Tag: education

Why I Want To Be An External Viva Examiner Once In My Life!

I get jittery when people say “oral exams” or “vivas” as it is generally referred to in Engineering. I don’t specifically hate these words but I am mad at what they mean. The idea was purportedly conceived by some enemies of humanity, I bet. Every time I enter a laboratory for that inevitable viva, I experience butterflies in my stomach.

The cause of this prejudice could be the different interpretations by the examiner of the whole idea. Suppose you are a student (Engineering or others), your subject professor takes monthly vivas to test how much you know about that subject so that he can rate your knowledge for internal marks. He/She will probably ask some basic questions and then move deeper. This is very convenient, both for students & the professors because it happens & completes in minutes flat. This is one type of interpretation and as far as I can tell, the right one.

Some people ask me why I love appearing for personal interviews yet abhor vivas. Well, there is where our next interpretation comes in. The examiner thinks he is the king of the world and the students, traitors of his kingdom. Maybe he resembles so-called King Joffrey Baratheon from fictional Game Of Thrones but he doesn’t deserve my hate for what he did to Ned Stark than the questions these examiners have in their kitty. For a viva of the subject Radar Engineering, you can expect questions like “Difference between Radar & Sonar” or “History of Radar” or even “the cost and physical attributes of a Radar,” but the questions such type of examiners ask are “What is black money?” or “Which party do you support this Lok Sabha elections?” or worse “What, as a student, are your drawbacks?” These questions sure have answers, but the problem is context.

Next, the Samosa people! Their single and only purpose for appearing as an external viva examiner is to get free food from the college canteen. This type will usually be very late. The time set will be 9 AM and you can expect this external examiner at around lunch time. He will first have lunch, interrogate few students and then go for high tea before finishing his task. The questions they ask are straight basics before they smirk claiming the students aren’t capable of answering tough questions. Asking what integers are and then hopping to calculus is the hidden fashion such type of examiners employ.

Then there are lazy folks. They (usually females above 40) come, sit, gather 4-5 students and asks definitions, failing to which their preliminary or mid-term marks are asked. The viva marks are directly proportional to their their previous exams’. Ah, the irony!

Last but not the least, the perfect examiners. They dress well and reprimand the students for wearing t-shirts. They ask a relevant question and if the kid doesn’t know the answer, they will ask another simpler one. He then provides and explains the answers of the questions they do not know. This is the perfect viva session and I can relate to 3 or 4 times it occurred during my Engineering, spanning 6 years.

All this has constantly cause the birth of the idea in me to become an external viva examiner. Alas, my professors say it won’t be possible unless I become a professor myself. And that is not all, you got to have few years’ experience on the subject before you can represent the University in other institutions. But we all know Mumbai University and its lax methods. 10, maybe 15 years down the line, I would request the University, through my friendly professors, to have me as a viva examiner at least once and I will record the whole thing or maybe write a piece on the experience. Oh, that’d be a dream come true.

No, not as you think, I won’t harass the students. I’ll start with basic questions which I feel are in parallel to the curriculum. Then I’ll ask them interesting stuffs that are not taught in the books like “Did Radar play any role in the search for Malaysian Airline MH370” or “What is the difference between the local cable TV and DTH?” or better “What is the difference between LCD & LED & Plasma?” and I will make sure they leave the room understanding the answers to these questions. Maybe I’ll give them above 80% marks for I know the preparation students do hours before their turns for the viva is filled with sincerity and mettle. There is no competition during vivas; sworn enemies i.e. the top ten mark-scorers do not think about being at the top during vivas. Because I know, as a student, viva is a battle we fight in groups and not individually as may be the common misconception.

What’s The Fuss About SIES Graduate School of Technology?

This morning I received a message on a WhatsApp group chat. It was a screenshot of the front page of April 19, 2014 issue of the Mid-Day newspaper. It read Navi Mumbai college fines students Rs 5,000 for using cell phones!” By the time I bought the newspaper to read the whole story, the particular message had probably been forwarded more than a thousand times. Along with a smiley. By the students who are currently studying in the same college.

Later in the evening, another message popped up, which was a link to the Indian Consumer Complaints Forum. The complaint is about the arrogant attitude of the staff and draconian rules that govern the system inside the college. It can be read here! And do not forget to read the comments.

So, I, as myself a student of SIES GST, Nerul grew curious as to what is all the fuss about that everybody seems to be talking these past 24 hours. Actually, there is no fuss at all. But I will break down this story into small parts so that you can at least deduce some meaning out of this brouhaha. You should note that the SIES complex in Nerul harbours many organizations of which the Graduate School of Technology aka GST is the Engineering section.

Story 1:
Some over-smart kid, who has got to definitely be from the final year (graduation in 3 months) and has got some connections with the newspaper and so, spilled the beans about his/her own college focusing on one single attribute: the hefty fine levied by the authorities for mobile phone usage! This can be taken back to January 2014 when the third year students of all branches went for an Industrial Visit to Bangalore. This topic had cropped up when a theatre group called “Yours Truly”set out on a questioning spree to enact their spontaneously impromptu repertoires. So much that even a tiny tiff occurred between the Students’ Council representatives and haughty renegades where the former fought for the college and latter against. So the correspondent guy/gal in the question could be from this group. Phew!

Story 2:
The above complaint, on the other hand, was registered in the ICC forum sometime in October 2013. The rule came out in early 2013. Hundreds of students, including me were furious at first. With the rule actually taken seriously, many kids even got the opportunity to reduce their wallet’s weight. Further, the rule grew into us and mobile phone was looked at as a taboo and whenever a smartphone came into sight, the 4 digits 5-0-0-0 appeared everywhere in the air in bold typeface. Some influential students bothered to complain to the higher authorities but in vain. Now the campus had partially become mobile-phone free but it did more damage than what would have had the phones been not banned. Now here, the comments of this particular complaint comes into picture.

The user has complained about a lot of things, which somehow are related to this rule if we connect the dots.

  • He/She talks about partiality. Please tell me one organization, not necessarily an educational, where partiality (or nepotism) or discrimination doesn’t occur? Yes, tell me? No. So this point is invalid. If you are in the negative side of this partiality, you probably are the guy who comes up with “Teacher ka Pet” category in the farewell awards. For cryin’ out loud, stop!
  • Ragging by the principal. Now come on! A principal has got to be strict but that doesn’t mean you can misuse your vocabulary prowess and tag it ragging. Now can you? This accusation is ludicrous.
  • Faculty. I personally know the Electronics & Telecommunication staff and there’s nothing to complain about. And so much animosity? It is purely unnecessary. Low grades may have something to do with how you behave in the class, but as far as EXTC branch is concerned, all accusations are frail. I can’t comment about other branches’, though. You may want to read my articles on similar topics to get a brief idea: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, Article 5, Article 6, Article 7, Article 8.
  • Donations. Let us not talk about it as we all know what’s what when it comes to management quota seats.
  • Placements. The college has a wonderful TPO, on whom the actual burden of calling companies for placement falls. I personally don’t know why SIES doesn’t have good companies at its doorstep, but again, should the principal bear the brunt?
  • Attendance. Is 75% attendance asking for more? Think about it! Unless you are a football-pampering, skirt-chasing, careless nomad who’s come into Engineering by mistake.
  • Humiliation to parents. It is the worst-case scenario wherein the student is so mischievous & notorious, the faculty has to take a look at the gene line-up. A bad remark or two of their pupil is no humiliation. Go play Counter Strike & get knifed by that cheat flashbang-fragger: that is humiliation.
  • Lab equipments. I agree. Some of them are outdated and faulty, but when the curriculum is outdated, what more do you expect? I have successfully completed almost all the practicals in my sophomore and third year. And tell me, do you really pay attention in those 2-hour practical sessions? They say the syllabi still teaches us about CRT TV and not LCD/LED/Plasma TV. You nimrod, when you don’t know the basic operation, why do you want to focus on the displays, which is secondary?
  • Assignments & examinations. True. But give me an example of one institute which doesn’t burden its students? You, my friend, are watching too many Hollywood college/teen movies.
  • Grades & Certifications. Let us not talk about it, either.

So, there’s that. The exaggeration quotient of both the complain & the Mid-Day article is astronomical. First, media is not a a plaything where you can fret over small issues. Second, none of the points listed in the complain have credibility enough for an action to be written.

Now, there are some grave stories that have originated from hearsay about the college which aren’t quite believable. Maybe they are true, maybe not. But, I personally know that if a parent of a student comes over to the management of the college to get respite from the fine, it will be allowed. Maybe a warning or two & then the mobile phone is returned. Should we punish if he repeats the mistake?

So, that is what really occurred. But there is a conspiracy theory about all this fuss. That the whole charade is a subterfuge by the college authorities to up the reputation. Parents do want their kids to go to a regulated, restraint-oriented college and what is more disciplined than the one which fines for using silly items like mobile phones. The story gets interesting when you learn that there apparently is a statute passed by the country’s Education authority that mobile phones are, in fact, banned in educational institutions and its premises. Looks like only SIES GST follows it. But, then again, it is a mere canard.

And mind you, if someone comes to me and asks for a good Engineering college for their ward, I wouldn’t think twice before recommending SIES GST. Period.

The Secret Of The Ignorant Mumbai University

There are 43 students in my third year Engineering batch who still have Applied Mathematics, Parts 3 & 4 of previous year to clear. If they don’t reattempt & pass before they enter forth & final year, they will be awarded the most undesirable thing in any student’s life: one year drop.

You can put the blame on students, that is all right. Lack of efforts is definitely the cause. But if we dig deeper into education politics, a disgusting secret pops out of the wormhole that is both appalling & callous of the perpetrators. One more cause that can cater to our demand for a proper explanation for the failure of so many students every year is the innocent diploma course. Out of the 43 hapless students I mentioned above, 35 are direct-second year students, which means they were directly admitted to the third semester of degree after having completed three/four years of diploma. These students last wrestled with the much-hated god of confusion, Mathematics in the forth semester (or second year) of their diploma. Let us suppose this to be the year 2011. At this point, the students who opted for HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) after their SSC (Secondary School Certificate) have good knowledge of some important Mathematics topics namely Calculus, Laplace Transform, Fourier Series, Fourier Transform, etc. from their 2-year HSC course. Then this same year, these kids enter first year of Engineering degree course. They will study Mathematics (higher/heavier versions of what they did during HSC) and then move to second year. This is year 2012. Now, the kids who now have completed their diploma join the other kids in second year. The two differences they have are the diploma kids are one year elder and not at all accustomed to the Math topics their HSC peers are strong in. This is because the Maths that they had during their diploma times was trivial, covering topics like Matrices, Quadratic Equations, Trigonometry, etc.

As a result, if a diploma student chooses not to join an external tuition for Mathematics, thereby understanding not a single thing the teacher is teaching, he/she fails. If he/she takes little extra effort, then a 40 is not that difficult to achieve out of 100, but that depends on how a student is. There is where we stick the blame on them.

Coming to the secret, in 2010, a faculty group from the exam cell of a reputed college, tired of seeing their students losing one whole year because of failure in Mathematics, approached the great Mumbai University for a chat. Now they couldn’t directly approach the diploma course governors. So the group requested the innumerate board of the university members to have a word with the Maharashtra State Board Of Technical Education (MSBTE) about the subject, Mathematics. Their hypothesis was that if MSBTE tweaked the Maths in diploma curriculum to a higher level… a level in parallel with the Maths in the HSC course, then that would prepare the diploma students to tackle the strong Math basics of second year degree. This, as far as I am concerned, was an amazing solution.

The university board declined, citing and I quote, “We cannot go and request an inferior board to dance to the tune of something a nobody college has so amateurishly suggested. And for who? Drop-outs? Those shameless failures? Let them sit at home for a year & learn their lessons. After all, we do get what we desire; they still have to pay their fees to stay in line. We cannot change the whole goddamn curricula for a bunch of stupid students, for God’s sake!

The faculty group returned and conceived an idea. One professor of this group is a Math professor. He takes remedial lectures for such students. On Friday March 7th, 2014 he taught a chapter of Cauchy-Riemann equations to 20 out of the aforementioned 43 students. His name is Ashwin Chavhan. A professor with a change in his mind. This article is dedicated to his love for Math and dedication.

“A teacher should always lack negativity. Then, failure can take a back seat.”

Faculty Error

I still remember that day. About six years ago, when my English teacher got diagnosed with the Big C. Or at least when she announced it to the principal of my school, requesting an indefinite leave. The news had “brought a blanket of gloom over us,” or at least those were the words used by the person who taught us Environmental Studies (EVS) as part of a stratagem in an attempt to jump higher in the hierarchy of faculty by showing how capable he, as well is, thus, substituting the poor, cancer-stricken sweetheart.

His request was rejected at once for his credentials proved his artifice wrong. I have only heard how the HR department had a rough time recruiting a suitable English teacher. It was a crucial faculty post because the school was preparing its first batch of 10th grade students, the final outcome of which would help it set a distinction among other few colleges in town. The criteria was so sharp, I was told, that even our History teacher (who had a unanimous backing from other staff except the EVS guy) was not allowed to replace her. Few weeks later, some rookie was attached to the post.

Few years later, the polytechnic I studied in also followed this criteria of: the professor will only teach the subject(s) he/she has majored in and/or has pedagogical know-how in.

But, it was when I entered a degree college that I learned how a professor is “forced” to teach almost all the subjects in the curriculum. (Not much) unlike in schools, degree colleges have different departments like Mechanical, Electronics, Computers, IT, Civil, Instrumentation, Chemical, Printing & Packaging, etc.. So, the number of professors is bigger. Talking about Jack of all subjects, I had this professor in my 5th semester of Electronics Engineering who taught Microprocessors and did it exceptionally well. Because there are 2 divisions for every class in our department, one more professor is required. No prizes for guessing, but for this other division, the person who took Microprocessors is a lady who majored in Mathematics only. Now, Microprocessors has some Math involved, but it is a totally different subject.

Come 6th semester, when we all expected the same professor to teach us Microprocessors, Part II, we were dumbfounded to receive the professor who had taught us Control Systems the previous semester. Control Systems is a semi-technical subject with much of it related to system concepts and analysis. Maybe, 5% of it is Maths. As a result, we all suffered. And the worst part is, even the professor looks heavily uncomfortable teaching something she has little or no or only bookish knowledge in. I had a chinwag with our Microprocessors, Part I professor later when he revealed how he has taught 4 different subjects in our department and 2 more in other departments since his joining in 2011. Now, all these subjects have Maths in it, but they are very different from each other. He laughs, “I should be awarded a dozen medals for this job I am doing; this job of sixpro-fessor and still being paid for a job of onepro-fessor. And you know, your class in-charge this semester is a threepro-fessor! She’s really climbing the ladder…”

Colleges don’t care anymore about how their students fare, they only care about the moolah. Since the reputation game is no longer valid and the benchmark is already set as to which college stands where, they have got into the real business for which they were built up in the first place: cash-making. University doesn’t have time to set out guidelines. They are busy botching up the question papers and report cards, banning professors, banning textbooks, decorating the deans/principals and playing with their own celebrity.

No wonder why students are joining coaching classes. Every single professor in my college hates those two c-words and why shouldn’t they? It is the error in the faculty that’s to be blamed. And it is not only my college, but every single college (in Mumbai) has the same idea. Students cannot risk their careers over this non-professional practice and thereby end up paying thousands more for these otherwise useless classes.

During the day of results, I see more students with backlogs than those with all-clear tags. What to blame? Faculty Error.
Coaching classes is a lucrative business. What to blame? Faculty Error.
The quality of teaching has taken a massive plunge. What to blame? Faculty Error.
This article was written. What to blame?

The Horror Of Errors

“Are you that dumb to not follow what we’ve been telling since the first day of exams?” the voice sounded effeminate.
I looked up to my right to see the person I had a bad memory of. Two students, sitting in front & rear seats from me, & elder to me by both physique & semester grade, thanked God they could waste time staring at what would ensue, so to get out of the hall after completing the ballpark number of minutes inside. It is mandatory for a student to at least spend an hour inside the exam hall before he/she can hand over his/her paper & get out.

“Sir?” I was already mad at Question No. 1 for it was not only compulsory but also included sub-questions I had unluckily skipped last day. The face of the person proved to be another source of exasperation. He was the head of a department.

“You are supposed to write with black ink.”

“Uhh, I did not knew that. Uh…” My English got worse every time I conversed with a person I dislike. He had me write an apology the previous month when I was late for one of the preliminary exams. My lie, that I was late for the first time, didn’t work; I blamed the traffic.

“It is written all over the notice boards that YOU HAVE TO USE BLACK INK. How hard is that for you to follow?” he stepped back a little “Everyone’s using black pen… see!”

I never bothered to look what others were doing and this time it looked I’d have to pay for it. It was Monday, December the 2nd and I was attempting to crack Radio Frequency Circuit Design (RFCD).

“Sorry, Sir… I didn’t know…” I moved my hands to the cluttered desk and removed a black pen, which thank heavens I had carried for the purpose of underlining main points in an answer. Now I would do that with a blue pen. Earlier, I had already been admonished by the supervisor for not circling the goddamn holes (for seat number, question paper code, subject code) in the bar-coded first page of the answer sheet with a black pen. The instruction panel overleaf had clearly mentioned to use a pencil.

The man with an effeminate voice didn’t care to make much hype of it and walked away probably thinking right that it was an exam hall. A hall conducting final, board exam. (I wanted to call him back to ask if I had to draw even the diagrams with black pen, but you see… this idea emanated hours later when I was going back home. Happens all the time.)

But the scope of this post has very less to do with a black pen; instead it has everything to do with the people or the organization behind that diktat. Newspapers the whole month mentioned how Mumbai University was getting dumber & dumber every day, thanks to all those erroneous question papers students have had to fret over since November through December 2013.

Question No. 6 -> b.) Explain the function of BJT in detail.

I was happy to see those lovely words that day and currently happier & shamelessly more proud than you to know the full form of that acronym. The exam had started at 3 PM, the worst time to schedule an exam & if you were to take a poll, a 100% students would just comply. At about 3:50 PM, the guy with an effeminate voice had turned away from me. Ten minutes later, the two guys I was talking about, walked out of the room. An hour later I attempted to complete the question I was so in love with.

I had carefully written 3 pages about how BJT is found in every day electronics and had I known the real reason behind the black pen diktat, I would go on to write how BJT is found in the computers & scanners that would be required to scan & analyze the answer sheets. The black pen was supposed to increase the clarity of scanned sheets. The university has come up with an idea of scanning all the answer sheets and sending out the digital copies to paper checkers & moderators. Although this is meant only for final year students, the lower year students could do with a practise, don’t they? And I secretly & unknowingly conspired that night how black ink manufacturers were in ties with Mumbai University for blue ink manufacturers opposed the recent incredulous Supreme Court verdict on gay sex. Ah!

At exactly 5:25 PM, a lady with lots of rouge on her cheeks & vanity on her chest walked in.
“EXTC students! There are few corrections…” she paused & continued, “Question No. 3 -> a.), the first formula… For the constant conductance circle as (Γr + g/(g+1))^2 + (Γi)^2 IS EQUAL TO (1/(1+g))^2. There is “an equal to” sign.”

I corrected it even though I didn’t know a thing about the question. She corrected two more questions for minor spelling mistakes and then she said something for which I wanted to run out of the room and jump off the window by the corridor and dive with my head down into a plank full of upright nails made of diamond. The gaffe in that question was epic.

“It is “Explain the functionALITY of BJT in detail”… not function. It’s a minor typo there…” she looked at the bearded supervisor and chuckled. Minor? Minor typo? Lady, that is not what you call a typo… it is bloody mistake of the millennium. “Functionality” & “Function” are two very different things and now my answer would literally buy me a zero. And the icing on the top is that I knew “the functionality of BJT.” First, the question paper is riddled with errors and then you correct it half hour into end time. What sort of horseplay is that? I sat there puzzled, unable to think, cursing everyone I blamed this effect for. I don’t know how two of my exes found their way there.

But, it was 5:30 PM and I had three more questions to go. Eventually, I completed the paper with a handwriting which would make the moderator hire an assassin for a lookout.

This happened almost everyday and worse, the final year students suffered the greatest. It is shameful & naive of the Mumbai University to not check the question papers before sending out to colleges. I really don’t know the inside story on how they get prepared or anything about it. But this induces horror to the hapless students while they are attempting something which would decide the fate of their career. Not my case, but so much preparation goes into these exams and the varsity can’t spend a minute to check the papers? Or correctly send out guidelines? Or if you are so in continuum that when you err, you cannot send out the corrections a little earlier? This is so shameful of Mumbai University. I hear the repeaters have had the worst time. They are already finding it tough to crack subjects, and with these errors, I can not even imagine their plight.

It is a very serious topic that the university must take steps to contain & eradicate forever. We pay lakhs of rupees every year, why not create a question paper department? Why not make it temporary (i.e. only during exams season) & solve the problems of thousands?

No. What makes this episode reach crescendo is that the college teachers expect the students to correct the errors by themselves and assume the right question. How doltish is that?

On December 12th, a missing decimal point in a 10 mark question of Principles of Control Systems made my whole answer look like it was written by the panel of justices who gave out the verdict on Section 357 of the IPC… err, looks like I have got so much attached to the Mumbai University habit that I am writing erroneously. It is the section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which would lead to incarceration of few of my close friends for doing the same thing I so casually indulge with my imaginary girlfriend. A single period speaks two episodes of pure Barbarism, huh?

PS: BJT stands for Bipolar Junction Transistor.