Indian education system needs an overhaul big time

A lot of words have been exchanged in the media recently regarding the quality of the students passing out of IITs which are deemed to be the premier engineering institutions in our country. At least 5 lakh engineers graduate every year in India and the number contributed by IITs to that is negligible. What makes it even more irrelevant is the fact that a lot of IITians go abroad for further education and career prospects. The problem is representative of the absurd education culture that has gained a strong hold in India.

Teachers do not always need to teach, evaluate or discipline their students. Most of the times, just providing the inspiration and nudging them in the right direction will do. If we try to find out why our teachers are unable to do that, it does reveal a lot of interesting things.

Engineering and Medicine are head and shoulders above the rest of educational streams in terms of capturing the imagination of the students and their parents. Every Tom, Dick and Harry wants his child to become an Engineer or a doctor. The fact that most IT companies hire engineers and pay them obscene amounts of money to do the quantity of work that would pay much less in other fields, has fueled this imbalance. As a result, most of the brilliant young minds are lost to the engineering stream and disproportionately lot of them become the clichéd ‘Indian Software Engineer’. In most of the developed countries, only such brilliant young minds pursue higher studies and research and enter the teaching field. But in India, few of the people who missed the engineering and medicine bus pursue the teaching profession for their livelihood. Is it fair to expect such people to be experts in their subject and at the same time have the skills needed to impart the knowledge and inspire the students? This starts an endless chain of mediocrity feeding on mediocrity that only a few students who are gifted or passionate enough to work hard and break-free of the limitations of the system, stand out and succeed.

Students are taught and encouraged to reproduce the text on the books, even though most books condemn verbatim unauthorized reproduction of the text with criminal implications. 😉 We should encourage people to learn and apply whatever they have learnt. Why should there be a system to rate and grade students if every student is good at different things? To change this anomaly, the thinking of people should change. Someone has to break the vicious cycle. Any stream of education and employment is as good as any other. The monetary benefits may be disparate, but so are the domains. Once the general opinion changes, there will be changes in the salaries too.

As too much undue importance is placed on engineering and medicine, IITs, NITs and IIMs, too many people want to get in and as a result some sort of mechanism is needed to pick the bright minds to get in. The industry of coaching centers has been built on this. The competition becomes even more cut-throat with reservation creeping in. My belief on reservation is that if there are downtrodden people, measures must be taken to uplift them by providing excellent education that will enable children from such families to reach high ambitions. Instead, politicians are hell-bent on providing reservation to such people to gain political mileage. In reality, reservation is enjoyed by the wrong people and the downtrodden do not get any benefit out of it and remain downtrodden for further political exploitation.

Once the measures to uplift the downtrodden at the grass-root level of education is in place, we should do away with reservation elsewhere and let merit prevail. As more people get good education, the undue craze on particular streams will vanish and there will definitely be a sense of equality. I have seen students panic when questions in the exam paper are of the same format of those in the books but with the variable names changed. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of education?

Computer Science is essentially a mathematical science, but how many computer science students are well-versed with the mathematical background that is required? A lot of such students become lecturers who in turn teach the students whatever is present in the prescribed books without ever touching upon the required background knowledge. As a result most of the modern-day engineering students hardly know mathematics that computer science is built upon. Whatever they have learned solely for the purpose getting a job starts and ends with the periphery of the subject. Worsening things is the fact that the students choose to skip a lot of the subject as the exam system allows them to do so. They don’t realize that skipping things doesn’t help learning at all. If we learn things, however small and trivial, properly and fully, the benefits of that will automatically follow. But most students are either not interested in putting the required effort to learn or too lazy and are solely focused on the benefits. This is how we have easily arrived at such a pathetic state. I am not carrying a holier than thou attitude here as even I am a product of the very same flawed system that I want to be overhauled. The fact that a lot of students survive the system and still make it big in their lives shouldn’t be an excuse to persist with the same system. Already there is very little research and innovation happening in India and we are so happy and content to ape and idolize whatever happens in the developed countries and stay unmoved. If this continues, we may lose forever a lot of great young minds who could make a huge difference to our country and humanity.

I do not claim that my thoughts and ideas are foolproof and will withstand the test of time, but I rest my case that the current education system is flawed and it requires a big overhaul along with the general thought pattern of people.

URL shortening – the good, the bad and the ugly

Microblogging has become a rage with the advent and success of Twitter which had a tagline – “What are you doing?”. Gradually it has become a platform for information sharing and communication. People have started sharing interesting and relevant links that they come across on the web which get shared again and again multiple times, disseminating information unimaginably fast to a large target audience. Microblogging imposes a limit on the number of characters in a message and hence the traditional URLs on the internet are very long and unsuitable for sharing over microblogging. So in came a series of URL shortening services that accepted a long, microblogging unfriendly URLs and gave out a URL much shorter in size which could be used on microblogging platforms and are print-friendly. What actually happens in the background is that, these URL shortening services create a short URL and map it to the long URL and whenever the short URL is referenced, the URL shortening services do a 301 redirect to the actual URL so that it opens.

There are a lot of aspects to this URL shortening services that most of the users don’t realize/are unaware of. One of the very important issues is that these shortened URLs are capable of breaking the internet. A shortened URL in a tweet for instance, may be a dangling link to nowhere if the corresponding URL shortening service purges its database or stops providing the service. A lot of popular URL shortening services are closing either because they can’t handle spammers’ abuse or they couldn’t make enough money out of the service to keep it running. Read about Link rot to get more details. This might also result in us losing the link that we wanted to share. The URL shortening services also provide client APIs to use their services which makes them more vulnerable to abuse and spamming.

Also shortened URLs hide the target link that we are trying to open, which could be a malicious one, which in its normal form most of us wouldn’t open. Nowadays the URL shortening services provide an option to preview the links before opening them, but there is a big question mark over how many users actually use that feature. Another significant issue is that the URL shortening services add an additional layer of indirection, an unreliable middleman, which adds to more DNS lookups and server hits and hence more traffic on the internet. 

One of the possible ways to mitigate the evils of URL shortening is that every website could provide shortened URLs for its own content so that there is no need for a separate URL shortening service standing in the middle. This could reduce dangling links created due to issues with the third-party URL shortening service. For instance, every post on this blog has its own long URL and a corresponding short URL under the same domain. This makes sure that as long as the domain of this website is up, the shortened URLs too will be pointing to valid pages and hence lesser chances of link rot happening.

I got to know all these stuff while I was creating a URL shortening client application that uses the APIs of popular URL shortening services to create shortened URLs. I have decided to use URL shortening services very sparingly, only for ephemeral stuff or when there is a need to shorten a URL to meet the character limits of microblogging services. Hope this post will make the readers aware of the various aspects of URL shortening services so that they will use it very sparingly.

Birth of ‘Learning Club’

I have always had a strong sense of belief that when persons of diverse interests and expertise join and share, we can create a very strong ecosystem where there is nothing impossible. Still, God-knows-why, I did nothing about it. So suddenly when a couple of my friends from ECE asked me about learning Linux, it made me delve deeper and I had my Eureka! moment, feeling exactly as Archimedes would have. I thought, why not have a ‘Learning Club’, albeit an informal but thoroughly useful one with a few interested guys teeing off? So from the day this brand-new year was born, we (a few interested persons) decided to join and share our knowledge and learn? The benefit was going to be mutual and synergistic as each one of us brought something exciting to the plate. We decided to meet sometime everyday and discuss about virtually anything and everything and make ourself even more geekier.

For instance, most of these guys who use VLC, never knew it can be used to convert videos and audio to various formats. Ravi Teja gave a wonderful explanation on why a Hard Disk can have only 4 primary partitions. I had known vaguely the same thing, but his explanation made it even more clear though the answer was a Google search away.

Hoping to continue this initiative for a long time to empower a lot more friends and hand it over as a legacy to my juniors at college!