Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Paranoia in the west

This is fun. You know how much the developed world is scared of the developing world when you read articles where people start comparing entrance exam question papers between countries to check how competitive their exams are.

UK's Royal Society of Chemistry got pretty paranoiac after seeing a Chinese pre-campus Maths people and floated a challenge to people in UK. They've even compared their own maths entrance puzzles versus the ones in China and have come to the conclusion that they are falling behind. I couldn't stop smiling reading the whole thing. [Courtesy: BBC]

I think this is plain paranoia. For one thing, the way people get taught in developing and developed worlds is totally different, and I presume China isn't very different from India. I remember solving far more difficult questions in standard XII. The other experience I had was when attempting Maths questions in the IAS exam where I didn't accomplish anything other than counting cobwebs in the room. The difference in learning between the west and India is: we learn to solve the problem, and the same problem appears in the so-called 'exam' where they are supposed to test our skills. In effect, we mug the solution instead of learning how to actually solve the problem.

That said, I think what the west has to be really worried about is not the quality of questions in our (say India and China) syllabus, but the effort students put in to get into universities, and how hard-work is just wired into our routine. Unlike in the west where education in a good university could be attained with some effort, we pretty much need to mortgage our life to get into one of these prominent universities - and that teaches us the 'survival instincts' that make us quite competitive.

This bout of paranoia is very similar to a chat I was having with a museum curator a couple of weeks ago in New York. The discussion veered towards outsourcing after he found that I hailed from India, and he said 'you guys are doing a great job and are pretty successful'. I spoke about our how our low cost of operation helps, and he retorted 'Apart from low-cost I think you Indians excel because the genius is in your genes, and you guys are like born smarter. Like Jews.'

I couldn't help smiling. I didn't retort because, I admit, it was too tempting not to accept that sort of a compliment. If that is the general impression, amen!


At Tuesday, May 01, 2007 10:00:00 PM, Blogger Vivek Malewar said...

The "falling behind" at undergraduate level gets compensated in post-graduate/doctorate level. The univs of the west gets to excel far more than Indian univs at post-grad level ... of course there are other reasons for that.

I don't think these guys need to panic :)

At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 4:02:00 AM, Blogger Govar said...

They don't have to panic, but they do need to worry - quite a bit since we have a huge crowd and even some of them being good is a significant threat.

At Wednesday, May 02, 2007 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Kavi said...

Yes teaching styles are different. So are learning styles. And i guess that is influenced by our 'survival instincts' as you point out and by a culture of giving a great deal of importance to education. Kind of education being the end by itself !

If we understand and see it as being a means to an end, i guess we could be a lot 'smarter' :)


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