Monday, June 20, 2011

How to feel like an idiot

There is a traffic signal for pedestrians to cross in Chandigarh  and it works!

However, I was surprised that I stopped when the signal was red but the pedestrians were not crossing. It soon became clear why. The cars continued to move at their normal speed - ignoring the red light. Soon, there was a police car which also cruised through the light totally oblivious to the pedestrians waiting on the side walk.

I waited till the light turned green even though I was the only one who had stopped and felt a bit like an idiot. To make matters worse, when the light turned green, a pedestrian started to cross the road - ignoring me and my car :(  I kept my cool and did not hit him.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

PU to start internal and open exam system but mindset does not change

Finally, I see something which has seemed obvious to me for years:
“Since the internal and open system that was recently introduced only in Science honours schools was appreciated by students as well as faculty members and there was a smooth conduct of examinations by these honours schools, it was decided to implement this system in all the departments,” said Controller of Examinations Prof A K Bhandari.
What troubles me is that the objective appears to be 
The process would leave no scope for students to seek re-evaluation.
In case there are affiliated colleges, I am not sure how they will expand the system and that worries me. The system can fail if multiple independent colleges are involved. Teachers at each college can be under pressure to give better grades to their students because the 'other colleges do it'.

The solution in my view is simple. The degree should explicitly mention the college and not just the university. The results could include percentile ranking within the college rather than any efforts at normalisation of results across colleges.

Even then the following would clearly be a potential problem:
In case there is more than one person who teaches the same course, the Board of Control would designate the teachers as Instructor-in-Charge on rotation basis.
“One of the teachers would set the question paper in consultation with other teachers of the course as well as jointly invigilate and evaluate the answer scripts. The Board of Control would be required to send the list of examiners to the Controller of Examinations’ office by the end of October,” added Prof Bhandari.
I see no reason why each course should not be treated as an independent activity. Each teacher should be free to adjust the relative importance of various topics to be covered in the syllabus.

In spite of seeming progress, it depresses me that the mindset remains suspicious of teachers.
Not denying the possibility of favouritism by teachers while evaluating their students, Prof Bhandari said that it would entirely depend on their integrity.
I find it weird that we are willing to trust a person to teach us (or help us learn) but not to evaluate our performance.

I suppose real progress can only happen once it is accepted that learning/teaching is the goal of a university and not examinations. Or is that too idealistic a goal.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bored and irritated by commercial news channels

I can't watch our private news channels for more than a few minutes without getting bored and irritated. However, I found myself watching the interview Doordarshan had with Chidambaram on a private channel. I had to suffer the panels and flashing messages - I wish I could use gnome3 on these channels and hide the very irritating distractions.

Anyway, it was a pleasant change to see a half hour of reasonable conversation instead of screaming, embarrassingly stupid comparisons, or just simplistic statements.

Hang the corrupt. Each rupee will be worth 50 dollars when the black money abroad is brought back to India. Corruption cases must be investigated and actioned within x months. Etc., etc.

Why do our existing cases take so long to resolve? Is investigation of murder, violence less important than corruption? Or will all crimes disappear once we catch a few corrupt? In fact, simpler social issues like divorce, property disputes, probably cause more pain and anxiety to many, many people. Do they not deserve a reasonably quick resolution? If corruption cases are fast-tracked, would the resolution of the others not get further delayed. Isn't it obvious that not the laws but it is the delivery of justice which needs repair.

In fact, I find it ironic that the "biggest scam" of India - the 2G scam - has probably made more people's lives far better than anything else in India! It is amazing to see the impact of cell phones on India - especially, the non-affluent, e.g. the rickshaw pullers, the vegetable hawkers, the plumbers. The list goes on.

How do we make sense of our world? This is a project which some day I hope to explore:
The overall goal of this 4-5 year project is to create tools that will help learners (at all levels) make greater sense of complex phenomena and to study how learners come to understand complexity. Complexity is the study of systems in which phenomena or global behaviors arise from the interactions of simpler parts. ...
They all exhibit non-linear or emergent qualities which place them beyond the scope of current K-12 mathematics curricula. Complexity is a theme that cuts across traditional discipline boundaries. Yet it is rarely found as an explicit theme in K-16 curricula. Indeed, many studies have shown that, in both the public at large and in science classrooms, "good thinking" about systems of interacting agents is not easily found.
I really have to try NetLogo. May be that will help understand why the interactions between not so smart people makes democracy work.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Can the human society's wealth grow indefinitely?

The absence of rise in real wages reminded me of Tim Jackson's economic reality check talk. There has to be a better option than just growth in wages. What's the point of more money after you have enough. Of course, one can debate about what's enough.

Yesterday, I felt that my computer was a little slow in booting. After all, it is now more than 3 years old. I was tempted to replace it; but a moment's reflection made me realise the absurdity of it. Why was I programmed into wanting to  save 15 sec of boot time and discard a perfectly good computer, which meets all my needs? I suppose spending the disposable income I have on a new computer would definitely make me happier than spending it on anything else.

I like this comment:

"Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must." Tim Jackson