Who is paying the price for the poor quality of higher education at India’s colleges? According Thane Richard writing for Quartz, his experience as an exchange student at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi shows that subpar teaching methods and a failure to innovate is robbing the country of some of its brightest minds as a growing number of students leave to pursue bachelor’s degree elsewhere.
Richard explains that his view that the classes he took as an exchange student in St. Stephen’s suffered in quality especially when compared to that of his home institution, Brown, was shared by other exchange students. He describes classes that consisted of nothing save the professor opening the textbook and reading from it verbatim while students took notes.
The best learning experience I had was hundreds of miles from campus with four other students and one professor on a trek to Kedarnath during October break . We had multi-day conversations spanning morality, faith, and history. During one memorable overnight bus ride, our professor told us the entire Mahabharata epic from memory while we leaned over seats or squatted in the aisle to be closer to the campfire of his voice while the rest of the bus dozed around us. The thirst in these students was there and this professor exemplified passionate teaching. But the system is broken. Bearing in mind the richness of India’s intellectual tradition, my entire study abroad experience in India, from an academic standpoint, was an enormous disappointment.
There is however, a limit on how many changes can be brought about, because according to Richard’s experience, opinions of outsiders aren’t particularly welcomed by many Indian “nationalists.” So even while students themselves are adapting to the obviously troubled system – including going to other countries to earn a diploma after earning a “useless” one locally – criticism that comes from an unsanctioned source is also verboten.
Even something as self-evident as the failure of the government to provide its students with a good education is not an acceptable subject for discussion between Indians and foreigners, he says.
My voice should be drowned out by the millions around me who are disappointed with how they have been short-changed by the Indian government—their government. Education is one of the most poignant examples of this and serves as great dinner conversation amongst the elite: “The Indian education system is lost in the past and failing India.” Everyone at the table nods, mumbles their concurrence, and cites the most recent Economist article or PricewaterhouseCooper study on the matter in order to masquerade as informed.
Richard says that in order to change their education system, Indians must grow more accepting of criticism – even if foreign – and become more assertive when it comes time to elect their leaders.