Indian Computer Science (CS) & Information Technology (IT) Academic Reform Activism Consolidated Blog Document

A Tough View of US & UK CS Academia

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A Tough View of US & UK CS Academia

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A friend passed on "Hackers and Fighters" by Dr Mark Tarver:

Dr. Tarver compares the "street programmer"/"street fighter" with the "CS grad."/"school-trained martial artist". I think it is an interesting comparison.

He also talks about how difficult it is to do something innovative in CS academia. He said it took eight years for a CS dept. where he was working to decide to move from Pascal to C++!

He also states that for a fast moving area like computing the university model is too slow to adapt. I entirely agree with his view.

He mentions that the only way of handling the heavy teaching load of five to six courses a year at junior positions in academia is to go for canned courses. I think he is spot on here. At junior positions the teacher himself/herself is struggling to master his/her courses and when he/she is burdened with five to six courses, and fair bit of research work too sometimes, what can the teacher do but go the easy route of canned courses for most if not all the courses he/she has to teach.

He wryly notes that the professor will comprehensively beat the street programmer in the "black arts of churning out papers". I think he is spot on here too :).

Then an acquaintance sent another article by the same author, "Why I am Not a Professor OR The Decline and Fall of the British University". This is a vitriolic article about British universities in general and CS departments of those universities in particular just before 2000. It is brutal in its criticism but offers no thoughts of solutions. Read it only if you can stomach very harsh criticism:

I studied the article carefully. My God! What a terrible indictment of the British CS educational system (prior to year 2000)! [I don't mean to imply that India is better off - it may be worse off in the "commoner" universities.] The language used is stinging and sarcastic to the hilt.

The analysis of the need for universities in Europe from the eleventh or twelfth centuries onwards and how free online "information" & general literacy is challenging the position of universities is interesting. So too is the analysis of the impact of British government policies on education post World War II.

I get the feeling that a lot of what the author has penned must be true. But I wonder whether somebody from the British educational system rebutted his article. Maybe this author was with a not-so-great university ["but the procession of students who walked into my office and said 'Dr Tarver, I need to do a final year project but I can't do any programming'... well, they are more than I can remember or even want to remember."]. I find it hard to believe that most British university CS departments would have many students saying, "I need to do a final year project but I can't do any programming". The students, of course, may not be great programmers - but student himself/herself confessing to "can't do any programming" & looking for an easy way out with the project work - that seems hard to believe. Maybe that happens with lots of "commoner" Indian university CS/IT departments too - I just don't know.

The author solved his problem by getting out of the system. I think many of the problems he points out, namely, egalitarianism requirements of politicians who are voicing the needs of the people at large, I guess, not being able to fail many students even if they deserved to be failed as otherwise the course may become unpopular and so be shut down, watering down of courses, farcical (maybe even fixed) teaching audits, the black arts of churning out papers (counterfeit academic Mozarts), academic profession becoming unattractive, foreign immigrant academics with poor language skills ... may be true even today, at least, to some extent of CS education worldwide. But I feel that today the academic system is being challenged by commoner students (the 99 %) (Occupy movement tried to make a point at Harvard), politicians and people at large, and so I am quite hopeful of some meaningful reform happening. The Internet can be a great force which may allow for elite, commoner ... various types of courses to co-exist & flourish based on student choice and industry demand.

On deeper thought, I felt that Dr. Tarver's article is perhaps too negative, paints a depressing picture & offers no thoughts of solutions. A reader may feel that the system is beyond any possibility of redemption. Which I don't think is accurate. What we need to do is to raise awareness of the problems and work amicably and peacefully with politicians, bureaucrats, academics, industry, students & parents to improve the situation.

Top Leaders (Country Presidents/Prime Minister/Ministers/US Senators) Views on Education

Education and IT related parts of President Mukherjee's address to Parliament, June 2014

Education and IT related excerpts from PM Narendra Modi speech in Lok Sabha on June 11th 2014

Education Related Parts of US President Obama's State of the Union 2014 Speech, January 2014

USA - Student Right to Know Before You Go Act, December 2013

Judge me by my work - Terrific response by new non-graduate HRD minister, Smriti Irani, May 2014
Indian HRD Minister of State, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Writes Newspaper Article on Indian Academic Controversy, June 2013

First Question in 2nd US Presidential debate: Student asks about employment after graduation!, October 2012

Monday, June 9, 2014

Education and IT related parts of President Mukherjee's address to Parliament

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Here are some extracts and comments of President Mukherjee's speech to Parliament today (here's the full speech - a 14 page pdf document,

12. India is the world’s oldest civilization. Today it is also a country with the largest population of the youth. We must equip and nurture our youth with the right kind of education, skill-set and opportunity to reap this demographic dividend. My government will strive to transition from
Youth Development to Youth-led Development. It will set up Massive Open Online Courses and virtual classrooms. It will formulate a National Education Policy aimed at meeting the challenges posed by lack of quality, research and innovation in our educational institutions. We will set up IITs and IIMs in every state. In order to empower school teachers and students, a national e-library will be established. With the motto of "Har Haath Ko Hunar", my government will strive to break the barriers between formal education and skill development, and put in place a mechanism to give academic equivalence to vocational qualifications. With the goal of Skilled India, my government will also launch a National Multi-skill Mission.

[Ravi: I am so glad to see that education has been given significance in this govt's plan. Really great to see MOOCs being mentioned in the speech. MOOCs are the growing waves in higher education worldwide and seem to be going from strength to strength. India MUST get on to the bandwagon perhaps with a tie-up with leading players like edX and CourseEra.

"National education policy" - very interesting. But they must open it up to the public during the discussions stage itself rather than leave it to a small coterie of top academics and industry experts to make the policy, which is what seems to have been the case in the past. Use the Internet to involve all stakeholders including the vital students and parents stakeholders as well as junior faculty who have to deal with the teaching loads.

"academic equivalence to vocational qualifications" - wonder what that exactly means ... National Multi-skill Mission. Interesting. But one needs more information about them to comment meaningfully.

IITs and IIMs in every state - I am somewhat disappointed by no mention of UGC & AICTE specifically (but National Education Policy may involve UGC & AICTE) which cater to the vast majority of higher education students in the country. There seems to be a belief that bringing an IIT and/or IIM to a state will magically improve its higher education. It may do that for the brightest/elite among the youth of that state. But how about the other students who can't get into the IIT/IIM? They are the vast majority. And it is UGC & AICTE regulated institutions that cater to them. The govt. must explore ways to improve such institutions on a priority basis as it affects a vast number of  youth, and not give so much importance to IITs and IIMs that UGC & AICTE institutions get treated as unimportant.]

The government will especially strengthen measures to spread modern and technical education among minority communities and a National Madarsa Modernization Programme will be initiated.

[Ravi: That's excellent.]
22. E-governance brings empowerment, equity and efficiency. It has the power to transform peoples’ lives. The backbone of my government's new ways of working will be a Digital India. IT will be used to drive re-engineering of government processes to improve service delivery and
programme implementation. We will strive to provide Wi-Fi zones in critical public areas in the next five years. My government will rollout broadband highway to reach every village and make all schools e-enabled in a phased manner. Technology will be used to prepare our children for a
knowledge society. The National e-governance plan will be expanded to cover every government office from the centre to the Panchayat; to provide a wide variety of services to citizens. Emerging technologies like Social Media will be used as a tool for participative governance,
directly engaging the people in policy making and administration.

[Ravi: Fascinating! Shri Modi is strongly pro-technology and pro-e-governance. It will be very interesting for an IT guy like me to see how these plans work out over the coming months and years.]
36. Our rich cultural heritage is the very foundation on which rests the unity of our diverse nation. Indian languages are repositories of our rich literature, history, culture, art and other achievements. My government will launch a national mission "e-Bhasha” that will develop digital vernacular content and disseminate our classic literature in different languages. My government will also provide the required resources for the maintenance and restoration of national heritage sites.

[Ravi: That's great. Hopefully it will do a decent job, if not a good job.]
38. My government recognises the central role of Science and Technology in raising the quality of life. It will encourage and incentivize private sector investments, both domestic and foreign, in science and technology and in high-end research aimed at nurturing innovation. My government will build world class research centres in the fields of nanotechnology, material sciences, thorium technology, brain research, stem cells, etc. The government will also establish institutes of Technology for Rural Development and a Central University of Himalayan Studies.

--- end President speech education and IT related extracts and comments ---

Friday, June 13, 2014

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