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 I assure you, everything else in IIT is just outdated and average compared to the world levels, some professors apart.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.

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