Arshie Qureshi spoke to Shahid Rasool about his experience of studying in the US where he did his Master’s. Shahid was recently appointed Director, Commonwealth Education Media Centre for Asia, CEMCA. Before this, he was heading the EMMRC at Kashmir University
Q Share with us your first-day experience of being in a class of an American university.
On my first day at the University of Syracuse, I couldn’t gather much of what the professor said during the lecture. I couldn’t follow his words. His accent seemed totally alien. After the class, I went to him to share my concern. Then he slowed down, realising that there were some non-native English speakers in the class. Eventually, I picked up.
Q Tell us briefly what the pedagogical system is like in the US and how teaching is usually done there.
You have to be on your toes from 9am to 9pm, five days a week. You are encouraged to read more and more. In one of the classes, I remember, the teacher came to class with a trolley of books and asked students to pick books of their choice and select dates for themselves as to when they would return with the critical analysis of the book. A class spreads over a duration of three hours and the teacher only introduces the topic, followed by discussions. The sessions are very interactive and demand active participation. Also, there you don’t have a luxury of 70-75% attendance. You have to be in the class always with some specified exemptions.
Q How do teachers conduct themselves with relation to the students and the subject they teach?’
The teacher-student relation does not extend beyond academics. Teachers are always available to the students and they are required to make it known to the students when they would be available for consultations. Apart from that, they are available online almost all the time. Sometimes they even conduct exams online.
Q And what is expected of the students in that system?
Learning and personality development are the things that are most emphasised on in that system. They are provided liberal atmosphere to grow into critical thinkers. They train their students to work as professionals, and that’s how they are expected to work. The nature of assignments they give is such that those are actually applicable and are made use of. I was given an assigned to draft a business model for a radio station which was not making money due to onslaught of alternate media. There was no way I could make up things. I had to understand the existing structures, the market and the audience demands.
Q Personally, what merits and demerits did you nd in that system?
The merits and demerits depend on the taker. No system or culture is free of both. It depends on the receiver. I feel that the whole system makes students work harder for their education. Students are very serious about education. Students and teachers treat each other as equals. So students go to class prepared. They are encouraged to develop original thoughts and ideas.
However, some people who travel to the US easily get carried away by the things that are considered inappropriate in our culture. One should not blindly accept everything.
Q What are the things we can adopt here from the American education system without going for an overhaul, which is impossible?
The best academic works have been produced by those from the West. Their models and systems are functional. It would be better to try to introduce these models here, with adjustments to local settings, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel here. Having a specialised staff can always improve the quality of teaching. The examiners in the US used to mark all the papers with remarks so that the students learnt from their mistakes. These are the small things we can do to at least bring some changes in the education system.
Q Given your experience in the US, what long-term measures would you suggest for making our system of education worthwhile?
The examination system here needs an immediate change. That the system has failed reflects in the increasing number of students going for re-evaluation of their papers. They have lost faith in the system and why should the teachers not be made accountable? Why should the teachers not be subject to regular assessments? If the teacher is failing to attract students to the class, why should he or she be teaching the course?
Q How much did your education in the US change your outlook?
Travel always adds new perspectives to one’s outlook. My education in the US taught me acceptance and being open minded to learning. It taught me to focus on specific things.