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Monday, June 21, 2010

Role of Research Oriented Course Projects in Student’s Life

Lack of good communication between parents and children results in unhappy parents and dis-oriented students. If every student carries out course related research into parents activity in the initial years of undergraduate studies, then there is a possibility that communication between parents and children gets strengthened. This in turn might lead to globalization and modernization of successful family businesses hitherto run on traditional approach. There is also greater possibility of knowledge transfer from parent to child on professional, technical, financial and administrative fronts. Solution proposed in this note is centered around a concept – students carry out course related research oriented projects based on parents activity. A scheme of projects and role of parents, professors, students and industry is indicated.

Even most successful person in life might find it difficult to answer the questions, “ Are you happy with your current job?”, “ Did you achieve your objectives in life?”, “ How do you plan to make your life happier?”. These are some of the hard questions, interlaced with family life, society in which a person lives and of course one’s own ambitions and capabilities. Ex- President APJ Kalam said rightly “ You have to dream before your dreams can come true”. Perhaps most of us are afraid of dreaming big, even though dreams are free and do not cost a rupee.

It is unfortunate that the pressure and tensions that students and youth are facing these days gives us an impression that good sleep itself is a luxury. In such cases dreaming becomes an unviable proposition. Following are some typical cases where students and parents loose peaceful sleep. .
  • Son of a successful Supreme court lawyer fails two successive years and drops out of computer engineering course.
Father has no time for son
Son feels that law is easy compared to engineering
Father wants son to complete engineering
  • Son of a rich edible oil merchant fails to write even a single computer program and takes more than 7 years to complete graduation in computer engineering.
Son is afraid of computer programming
Son gets frustrated due to peer competition
Parent has unrealistic expectation.
  • A teacher parent, pledges agricultural land and sends son to study computers and the son takes 8 years to complete a four years course and fails to get a job.
Son could not cope up with stiff competition.
Son lacks capabilities, command over medium of instruction.
  • Son of a State electricity board engineer studying B.Sc computers wants to study Linux, M.Sc/M.CA/MBA after completing degree, but has no idea about the role computers play in state electricity board.
Son lacks interest in parent’s activities
Father pampers son without assessment/ignores deficiencies of son
  • Son of a successful electricals shop owner, studying B.Com hardly attends college, but sits in the shop regularly.
Parents lack vision
Son lacks discipline
These are some of the common cases we encounter these days. We keep reading statements like “ we need to motivate students before they get into recitation mode”, “ our students and education system should give more emphasis to creative thinking”. However, students, parents and teachers are finding it difficult to come up with a possible solution. Net result is a safe route – more number of coaching classes, more recitation, better marks and lack of depth in subjects studied.

Disturbing trends
A closer observation of above cases indicates disturbing trends amongst students and parents. Most significant disturbing trends are:
  • Students lack of interest in family business, in spite of a successful business development by parents. Students are often carried away by the employment trends and media buzz words. Students and parents ignore the fact that there is always scope to improve family business using technology, efficient management. In this era of open markets, lobalization, there is need to revamp family businesses with modern technology.
  • Students lack appreciation of parents activities. Many a times students prefer to do anything but not the profession or job being done by parents. This could be due to the fact that they see the difficulties parents face in current profession. An objective study by students into parents activities in the early stage of undergraduate study might help the parents and student in adding value to the parents activity if required. For example, the son of a bank officer, studying electronics can analyse the state of electronics used by parent in bank and compare it with best practices in the world. As far as the student is concerned, there is a ready customer and guide in domain in the form of parent. Parent might not hesitate to give detailed requirements which other customers will never be able to provide. It would be a great experience to student and parent if student comes up with better strategy or solution following a different approach to hard technical /administrative problems parents face in profession. It is needless to say that such experiences are required in building a progressive society and great nation.
  • Parents misunderstand wards interest and capabilities. One of the consequences of recent developments in information technology, electronic media is herd mentality amongst parents and students. Students are attracted to the profession/trade of role models earning millions. Parents decide on wards career plan based on money power or the popularity of the field. Very seldom, enough effort is spent in analyzing ward’s strengths and weaknesses, interests while planning career. Students lacking interest in the career they are asked to follow, might end up as a failure, causing frustration to self, parents, society and nation. They end up in taking jobs/ trades unconnected to the course studied.
  • Students frustration due to heavy competition. Ill effect of having large population in India is shown on the students and youngsters life. Few seats in reputed institutes for large number of students means heavy competition. Applicants versus actual seats ratio in some institutes goes over 1000. Situation is not different for plum posts in government sector. Once competition goes beyond a level, other means like malpractices, paper leaks, bribe, coaching syndicates emerges as a means to ensure seats for a price.
  • False impression by coaching classes and marks obtained in examinations. In their eagerness to get few seats in premiere institutes, parents and students flock to coaching classes. Most of the coaching classes tend to train students to fare well in a particular examination. Seldom a coaching class concentrates on concepts and fundamentals. Net result is student gets very good marks, but fail to answer indirect questions. In other words students learn best way to answer examination questions at the cost of knowledge.
  • Frustration in life due to lack of satisfaction in the profession pursued on graduation. One could say it is luxury if a youngster is permitted to do a job that is exciting and challenging on completion of studies. The jobs that satisfy an youngsters desire may not be paying enough to lead satisfied life. Jobs that could give good pay packs may not utilize the knowledge acquired by students. Students graduating from premier institutes are good example of this phenomenon. Most of the students graduating from IITs end up in IT sector and start career as programmers, irrespective of the fact they studied civil, mechanical, chemical or aeronautical engineering.

Solution should 
Give better orientation to student towards his/her future. Most of the teenagers, with top ranks at intermediate examination level state that they want to become researchers, doctors, computer scientist etc. Hardly few of these teenagers have any idea about the path they need to follow. It is necessary that they are mentored, encouraged to sustain zeal to invent and innovate during graduate studies.

Involve objective study of real world projects: Most of the times students are biased with rumors, hype in media or mis-concept about the kind of jobs, research and career in real world. It will be late by the time they realize the mistakes. Perhaps a couple of projects that are objective could help better understanding on the part of the students. Students might get ready help and guidance if these projects are directly or indirectly linked to the activities of parents or some other elders.

Increase interaction between the parents and students: Unfortunately we are leading society towards western culture. Parents feel that their responsibility is over once ward is joined in some college. If they are unable to get ward into reputed college, then put ward in one or more coaching classes and there by feel that their duty is fulfilled. I believe that projects mentioned above will increase productive and meaningful interaction between parents and children. Ward will come to know merits and demerits of the parents activity. Parents might be happy to pass on important knowledge to children rather than to others. Apart from these benefits, there will be some useful discussion every day in the family. Traditional cultural bondage of East can be restored.

Reduce the pressure on students in performing the areas student wishes to avoid: Increased interaction between parents and student could lead to a better understanding of wards capabilities, interests to parents. This could help parents in making right assessment of wards capability and plan suitable career.

Pave path towards modernization/ globalization: While keeping cultural bondage it is necessary that we as a society progress through modernization and lobalization. Youngsters familiar with emerging trends in technology can reason and convince parents of the need for modernizing their activity to take it to global level.

Bring in better discipline: To me discipline is something internal to a person. It cannot be enforced by rules, regulations. Teenagers and youth tend to become rebellious on forced discipline. In my view if the students are involved in challenging tasks in the area they are interested, discipline comes automatic. Unless youngsters clearly see the future , benefits of their current education/degrees, it will be nearly impossible to bring discipline into their daily routine. 

Result in better ethics: For some strange reason, it seems we lost all our glory about sharing wealth and knowledge which is part of Indian philosophy. Instead, we encourage our wards to be protective, competitive and introvert individuals. It is unfortunate that brilliant students hesitate to share knowledge with those not clear about a topic, fearing that other student might get equally good marks, threatening his or her own rank in the merit list. I do not know, when if at all we can turn the student force from competition to collaboration mould.
Greater acceptability of student’s abilities by society and academia 

Proposed Solution: 
Here is a solution I propose to all like-minded professionals, parents, teachers and students for consideration. The solution is intense participation of students in research oriented course projects with the help of parents in the initial stages. Research oriented course projects are mandatory in most of the courses offered in the western universities/schools. Involvement of parents is something new in my model. 
More than often, there is confusion in the minds of parents and students about the future course and career plan. Parents would like the ward to study a course that is popular irrespective of wards capabilities, wards interest and their own profession/ business. Students for their part tend to choose the career path followed by role models in the college or society hoping that some how they will manage to reach the level of the role model. They tend to ignore the ground realities like employment opportunities, political and economic developments. Disturbance to career plan starts if the student fails to live up to the parents expectations on the demanding course due to heavy competition. Even those students successful in academics might find themselves in a difficult situation at the age of 30 years or so, if the parents have successful business or enterprise. Dilemma to continue with popular career path versus family business can become a major irritant if these two do not match.
Perhaps it would be a better idea if every student does a systematic study of parents activity before deciding career path. This can be done from the course the student is currently in. In this process, a student might get to know the reasons behind parents success, parents might come to know of views from next generation on their profession/ business. This in turn might lead to modernization and globalization of traditional family businesses. 
First project: The first research oriented course project every student attempts should be detailed study of parents activity. I suggest that this project is carried out during the first year of undergraduate course. One point most of the students I interacted confused is the role of parents activity and how can they get a hold of it. One suggestion I have in this regard is, as a part of their first project student spends about 75 hours of his/her time interacting with parents or elders in understanding parents activity from technology, management and success point of view. A detailed document is then prepared on parents activity covering procedures and processes followed, strengths and weaknesses, limitations, constraints, opportunities, government regulations, financial aspects, technical aspects and future prospects. New developments related to parent’s activities both within the country and abroad are collected from library or Internet and a final report is prepared on parents activity. 

In my view, this first project can be done based on the branch of studies the student is in, student’s career plan, students area of interest and parents activities. For example, ward of a whole sale trader studying computers can study the role of various inventory strategies, software products used in India and abroad. Newer concepts like just in time trading can be introduced. If the ward is studying commerce, ward can think of international trade of their family business as ultimate objective and study parents business from that perspective. I am certain that with little effort from parents, students, professionals, professors and student counsellers, a project topic that fulfills students interest and parents activity can be identified.

Second project: This could be follow up of the above first project in the second year of undergraduate studies. The emphasis in this project is study of various technologies, products available in the market that could improve the efficiency of parents activity. Identification of most appropriate technology or product is the end result of this project. Student may not be familiar with technical jargon used. It is at this juncture help from faculty, professionals and senior students is required. In some cases implementing prototype or scaled down version or demo version is possible. Students should explore this possibility to complement study. This project again can be done satisfying interest of all parties.

Third project: Once a student has completed above two projects, then student as well as parents are in a position to take decision on future course. Student would have carried out extensive study of parents activity, state of art in this area related to the course he/she is studying. Parents for their part will get an idea about capabilities of the ward with respect to their own activity, its growth or expansion. At this point, a student should be encouraged to initiate innovative thoughts whether linked or not to the parents activity. Being in the third year of undergraduate study, student might have got exposure to things happening around, trends in the market, formulated some views based on friends circle, senior students success. A student should seek the help of professors, ex- students working in industry and experienced professionals to identify the area and topics a student should explore in depth. This project on initial step towards innovation could be in research or product development or entrepreneurship awareness depending on the career path a student chooses.

Fourth project: A student successful in doing first three projects would be well versed with the state of art in the career path he or she intends to pursue. Student would be either in post graduate studies or final year of professional courses. In either case, the student should focus on the people working on technical problems a student is interested in Indian and universities abroad, research laboratories in India and abroad. Main objective of projects at this level is publications, intellectual property development. This can be done with the help of specialists, researching professors, professionals. 

Models like the one above can be successful if and only if parents, students, professors, professionals and researchers actively contribute. A virtual community of working professionals and students interested in collaborative research is necessary to pursue this type of activities. 


Misplaced concepts on campus placement

One day I was visiting a village some 15 Kms from my town. I was at a house of a family in the village. There is this guy, Krishna who has done his engineering degree with information technology flavor. During the conversation with Krishna, who has just completed his final year examinations, I was told that the college does not have ‘on campus placements’. Moreover in the college they taught only basics and to get a job this youngster has to attend a course in nearby metropolitan city, shelling down some Rs 50,000. 
The first question if not the only question I was asked by my relatives, friends and parents of students is “ how is placement in your college?”. For some unexplainable reason, campus placement seems to be the factor in selecting a college for study. I know that it is important to get a decent job after graduation, but should the parents and students be particular about placement at the time of admission to a course that takes three or four years. In particular the rate at which the information technology and software industry is changing, it would be anybody’s guess on employment opportunities after four years. Self financed institutions play this campus placement card as a unique selling point to attract talented students. Some of the institutes indicate the highest salary, minimum salary in their web site and/ or brochure. Very few parents and students are aware of the fact that the percentage of students paid highest salary will be a small percentage and bulk are offered minimum salary. Moreover, parents should check the percentage of students passing out in time. That is if a college admits 500 students, but only 300 pass engineering degree examination by the end of four years, if the college claims 100% placement, then it means that only 300 students are placed out of 500 admitted. The remaining 200 are not employable as they might have discontinued or failed in one or more subjects.

Once I was attending a social function in Hyderabad. There was excitement in otherwise calm atmosphere where in we were discussing news items. The source of the excitement was a young man who just walked in along with his parents. Reason for excitement is that this young man was selected by an Indian Multi National Company in campus placement. I was suddenly reminded of the response given by students and my reaction in introductory lecture several years. In most of such lectures I used to ask the students

“ What is the objective of your life?”,
“What is the objective of your engineering study?’,
“What is your biggest dream?”. 
After sustained persuasion I used to get a consistent reply “ My big dream is to get a job after completing engineering degree”. 
I used to comment “ It is a pity that we are afraid of dreaming!”
The days are gone where in the young boys dream of conquering the world, young girls dream of a prince coming on a white horse and taking her away to make her as queen. 
  1. Confused state ( story of a confused rich boy)
  2. Fancy as a pilot
  3. Job versus family business
  4. Caught in a web (gambling / drugs/ betting)
  5. PG in India or abroad – ms
  6. Rumors and its impact- missing exams, project viva, placemen
  7. Story of a determined girl- amrita joshi
  8. Story of an easy going rich girl –pict example
  9. story of a spoiled rich girl –pict example
  10. Story of a systematic learner –
  11. Story of a rich land lord’s son( Premchand-Mtm)
  12. Story of an industrialist’s son (Karun Phillips)
  13. Students cheating themselves- gayatri
  14. Students cheating their parents
  15. Formidable obstacles of rural engineering college students
  16. Student interested in film direction
  17. Student mad after a film actress – vanisree ,tahasildar’s son

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