Monday, November 2, 2009

Short Stories

I'm writing short stories on campus lives, full of satire. I have sent some for publication and I plan to write a campus novel soon.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stories of Campus Lives

I have bought a domain name, and I have started a blog there. These are stories of campus lives in a satirical vein. They are quite enjoyable and I look forward to your comments to take it further. These are small vignettes and I hope they shall develop into complete stories or a campus novel in the near future.

Please check it out at:

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pettiness in Academia

How many of you have experienced pettiness in the academic world? I have personally experienced quite a lot of it. In my university, where I teach, I have seen many things happen because of personal reasons, not because of any professional logic. Everything is dictated by personal jealousies and by hatred. There is all-pervasive hatred for colleagues because they are personally successful. I have heard senior colleagues tell me stuff like, 'you have been making lots of money in the stock markets'. I have never known European and American universities and I don't know about the levels of 'professional rivalry' there. But in the university where I teach, I have had the occasion to encounter it at personal levels.

I would like to learn what most of you think and feel about it. If you want, you can email me at

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Love Poem With a Difference

I don't know if you have heard of the great poet and
translator, A. K. Ramanujan.This is his translation
from the Poems of Love and War. Later on, Vikram
Chandra's novel took it's title from here. His novel
was called Red Earth and Pouring Rain.This translation
has also been there in the London Underground. This is
a famous poem. And certainly, a famous translation. How
would we interpret these love poems witha difference?

What He Said

Trans. by A. K. Ramanujan

What could my mother be
to yours? What kin is my father
to yours anyway? And how
did you and I meet ever?
But in love our hearts are as red
earth and pouring rain:
mingled beyond parting.

Cembulappeyani:ra:r (Kuruntokai 40)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Poll on Linkedin About Twitter

I have just created a poll on Linkedin about business generated through Twitter. It is online at

UK Schools to Teach Twitter and Blogging

There is a very fascinating bit that I caught in a PR email list. This is from the Guardian, UK. The Guardian has reliably learned that British primary schools are going to train students in twitter, blogging and other forms of new media and that there would be reduced focus on Victorian literature and other traditional areas. I believe this is a great step. I am sure purists would be very angry.

Here is the link to the news item:

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Notes on the PhD Degree

I hold something known as M.Phil. degree; it is a two-year degree one attains after an MA. I don't hold a PhD degree. However, I read a very interesting piece on the Purdue University website which makes out a great case for completing a PhD degree if one would like to pursue an academic career. Here is the link:

I am sure in a future post, I would also tell you about the worthless PhD degrees that I have seen proliferating in Indian academia disguised as 'scholarship'.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Great Resources on Twitter

I have managed to collect 419 websites on Twitter. They include blogs and articles. 95% of the material is quite informative. A large number of the articles are blog posts. However, one should take blog posts seriously. There are some very interesting links in this collection. One is a website of the National Council for Teacher Education, USA, which has a blog and where there are quite a few articles on how Twitter could be used to teach English to students. I also found an academic who had written a nice paper on it. There was a proposal for an MLA (Modern Language Association) Annual Convention Panel on Twitter. I am tempted to write a book on the subject.

Let us wait and watch. I might come up with something really substantial.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Twitter, Twitter: A Case for Social Media

I am sure you are going to start thinking that this blog is less about education issues and more about social media. Well, that isn't really true but it is clear that social media has great power, which is waiting to be unleashed at various places.

I am not writing this post in the form of a formal seminar paper and I am going to maintain my chatty tone throughout. However, the title "Twitter, Twitter: A Case for Social Media" is certainly a catchy seminar paper title.

I would like to approach this issue from various perspectives in my posts and in this post, I am going to focus on Twitter. However, let us begin with Mr. K Srinivasan of PR Point, a leading Public Relations practitioner in India. Mr. Srinivasan sincerely believes that social media should be taught to students in Indian colleges. I would be tempted to agree with him. Recently, I asked my media students to write about the way in which Barack Obama used social networking to his benefit. There was one student in my class, who said, "Sir, I don't know what this is all about." There were twelve students present there and we are referring to a very reputed institute in the country. There were two other students that day who didn't articulate it the way, this person did but they too seemed quite lost. Then, another day, I was speaking to another set of students, again students who are studying at a very reputed institute. I was teaching them public relations and we were discussing how various social networking sites could be used to create good PR. I spoke about Twitter and my students-- young 20-somethings, who stay in New Delhi, study media and are net-savvy--had heard of Twitter but they didn't know what it was all about.

This does show that there is a great need to educate young people about the uses of social media. Going back to Mr. Srinivasan, he is running an online poll on the Impact of Social Media on Indian Voters. Only Indian voters are eligible to participate. However, even if you are not an Indian voter, you can still access the website.

Sometime, early this week, I wrote a status update about myself on Facebook and I said I would like to explore Twitter for education and one of my Facebook contacts asked me how I would go about it. I thought that query gave me more food for thought. When I explained about Twitter to my students. I told them that it was a microblogging service where you could post updates about what you were doing in 140 characters. I also told them that you could follow other peoples' updates and that you could update others. The first question that five students asked in unison was: What's the use of following other peoples' updates? Why should anyone follow you? Those were pertinent questions. I explained the advantages to them. Then it made some sense to them.

Speaking about this Facebook friend, who asked me how I could use Twitter for education. I would like to be brief here and I would follow up with future posts which would demonstrate how Twitter could be used for education. Let us take an example. Let us speak about language teaching. However, one could form a limited Twitter group with students / speakers who are second language learners of English. The teacher could use Twitter for writing small phrases and could use the service for explaining the sentence structure used in the English language. The teacher could post an incorrect sentence and ask the students to correct it in real time. The teacher could use a conversational method to teach language.

Now, let us change track a bit. From the domain of education, media, and public relations, where Twitter can be quite powerful, let us speak about what Twitter is doing to the internet these days. John Battelle believes that Twitter is the You Tube of real time search. I thought that was a very powerful idea. Battelle wrote a post yesterday, February 25th. He calls it Twitter=You Tube. He says that You Tube generates more searches than Yahoo and he says that Twitter is community driven and Battelle states that Google wasn't that strong in that part of the media business. I liked the piece and I also liked the way he titled it.

Mercury News also has a very interesting article on the issue. Chris O'Brien wrote How Twitter could be a threat to Google. There is a great online buzz about Twitter and how it can be a transformational idea. We are already in the transformational age now with the election of Barack Obama and everything seems possible these days. Twitter hasn't made a penny yet and it suffered from a major PR disaster recently when some famous accounts were compromised. Figures tell me that Twitter has six million users and that a search function, is growing rapidly.

The co-founders of Twitter, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, have already sold a business to Google: Can you guess which one? They sold: Blogger. The same blogger that I am using right now to write this post. Twitter is based in San Francisco and is known as a microblogging service. O'Brien feels that the way Twitter has developed shows that it can do to Google, exactly what Microsoft did to IBM years ago. He feels that this is the way Goliaths are beaten. Twitter has already refused a $500 million offer from Facebook.

I am sure there will be more action in the near future. I wanted this post to focus on Twitter and to show how social media has developed. I would follow up with related posts soon.

If you would like to follow me on Twitter, please go to

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Immigrant Teens Struggle With Formal Schooling

About a month ago, I read a very interesting article about how immigrant teens were struggling with formal schooling in the schools of New York. To some people, this may look like an alien topic but I would first like to discuss the article and then speak about its various ramifications.

This article spoke about how many young people fled persecution in their countries, reached United States and got enrolled into schools. So, there was this girl, who was 18 years old and her name was Fanta Konneh. She grew up in Guinea after her family had fled from Liberia and she had never walked into any classroom all her life.The problem here is that we have very diverse set of students in a school, where some are from privileged settings, while the others are natives with lesser privileged homes, and while some others like Fanta Konneh have never known any formal schooling in their lives.

It would be a great challenge for the schools to impart any kind of education to the lesser privileged or the under privileged students because of the great diversity that existed among the students. Many students don't even understand the notion of being a student. The article states that New York is the only state that identifies them as Students with Interrupted Formal Education but it does not give them a special curriculum, nor does it provide additional financing or track their progress. So, in effect, it makes a mockery of the system.

Now, in India, we do not have such students who are immigrant teens. However, we do have students who enter college from such school settings from many rural settings where formal schooling is pathetic. I have taught students from diverse places in India such as Mizoram, Nagaland in the North East to Kashmir and Ladakh in the upper North. I do notice similar problems there. It becomes very difficult at the college level to help these students improve. There should be special provisions to identify exceptionally weak kids so that they could be given remedial classes.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My blog was featured on a Spanish forum

Dear All,

My blog, Issues in Academics, was featured on a Spanish forum. You might like to look at the link. It looks good. See it here:

Roomy Naqvy

Writing across the city

I was reading an article on Slumdog Millionaire and how the residents of Bombay had objections to the movie. They didn't object to the word 'dog' but to the word 'slum'. I read the article and then read about the contributors and it said that they were associated with 'Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research'. I knew nothing about this organization and did a Google search and a very interesting world opened up.

Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research is an NGO working in Bombay and has some very well-known people associated with it, including Arjuna Appadurai and the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Kalpana Sharma, who is a senior journalist and writes for The Hindu, a national Indian English newspaper.

Partners for Urban Knowledge Action and Research or PUKAR as it is known commissioned a very fascinating project called Writing across the city. To quote from their website:

Writing across the city

The Writing Across the City project aims to address the various cultures of writing that exist in the city of Mumbai, across linguistic, disciplinary and social divides. By examining the various proliferating modes of writing, which include forms and genres that are both creative and critical, we hope to uncover and understand the network of processes that underpin urban identity formation at various inter-connected levels.

This project was completed in 2007 and it was titled, "Mumbai’s Cosmopolitan Archive: Documenting Multi-lingual Literary Histories, Facilitating Translations".

It just set me thinking. This was a very interesting concept. We haven't had anything like this about New Delhi. Have you seen such a project about New York? London?

The PUKAR website is here:

They haven't told me to write about them and they don't even know I have written this piece. I thought it would be fascinating information for most of you.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Forthcoming posts and updates

First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank all of you for helping me improve the traffic ranking of my blog on a regular basis. My blog's Alexa ranking now is 793,487 and it now has 25 visitors every day. This is the first time that any blog of mine has breached the 800,000 mark. The next target for me is to breach 500,000. I am sure we would make it.

Now, let us talk of updates. I am a member of a number of online groups, forums and mailing lists.

I have read with a lot of interest a discussion on online teaching and how some teachers find it frustrating when students plagiarize. So, I am going to speak about plagiarism, about adjunct teachers. I am also going to talk about immigrant and first generation learners. I spoke to somebody on a social network and this person works as a school head in the US and s/he asked me a very interesting question: How do people expect schools to deliver on education quality in India?

I thought that was a fascinating question too. Please keep tuned. I am going to make things even more interesting, informative, educative in various ways.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The issue of student evaluation

In India, the Sixth Pay Commission for government employees, including university teachers was implemented recently. About ten years ago, the Fifth Pay Commission was implemented. I remember both at that time and now, the issue of student evaluation has cropped up. It has also led to severe protests and a lot of heartburn among the teaching community in India.

Around four months ago, I was discussing this issue with one of my seniors in the university, where I work. This person has been quite active in the teachers' movement and the teachers' association in the university. I remember telling him, "I think its a pretty good idea to let the teachers be evaluated by the students." However, he told me, "No, Roomy, you don't understand. India is not a mature democracy and this can be misused throughout the country."

So, I fell silent. When the University Grants Commission wants to enact something, it applies all through the country. However, I remain quite intrigued by this issue. I can understand that India is not a mature democracy in many ways and that a number of extraneous factors could influence university and college administrators to harass teachers. At the same time, there are other thoughts that swim through my mind.

I understand that student feedback plays some role in US universities. I know we would say that US is a matured democracy. So, it is. However, I also know from a number of my friends and colleagues, who have taught in Saudi Arabia, that student feedback, whether formal or informal, is considered important there as well. I don't know if Saudi Arabia is a mature democracy. It is a monarchy. Thus if student feedback could work in some ways both in the USA and in Saudi Arabia, I tend to feel it could work in India too.

I can understand the fears and the apprehensions. It is quite possible in India for 3-4 students to be swayed in a class of 50 and it is quite possible for the university or college to take action based on those 3-4 cooked up complaints. However, it wouldn't be legally tenable and would go against rules of natural justice.

I would like to hear more views on the subject. I am sure if student evaluation is accepted, then it should certainly be accepted properly, with clearly spelt out guidelines.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Creating a Higher Education Commission

The National Knowledge Commission in India has recently submitted its report and it believes that a new body called the Higher Education Commission (HEC) should be formed in the country. Right now, there are two bodies that work in the realm of higher education in India. They are known as UGC, University Grants Commission, and the AICTE, the All India Council for Technical Education. AICTE also governs universities and colleges. So, technical courses would be governed by the AICTE. The National Knowledge Commission believes that this creates confusion in the administration and has called for both these bodies to be dissolved into a larger Higher Education Commission.

I agree with the views of the Knowledge Commission. What is the situation in other countries regarding higher education?

Monday, February 16, 2009

How to write recommendation letters?

As I wrote in an earlier post, I had been invited to attend a workshop on Effective Communication in July 1999 at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, where I learned ‘How to write recommendation letters?’

Recommendation letters or letters of reference are central to our professional growth. We need them all the time. From applying for scholarships to applying for jobs and applying to work for new translation companies, we always need these references. A reference letter is a testimonial that a person writes for us, detailing our strong points and how we would be appropriate for a particular assignment. Reference letters for different purposes must be written in various ways. For instance, a reference letter for someone applying for a fellowship should be different from the one where someone applies for a job.

I would like to quote from a reference letter that I received from someone. I have left out some portions, for obvious confidentiality reasons. However, you would get the drift of the letter.

We highly recommend Roomy Naqvy for complex technical translation services….He is an extremely talented, professional and prompt translator and we consider him an asset to our team.

The original reference above is not more than 70 words in all and the extract above is 27 words. So, letters of reference could be short. They could also be long. Look at the text above. It says ‘we’ uses active voice; ‘highly recommend’, not ‘recommend’. The person could have written: ‘We have no problems in recommending Roomy Naqvy for translation services’. However, ‘no problems’ is actually negative in tone and stating ‘for translation services’ does not have the same effect that ‘complex technical translation services’ would have.

If you look at the second sentence, the person could have easily written:
1. We are happy with his work.
2. We are satisfied with his translations.
However, such sentences would have been examples of a ‘neutral’ tone and would convey a kind of flat response. Instead, the person writes: He is an extremely talented, professional and prompt translator and we consider him an asset to our team. You cannot have anything more positive than such words. I am indeed thankful to the person who wrote such a glowing reference for me.

If you wish to run down people and if you don’t want them to progress in life, you should write flat and neutral letters of reference.

I hope you liked this little post about letters of reference. I would follow this up again in more detail. In future posts, I would also give you examples of some letters of reference that I have written for other people. Do keep on reading and do tell your friends about it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Teach English through tweets

Roaming through blogosphere, I learned about an interesting idea. There was this person who wanted to know how Twitter [tweets] could be used to teach English. I think it is indeed a very interesting idea.

How to create effective CVs?

In July 1999, I went to the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur, India, for a week long course on Effective Communication, where I learned how to write effective letters of recommendation and resumes.

I would like to focus on How to write effective resumes/CVs? in this post.

A resume comes in a variety of formats and it is usually known as a CV these days. A long time ago, in India, they used to be known as 'biodatas'. The biodata was a strange format by Western standards and looks pretty quaint by Indian urban standards now. However, I am sure it is still prevalent in rural Indian settings. The biodata included diverse data such as the person's name, father's name, weight, height, 'sex', date of birth (why on earth!) and it included every possible educational qualification, including what you did at High School.

I am really happy that the biodata has become completely redundant in our age. It was an atrocious format.

These days, we are in an age of CVs and resumes. For those with an international perspective, we are into specifics such as the European CV format.

CVs usually include an objective. However, these days, even objectives are no longer required. Out go the details about date of birth etc and if personal details are required, they are kept to the bare minimum and only mentioned under the head 'personal details' toward the end of the CV. In the earlier biodata format, the details were written from the earliest to the latest. Now, the focus is on the latest to the earliest, which makes a lot of sense.

The European CV format also wants you to understand your core competencies and state them, which is even better.

If you master the format but you do not know what you must write in it, then you must count as a failure. The first thing to understand is that you never have one CV to fit all occasions. If you make a generic CV to fit all jobs, then you are committing harakiri, suicide for Japanese. Please do not do something reckless. Every job, every professional situation, would need a CV that caters to the specific situation.

So, now, we know that we must write CVs that fit different jobs. Good. What else?

The next thing is to ensure that we describe ourselves in proper terms. We should use words and verbs which are positive in nature and that denote action. No company would like to hire people who sound defensive, morose, jealous, insecure or average. Please do keep in mind that every company is likely to receive thousands of CVs and the only way your CV would elicit a reply is when it stands out.

My CV always gets me excellent responses. About fifteen months ago, I was offered a job (with a pretty high salary) by a very reputed international company (without applying for it) based on the strength of my professional work and my CV. I turned it down, even though it is rare to be offered a job without applying for it, because of certain social reasons. I have no regrets about it.

If you would like to look at examples of good CVs, do let me know. Or if you would like me to look at your CVs and give you some suggestions, you can always mail them over to me and I'll do my best for you. If you want, I might even be able to ask other people in my professional network to help out.

Friday, February 13, 2009

How to get into Harvard Business School?

This is going to be very interesting. At an online discussion forum for working professionals, a colleague (from the US) asked a question about his/her 10-year old son who wants to get into Harvard and how he could get there. The question was directed at people who have attended Harvard. Now, I was quite impressed with the question and the child. So, even though I have never been to Harvard and I am not even a management professional and even though I might be seen as a perfect ignoramus, I decided to take the risk and stake my insignificant reputation.

About eight to ten people replied and some of them included very reputed and senior professionals. Yours truly, 'Roomy Naqvy', too replied.

My reply was (I'm going to summarize it here):

I have never been at Harvard but one does read a lot about how to get into top notch business schools. One not only needs good grades but one should also display some kind of business/entrepreneurial or management experience. So, running a burger stand might help.

[I also referred to Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor and a source of immense motivation to me in my life]

Warren Buffett used to throw two newspapers in the morning while at school and by the time, he was 16 yrs old, he had already accumulated $6000 of his own money. He also bought a used Mercedes car and rented it out on a profit.

The interesting thing here is that the asker of the question found my answer to be the best one. :):)

This is, in fact, true. If you go to the world's best business schools, they look for a lot other qualities than grades. Everyone can get good grades. They mean nothing. However, everyone cannot get good business or managerial experience.

Do you use conflict productively?

Recently, a gentleman who's the President of a company and its Chief Vision Officer asked me a very interesting question. I found the question quite fascinating and I'm sure, as students and young people, you would like it too. This gentleman is based in the US and has a pretty good CV. His question was: Do you use conflict productively or do you avoid it to keep the peace?

He wanted me to tell him about my personal experiences with conflict, not textbook examples. So, I gave him some personal tidbits. You would notice that I have not named any single person. I haven't named people because it is against my principles to name people and it is unprofessional to do so. It is not because I am afraid of anyone. In any case, one is not afraid of puny folks.

You could find some extracts reproduced below (The ellipses (.....) show that I have left out few details):

In my organization, I have witnessed conflict at work. I work in a university.....I don't know how it might be in an American or British university but I could tell you about some of my experiences.

In 1997, I translated a great number of poems and stories and published them in a very reputed Indian journal. That particular issue carried 35 pages of my translations, whereas the issue itself was 175 pages. I was young and full of enthusiasm. I took the journal issue to one of my seniors at my workplace.....He said, "You would earn a lot of money"....I expected him to say, "Well done, my boy, keep it up" or perhaps, smile and congratulate me or take me out for coffee or ask me to take him out etc. I was put off but I said, "Sir, I don't really know." To which, he again reiterated the same point. His voice was somber and expression serious. I was quite angry and took two days to recover.

In 2005, we are going to speak about another senior person. I was interviewed by Dr. Tim Altanero of Texas for an article he published on translating airline menus. I got the magazine and showed it to another senior. ...........
This person kind of mocked my words where I was quoted. I knew he would react in a similar fashion but I showed it to him to 'test' him. I was proved right. I didn't feel bad
and when they say this, I tell myself, these are exceptionally insecure people who would probably be failures anywhere in life. And the only way they can communicate is through conflict.

Sometimes, people who are senior to you try to provoke you in public with certain damaging statements. However, if you do not get provoked, what can anyone do to you? Moreover, if you think that the people, who do such things to you, aren't worth a single thought of your time, I am sure you would feel very happy in life.
1. When I leave my place of work, the moment I am out of the building, I forget what happened and then appreciate the world around.

2 If I have clear evidence, somebody is jealous of me, I also tell myself, "Wow, Roomy, you must be doing pretty well in life". So, somebody being jealous is, in fact, a morale booster.

The interesting thing is that when this gentleman, who's the President of a company, asked me this 'management' question and when he saw my answer, he wrote to me stating that he was quite impressed. He also said that the second thought that "
somebody being jealous is, in fact, a morale booster", a powerful thought.

I would like to leave you people with these interesting, but really useful, thoughts about life and about management.

Forthcoming posts in the near future

Dear Folks,

In the next few posts, I am going to speak about some pretty relevant issues such as diffidence as an impediment to success. Few professional people asked me interesting questions about conflict management and one American working professional asked me a question about his son wanting to get into Harvard Business School. These senior people were quite impressed with some of my answers. I am going to talk about them in the next few posts.

Hope you enjoy them and I hope they would be useful to you as they were to these senior, working professionals.

Roomy Naqvy

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Different kinds of students

How do you look at students after thirteen years of teaching them? After looking at them carefully for such a long time? After interacting with a number of them? After teaching 300-350 odd students every year?

I have seen a variety of students, including my own self, people who studied with me and people whom I have taught at various levels. I am not an expert in human psychology but I believe I can classify my students into few categories. The first is the type who is very quiet, hardworking and is the studious kind. This type gets good grades and is always present in all lectures but is normally less communicative in classes and is not very forthcoming in communicating with the teacher.

Then, there is the second type that is present in lectures, sometimes misses them, is involved in other activities and is articulate. They are the ones who can communicate their problems to the teacher.

Both type one and type two are capable of respecting their teachers.

Then there is type three, which is quite different. Type three is not bothered about lectures and isn’t bothered about any other extra activity in the college. They would like to leave their homes, come to college, drink coffee at canteens, roam around with boy or girlfriends all the time, not attend lectures and usually make fun of anybody around. This type is usually someone who feels that they have parents who can do anything for them in their lives. However, soon, when they leave college or university, they learn that their enthusiasm was quite misplaced.

I find it very fascinating to observe young people (in India) and how many of them can be quite insolent and feel as if they have the world beneath them, whereas they have done nothing at all in their lives.

In my next post, I would like to follow up with a write-up on Diffidence as an impediment to success.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Rodin's picture

This is the famous picture. Rodin's picture.
It shows him thinking.
Using the brain.

Introducing Project Gutenberg and other thoughts

What does Project Gutenberg mean to you? To some, it rings a bell. To many, it means nothing at all.

Recently, I was speaking about social networks. A young person, whom I teach, didn't know what they meant.

What's happening?

There's no point berating people. There's no point castigating them. There's no point criticizing them for something that they don't know. It is important, however, to understand that a number of things, which we take for granted, aren't really given. Some of those things could be pretty tough for a large number of educated people with normal intelligence quotients.

What's happening, really?

Think about it.

We are now in an age of 'information overdose'. This is similar to overdose of caffeine, milk, anything in life. This overdose has created a situation where a large number of people are simply unable to catch up with what's happening in the technological sphere in their lives.

Think about it. Write about it here. Let us share some thoughts.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Closing schools, keeping bridges...

I read something very alarming. At first sight, it looked very funny to me. I found out that one of the effect of the economic crisis in the US is that states are trying to cut on schools and education, while trying to revive the economy. So, the idea of the stimulus package is to reduce the priority on education.

Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times that Bernanke, Summers and Geithner were close students of the mess in Japan from 1995 to 1999 and they realize the need to act decisively. Kristof says that it is Ok to sacrifice the small stimulus for a big one.

I don't know.

I am sure the big stimulus is important. I am sure the Colin Powell style carpet bombing of the economy with huge stimulus packages is necessary. However, I wouldn't lose sight of education, essentially primary school education. Education is a very important resource and it is something that builds human capital.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The power of social media

I support Mr. K. Srinivasan's view that social media should be taught as part of the university curricula in India. It could be part of public relations and media studies programs. Moreover, social media and web writing could also be part of an English studies program, where it could be included as part of a compulsory English course. The US President Barack Obama has shown the great power inherent in social media. You would be amazed to know that his Facebook page has 4.2 million fans, which is much higher than the fans that the David Beckham or the Johnny Depp pages have. So, Mr. Obama has been uniquely and singularly successful in being able to harness the strength inherently present in social and new media. However, as I have been a part of the Indian academia, I am aware that such courses would be seen with disdain among 'purists'.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Social media as part of university curriculum

Mr. K Srinivasan, a well known public relations (PR) practitioner in India spoke to The Business Line, an Indian business daily, where he spoke about the need to include social media as part of the curriculum in colleges so that youngsters would not misuse it. He was speaking to students of an engineering college. He said that social networks such as Facebook, Myspace, Orkut and Linkedin had become the preferred mode of communication for young people and that these networks helped people hone their skills.

You can read the complete article here:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

More on methods of teaching

There is such great 'variety' between the teaching methods employed by university teachers in India that I am somewhat aghast when I think about it. For those who understand literary texts, I once knew of a teacher in some Indian university, who took one lecture (damn it, just one lecture and I wasn't the unfortunate student) to complete Henry Fielding's novel, Tom Jones.

I am not trying to state that all Indian teachers are bad. In fact, Indians are known as good teachers in many countries of the world.

One excellent teacher that I had heard of was P. Lal, the person who used to teach in Calcutta and who was singularly responsible for the publishing boom in Indian English writing. He started Writers Workshop, a publishing house. One of my father's friends studied under him and he used to tell me that when P. Lal taught in the 1960s, there used to be huge classes and even students, who did not have courses with him, would troop in. The interesting thing here is that there used to be silence in his classes and he never scolded anyone. He was certainly a great teacher, however, he was also a publishing pioneer and I am sure, he must have escaped the petty politics that plagues many of us, even if we don't want to be part of it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Teaching Practices

How do you teach university students? Are professors in a university trained to teach students? I don't think professors are ever trained to teach students either in the US or in India. In India, they are never trained to teach. Usually, professors pass out from graduate school with their dissertations, work for few years as adjunct (temporary / ad-hoc) faculty and then get full-time tenure. In the US, they have something called student feedback and I guess it is taken into consideration while keeping people on full-time tenure. In India, there is nothing like student feedback. So, one passes out from graduate school or college with an M.Phil. or Phd degree, clears something called the NET examination conducted by the University Grants Commission, and applies for an adjunct position. Meanwhile, one tries to get few papers or book reviews published. Sometimes, you don't even need a single publication if you are appearing for an adjunct position. The moment you get an adjunct position, you are the proverbial scapegoat because you are given a lot of work and you are not expected to speak at department meetings. Moreover, as an adjunct, you cannot choose the courses that you might teach.

After few years, the adjunct teacher is given a full time tenure as Assistant Professor. The faculty member is supposed to give answers to the questions asked in an interview, where the department chair, two experts, the vice-chancellor and a visitor's nominee are present. Usually, there are forty to fifty applicants for a single position and there is no guarantee that if a person has worked as an adjunct for the last few years, s/he might be absorbed there. In fact, getting into a full-time tenure does not depend on favorable student feedback or dedication to work. It depends on the composition of the commitee that selects you as well as some publications that you might have to show. However, I have known of people in the country, where they have been selected even without publications or the quality of publications can be quite varied and rather suspect.

However, no one is ever imparted training in how to be a good teacher. In the US, students pay a lot of money as fees and they are given lists of books to read at the beginning of the semester. They read those books and come to the classroom. There is a lot of internal assessment and students ask a lot of questions to the teacher. In India, one goes to the first lecture, tells the students about the books in the syllabus, then asks them to buy the book. After a week (which is usually being very optimistic), the students might have bought the books. There is certainly no guarantee that the students might have read those books. They read it slowly or rather a number of faculty try to spoonfeed them.

I have seen a number of faculty members all over the country spoonfeed students.It is a platter. The most popular faculty members are those who make it so simple for the students that sometimes might not need to read the books or might just read them later. Moreover, the examination system leaves a lot to be desired. Students can easily cram up questions asked in previous years and guess the questions. The entire system is such that it encourages mediocrity and punishes brilliance. It is in such settings that our Indian faculty members work and they often excel globally. You must salute the spirit of those Indian faculty members who excel in their professional work. They are quite rare.

The Structure of a University

I have taught for the last thirteen years at a well-known university in India. In the last thirteen years, I have seen a number of administrators at various levels including department as well as faculty administrators, deans, vice-chancellors and others. I have seen a number of developments on my campus. I can recollect developments such as a great improvement in the law and order situation on the campus, installation of the internet as well as the making of the university website. I have also seen removal of encroachments on university land by local people. I have also seen a great construction boom and I have seen various facilities being provided to academic departments being upgraded. Many faculty members got computers (but not all) and departments got photocopy machines and the university got a generator to save it from power cuts. However, I have never seen any great improvements in the actual state of the classrooms or those of the blackboards. I have not seen any move towards usage of better teaching aids. No LCD projectors in lecture halls. No generator support for classrooms. Nothing really to upgrade the teaching skills of the staff. No student feedback.

So, what really constitutes a university?

Now, I'm speaking about my experiences at a well-known Indian university and my comments are in a perfectly positive vein. I have known of a number of developments and I am happy about them. Interestingly, the state at other Indian universities that do not exist in big cities is rather abysmal.

More on the Academic World

I have known a number of people who got into other professions such as journalism or management and reached pretty high places. Some of my friends in school have successfully established businesses. When I would meet them, they would always be immensely pleased that I was an academic. In fact, one of my school pals, who is placed at a senior position in the corporate world, told me that he was impressed that 'I was a groovy professor'. Now, if you look at this school pal of mine and I passed out of school in 1988 and then went to college, it is indeed a pretty long time ago. This friend of mine is well-educated, holds a senior position, a position that is more senior than what I hold, earns more money and commands more people under him. So, socially, he is certainly at a higher scale compared to what I do in my life, most probably in every respect. However, he seems to have respect for the world of academia. Similarly, I have had a number of lay people (those who are qualified professionals but do not hail from the world of academics) tell me that they believe that 'teaching at a university is an easy job'--you go to the university, take lectures and come back home. In the popular perception, it is certainly easier than being a police officer, where you might be asked to report at night at the scene of crime.

Now, a number of such people also tell me that they believe that there is no workplace rivalry or politics in the world of academics because 'there are educated people in academia'. I understand that there are 'educated people' in academia, however, even for a moment, I refuse to believe that people who complete their Masters in Business Administration or hose who complete an MD, are any less competent or less educated. I have seen the seedy side of academics at close quarters and sometimes, I feel that I should script a movie on the subject. It might be the Slumdog Millionaire of the academic world!

The World of Academia

The world of academia can be quite different from the hallowed portals that most lay people think it is. It can be decidedly murky and can be full of intrigue and rivalry that characterizes other workplaces. In fact, speaking from personal experience and experiences of close friends, I believe that in Indian academia, rivalry at the workplace can be far bitter than at other workplaces in the country. I have seen a number of academics making it pretty big in the political scenario.