. They want their job to be professionally paying as well. They want to entice the students into research and development - nothing wrong in that. All I am saying is that there is no confluence of the ideas and desires of the two sects. But the way I see it, there is still hope. As I said earlier, the students lose vision and motivation once in IIT. IIT can show them this vision, this reason to excel; give them challenges outside the realm of the classrooms which will inspire these students into thought and action. The ways to do this can be definitely found if we set out to find it.

In IIT the pressures to perform, to be at the top, the expectation of being the best (both from parents and the society) are just too much. The academic pressure ain’t any less. The system of JEE and the subsequent admission to the IIT’s is such that many people do not get the branch of their choice (not that the choice is an educated one). And believe me; the professors (the lot) do not take the pains to see that every student is getting involved and interested in the course. No practicality and the use of the course are discussed in the lectures. No information is given which will amaze the student into studying it with interest. No matter how much the professors (the lot) complain about the students being too text-bookish, they too promote the same. Unfortunate but unfortunately true.

The number of student going into each IIT and each department is higher than that was in the previous years. So it is understandable that the professors cannot take care of each student. But tell me – how difficult it is to make the course more practical oriented. How tough is it to provide information about the applications of the course material which will amaze the students into self learning? There are professors who do this and believe me, even the hardcore gamers listen to them eyes wide open. A student takes around 50 courses in the whole stay at IIT – at least 6 courses a semester. The sheer amount of study to be done is mind boggling. I do not believe that we can learn all the six courses in the stipulated time of four months. In a semester of 4 months, 1 whole month is gone in the mid sems and the end sems. That leaves us with around 90 days for six courses i.e. 15 days for one course. 15 days to learn a course!!! Do we want to believe that courses can be “learnt” in 15 days? Do we want to believe that research is viable without us having learnt the requisite courses?

The accepted standard abroad is 4 courses per semester with a lot of flexibility in the course structure and selection. Most of the courses we take are core – agreed. But many of them can be clubbed together; some made electives – the idea is giving flexibility to the student to choose his courses, more so in light that many students do not get the branch of their choice.

IIT has not seen enough start ups from here (the way things happen in ivy league univs abroad) because I feel that the technological awareness is not world level and the lab facilities which usher innovation are not available here the way they are available abroad. Also the inquisitiveness of the mind is killed by the over burdening education system of this country. Almost everyone will agree that our country promotes an education centered on mugging up and scoring good marks instead of learning.

The list of troubles and problems can go on forever. The problems cannot be eradicated but better and more productive solutions can be found out. For this a deep, honest introspection is needed on both parts. Let us not pass the buck this time too and assume that the job is done. Let us understand the true nature of the problems being faced on each part and try to solve it so that we make this place conducive to learning. Let us try and make this a place where people are truly happy.

Simplifying Life... (beta version)

Beta version simply means that the post is undergoing refinement.. Read on and post your valued suggestions.

Sometime back I was watching this movie – “Waking Life”. It is a wonderful movie about a guy who cannot differentiate between reality and dream. So he sets out to solve the mystery and meets people in the process who talk and explain to him about reality, sub-reality and life. One person asks him this question - “The human values have remained the same in the past 2000 years - as they were in the days of Socrates and Co.. What then is the trait that stops us the most from achieving our true potential – fear or laziness?”

This question, though random as it may seem, set my mind on the course it is best at – philosophizing. Since then I have been thinking a lot of random ideas and though what I propose here does not give an exact answer to the question, it tries to give another reason why we have not achieved our true potential and why have the human virtues stayed the same?

This, I believe can be explained on the lines of evolution. Humans have evolved into this highly intelligent specie (intelligent only with reference to the sub humans, we do not as of this day know of some other evolved specie, hence the pride). But this has taken around 2 million years for us to evolve into this form - 2 million years for this intelligence to be attained. 2000 years is too little a phase in it. It is highly probable that 2000 years is insufficient time for such drastic changes - the elimination of laziness and fear to take place.

Anyways, that again is not the solution (if we consider it a problem). I believe is that the problem lies in our own minds. Scientists say that we are able to use only 4 – 10 percent of our mental capabilities. I just wish they are true because it gives us so much hope for the future. But of the 10 percent of the mind that we use, are we able to use the most of it for our good? Or do we end up wasting an exorbitant portion of what we have? I guess I made the statement a bit debatable, which I should have avoided, but I find some exponent of truth in it. I will try and explain.

We as humans are made of instincts, emotions and feelings. Okay – they actually are different and impact our thoughts in different magnitudes. Instinct is something which is hardwired into us. It is something that we are born with, we meaning all of us humans. And there are just a few instincts like – the sense of security, love, dislike etc. Fear may or may not be an instinct; it could be plugged with the security thing. I mean there are intrinsic to us humans. And then there are emotions. These include our desires, cravings, wants, anger, rage etc. There are lots of them to be mentioned here. Some are the nice and good ones – the ones which keep us happy. And there are some negative emotions like anger, jealousy, anxiety, desperation etc. It is the emotions and our instincts which determine what we feel at any instant. What else could possibly guide our feelings? And the feelings determine how we work and perform at any time.

I guess I am lost in my own words here so will try to simplify things. Our mind at this stage of evolution has certain limited capabilities. This limited capability is shared by instincts, emotions, feelings, our cravings and the most important one – our creative capabilities. It is this creative capability of the mind which when used gives us the greatest pleasure and happiness. I guess I cannot explain the nature of happiness but it is of the highest kind- pure unadulterated happiness. Each one experiences this pleasure in different things. And to attain that pleasure, is to me, the motive of life. Analyzing the working of our minds we realize that if we could allocate more of our brain space to our creative instincts, we would be much happier and would be true to our natural selves.

Instincts are hardwired into us. They occupy not much space in the conscious and the sub-conscious mind but we have not much control over them. We can alter the extent of the impact of our instincts; we can hone them but not change them much. It is the emotions which occupy a lot of space in our sub-conscious and the conscious. And the feelings occupy a lot of our conscious, especially the negative ones. Feelings like anger, hate, dislike, jealousy have the potential to capture the whole working space of our mind. Our decisions get directed by them which could be really harmful at times. So the idea here is that if we can eliminate the negative emotions from our thought process we could be able to allocate a larger portion of our active brain for the creative processes. It is not as easy as said. But on second thought it is not that tough either. It is as simple as staying true to our natural selves – trusting our instincts, keeping our emotions simple and pure, understanding the motive of life and trying to use our creativity to the extreme limits.

Okay, I have the capacity to come up with weird theories and this is just one of them. I feel that we have two types of emotions – the ones that come naturally to us and those which we learn as we grow. Love is a natural emotion, so much so that I prefer to call it an instinct. There are so many of them. I guess I will have to look up the thesaurus for them. It is like we have our instincts which breed emotions in us. These emotions are the guiding light for our feelings. If a person is happy, he will be excited and exuberant. Happiness is an emotion, excitement and exuberance are feelings. And so every act he does, he will do it with excitement and hence do it better than if we were feeling low or sad. We cannot deny that emotions and feelings can have a huge impact upon us.

So if we can unlearn the negative emotions or reduce the impact they have upon us we can allocate more mind-space to our creative thoughts and creative processes. Hence we will be happier and hence do every creative process with excitement and hence do our tasks much better. I guess you too can see a vicious circle of happiness. Or should we call it Bliss…