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Memoirs of a Cricket fanatic

The art of learning

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This email was sent by a respected Professor to students of the Sciences batch in our university a couple of years back. Just came across it and considered it worthy of sharing.

I would highly recommend students to go through it and try to understand the gist of the email. It's hard-hitting but very relevant to our times.
Pasting it here in its original form

“A lot of students have been asking for past papers or practice exam questions for the mid term and final exam. Here is my response: You have been used previously in A levels and FSc to study for exams, instead of studying to learn. Pakistani schools as a whole are geared to teach you techniques that can score well on particular exams.

The original idea of education was that a person studied to learn, and the exam was a small thing on the side to get a measure of how much learning has occurred. With the current trend of studying to pass an exam, the whole purpose of exams gets defeated. I know people that have hardly any understanding of algebra, and yet have obtained A’s in their O/A levels, simply by memorizing hundreds of past papers. I would prefer that students wasted as little time as possible in “studying for a midterm” and instead spent time learning MATLAB.

My purpose in teaching this course is to allow you to learn programming. The Pakistani students, as well as Chinese, Indian and others to a lesser extent, have mastered the art of studying for exams. Thus you can find people who scored in the 750+ range on their SAT verbals, without being able to string together a single English sentence. This is in spite of the claim by the SAT board that there is no way to study for these tests, because they measure the accumulated knowledge and reading habits over many years. By memorizing wordlists of thousands of words, they have obtained vocabularies which would typically be associated with readers who have read thousands of books.

I plan to make exams which are designed to test your knowledge and ability to program. I would try to make them so that they do not reward rote learning of definitions, and do reward people who have struggled through the labs and the class examples, and have attempted to understand. I am sure that by studying past papers, and trying other such techniques, you may be able to distort the results to such an extent that your score on the test does not reflect you real ability.

My suggesting is to study what we have covered in class. To understand whatever is not clear. To practice writing programs that can do what you want them to do. To step through the programs that have been given to you as examples so that you can learn and understand how things work. And just forget about the midterm (other than remembering to show up for it). If you want to go against my plans, and to instead try to create a shortcut, the real loss is yours, and I have no way to stop you. But don’t expect my help in your endeavors.

**** *****”
Memorizing and rote learning requires hard work no doubt but is it really worth it in the end? I've witnessed many of my batch fellows over the years with great GPA's who were exceptional at cramming stuff but understood very little of the subject. I consider this to be in sharp contrast to the very notion of imparting knowledge and education.

It also doesn't help that grades are the #1 metric recruiting companies look for in potential employees. The end result is that this entire cycle encourages future students to look towards this technique in order to secure better jobs (hence, more money) for themselves.

I'd like to know what the general perception is. Would you prefer to fully understand a subject and receive a lesser grade or rather grab the maximum possible grade with very little insight into the relevant course?
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  1. assasin42o's Avatar
    First of all, is that really your profile picture? >.<

    Second, people we meet ask you your grades. You tell them it's a B/C, they get judgmental. So seeing our society, I'd prefer better grade with little knowledge.

    I do have a few subjects in my past semesters that I passed, and still don't know how I did it because I didn't understand shit.
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  2. AbbY's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by assasin42o
    Second, people we meet ask you your grades. You tell them it's a B/C, they get judgmental. So seeing our society, I'd prefer better grade with little knowledge.
    Are you getting educated to tell people you got an A or to actually learn the thing you'll be doing for the rest of your life?
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  3. sTraNg3r's Avatar
    Wholeheartedly agree. In fact, been saying to this everyone around me for as far as I can remember.

    Just a couple weeks back, I saw my younger brother preparing for his school exams from O-Levels past papers. I politely told him what ultimately matters and what doesn't. He understood, but shrugged his shoulders and said, "If I do that I will get less marks compared to other students in my class, who prepare from past papers and get good grades. In addition to this if anyone gets less than 80%-85%, he would be sent back to the matric section."

    The sad reality of it is not only the schools, but the society - in general - appreciates their kids beating the system, rather than knowledge.
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  4. Ottoman's Avatar
    @assasin42o Bieber-mania batches

    Quote Originally Posted by AbbY
    Are you getting educated to tell people you got an A or to actually learn the thing you'll be doing for the rest of your life?
    He actually makes a fair point. Societal pressure is a valid factor. Society (not only ours) is judgmental and an individual would be better off lying through his teeth that he has a GPA in excess of 3 or this many A's than to tell people otherwise.

    The education system as a whole is flawed in many ways. A knowledgeable student may get flustered and fail a viva exam while a crammer may ace it.
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  5. Journeys End's Avatar
    in my small yet enlightening professional experience, grades/CGPA do play a role but to a extent. i was an average student at best but had more confidence and general knowledge than top 10 students of our batch combined and this thing helped me a LOT in my job interviews. i dont want to boast here but i have yet to be turned down during a job interview(Although i have given only 3 so far lol). my point is that students who have good communication skills but lack the academic ones should NOT be discouraged at all. just believe in urself, find the right balance between ur capabilities and there is not a thing u cant do.
    the world is cruel and not THAT cruel
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  6. abcd's Avatar
    I think parents also have a role to play in this. These days one of the most popular topics in social gatherings is the number of As a child got in his O/A Level. Even if the student knows everything about a subject his parents won't appreciate him until he gets the 'perfect' grades. Often they are more interested in bragging rights which encourages this rat race of 'my son got a 10 straight As in O level, what did your son get?'.

    Btw this reminds of my university days and the obsession people had with their GPAs. The chaos that ensued every time a teacher distributed graded papers in class.
    Girls: Sir, mera GPA 4.00 hai, please 2 marks aur day dein warna 3.9999 ho jayega...
    Boys: Sir, mera GPA 2.00 hai, please 2 marks aur dein warna drop out ho jaoonga
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  7. assasin42o's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by AbbY
    Are you getting educated to tell people you got an A or to actually learn the thing you'll be doing for the rest of your life?
    I am doing both xD
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  8. assasin42o's Avatar
    Even our teachers are asking out the GPAs from everyone. And agreed to the above. The grades and scores has become a very trending topic now.
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  9. Benighted's Avatar
    "School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn't worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system? . . . from the age of twelve I began to suspect authority and distrust teachers."

    - The boss himself: Albert Einstein.
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  10. Gizmo's Avatar
    I find myself in a similar situation these days. This stuff is especially true if you're doing MAtric/FS.c instead of O/ALevels.

    Now I'm not saying that I don't get the concepts, I think I have a half decent conceptual knowlegde about the subjects and the material I'm studying (read cramming) right now especially physics and Math to a lesser extent but right now I have to cram, I have to study past papers and plan my prep according to paper patterns because If I don't get enough marks It'll be alot tougher for me to get into a Good Uni later this year. That's just how it is.

    I really don't give a shit about societal judgments. i've never lied about my grades, Not to my parents nor anyone else.
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  11. Benighted's Avatar
    Time is another serious factor that compels students to cram rather than learn. I found the F.SC curriculum especially to be stupendously hefty. It simply isn't humanly possible to learn and understand things in a thorough manner in the time frame available. This makes students and teachers alike resort to shortcut techniques a.k.a "jugaar" for solving problems that one, looking to really "learn" what he's studying, would rather not.

    Learning is not an easy process and schools have a peculiar way of complicating further what is already complicated. My observation of the teachers that I had to study under in my school had me convinced that teaching is a profession for people whose only purpose in life was to become a sadistic dictator.

    The education system is producing the reverse effect of what it claims to do. It's a sham. It doesn't surprise me at all that it churns out more idiots than the "educated".
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    Updated 09-04-14 at 07:19 PM by Benighted
  12. NaNoW's Avatar
    My whole educational background is based on conceptual based learning. Olevels and Alevels, really opens your mind to different ideas and understanding of topics. The funny thing is, that after gong to uni (pakistan), most of the time my concepts were highly appreciated by my teachers, but not all.The problem is also the teachers sometimes. I remember a few teachers asked for conceptual answers, others wanted long assignments and large answer sheets...
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  13. lastsamurai's Avatar
    Education means learning how to survive in your life and yes, with the knowledge I have survived and moved forward in life as the are many ups and downs in life in every way. Sadly, in our country and institutions, the educational approach went to passing exams than learning...
    Hope people understand how to get past these approaches...
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  14. outlaw's Avatar
    Truly we Pakistanis don't know the real meaning of studying something. This culture might be a little uncommon in O/A Levels structure, but in Matriculation/Intermediate system it prevails to a very large extent. This can be judged by a simple fact that mostly before starting to prepare for a test/exam, people here count the number of pages first. They base hardness of a subject on how much the coursework is, not what's inside it. In my university, the toppers of my batch(not all of them, but many) are crammers. They don't know shit about what's actually going on, they just rely on cramming the shit out of everything and this pretty much helps them in their grades.
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  15. AlienX's Avatar
    This is exactly the reason why major Medical and Engineering schools in bachelor programs are filled with pretentious persons, bragging on result scores of their FSc. What they actually do is waste their seats and than graduate with good CGPA through rote learning. While in practical field they fail miserably due to lack of knowledge as a whole.

    No Offense but girls are expert in rote learning. I have seen examples while in by graduate years. They do manage to get admission based on rote methods, but don't even know how to save a word document. (Real Example: Copying something from internet and pasting directly on desktop wondering why it shows up as scrap).
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  16. Benighted's Avatar
    A girl from my university (gets 3.5+ gpa each semester) while downloading a circuit simulation software (don't remember which), asked me if it's okay to install it in her C:/ drive...
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  17. AlienX's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Benighted
    A girl from my university (gets 3.5+ gpa each semester) while downloading a circuit simulation software (don't remember which), asked me if it's okay to install it in her C:/ drive...
    Nest time ask her what does IT mean.
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    Updated 12-06-14 at 04:47 PM by AlienX
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