Monthly Archives: August 2011

The Tipping Point

Every year as if by default or a divine calling, professors invariably observe that the quality of students have decreased and that the freshers are no longer predisposed to work hard.  And it has happened every single year.  Snide remarks are made by professors in almost every class across all the subjects which subtextually says – “Yoor mother and fother are sending you to study only no. Time wastingaa?  Yoo aar aal yoosless”.  This is followed by an extended discourse on how great their generation was and how they had to study under street light, how they managed to defy all odds and succeed in life.  You know stuff like that.  Advice that you don’t need.  Yawn.  A finger is extended to everything under the sun – internet, LAN, interaction with seniors, Shaastra, Saarang, bad sleeping habits, bad eating habits, monkeys, deer and dogs.  Everything under the sun except the one relevant, to explain why freshers, who are supposed to belong to the cream of the country become dumb within the span of a month, if you go by what is reflected in their quiz scores.  A typical MA101 course has an average of around 3 out of 20.  That is 15%.  So, what happened?  Geniuses become dumb in a month?  Strange, isn’t it?

The answer hit me, when I was reading this book called, “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, a very interesting read.  The essence of the book is that after a certain threshold, a delta increase would lead to massive changes.  So, I asked myself, what made me give up in the first year.  It was not internet or LAN as I didn’t have access to both.  Was it interaction with seniors?  Not really.  I was a wimp in my first year, afraid to approach seniors.  Was it because I was burnt out intellectually after two years of preparation for JEE-supposed to be one among the toughest exams in the world?  No.  I was excited.  I was looking forward to learn.  And come on, JEE is not that tough.  Was it because the professors were boring?  Even though that seems to be the most plausible answer, again my answer would be no.  I stopped listening to classes even when the professors were the best in their field (For instance, Dr. Chandrakumar in Chemistry).  It wasn’t the case just with me.  Even when the topics were interesting and professor really good, a large percentage of students preferred to while away their time doodling in their notebooks rather than listening.

I religiously followed classes for a fortnight or so.   Then, I gradually lost interest in class.  By the end of first semester, the habit of mugging up everything just the day before exam started.  The senate has a one-stop solution to every problem like this.  Limit the freedom.  So, internet was blocked for 11 hours a day, attendance requirement increased to 85%.  Freshers shouldn’t go outside their room after 10PM.  No food in campus after midnight.  Bullshit.

So, why did people stop listening in class?  The answer is simple.  My claim is that it was because the classes were held in CRC.  CRC rooms are huge with the capacity to seat around 250 people for a lecture.  Unfortunately someone in the administration really used their brains.  All the fans in the room are mounted on the wall.  These fans don’t subtend the entire hall.  Of course, they are fans made in IIT Madras.  We in IIT Madras believe in precision.  You sit right beneath the fan, you will be comfortable.  A small move by an inch would make you a constant source of salt water.  So, in Chennai where the temperature hardly drops below 30 degrees, the poor fresher is made to sit in the class profusely sweating while the professor rants about Bra-Ket notation and Hilbert spaces.  And the professors complain.  If you come early to the class, running from the mess, you may get a seat near the fan but the effect is nullified because you will be sweating so much by all the running that you just want to crash off in the class.

This is the reason I stopped listening to the classes.  I asked around a bit and most people agree with me.  If the administration really wants to improve the grades of the students, all they need to do is install fans in CRC.  I am pretty much sure, grades will improve by a considerable margin.