Tagged: education

Where is CS curriculum at top schools headed?

The blogosphere was abuzz today with news of a course on developing iPhone applications in Stanford being available for free. I didn’t understand what the big fuss was about. In fact, if anything, this news has me worried.

Image courtesy: flickr.com

Stanford is undoubtedly one of the top most engineering schools in the world. In my mind, a computer science curriculum at such top schools should do just that — teach computer science. Courses that cover computer architecture, software design, operating systems, networking, graphics, theory, databases, algorithms etc all make sense to me. But a course to teach students how to use the API on a commercial SDK? I think other organizations (vocational institutes, community colleges etc) are better suited for such courses. What is so great about such courses being taught at Stanford or MIT or Berkeley? I personally think those resources could be used better elsewhere.

It seems this is part of a larger trend. More and more schools are designing courses that are aligned with the hot buzz-words in the industry, perhaps in order to attract applications. For instance, you can learn how to provide Software as a Service (SaaS) using Ruby on Rails (RoR) at Berkeley. Stanford has another class on building Facebook applications.

I would much rather see a class on say “building scalable web services” and have Facebook, Twitter as case studies in the class.

Reservations in higher education

This post is a couple of weeks late, but better late than never. I had meant to post it right after all the [[http://blogsearch.google.com/blogsearch?hl=en&q=iit+reservations&btnG=Search+Blogs|brouhaha on increased reservations in IITs and IIMs]], but I was tied down with work. As countless others have said, I think this is a //really// dumb idea. If you agree, you probably don’t have to read further. If you don’t, the rest of the post will try to explain why I think so.

I’m not completely against the “idea” of reservations. Infact, done in the right place in the right amount, it might actually be a Good Thing. But therein lies the biggest problem — reservations are rarely done in the right places, let alone the right amount.

I think it is far better to focus such efforts in primary and secondary education, rather than higher education. Our democracy should try and ensure that each child has the opportunity for a basic education. Reservations should be about equal opportunity, but they should not supercede merit. The work force of the country is not child’s play. Anyone wanting to work //must// demonstrate sufficient merit for the task, irrespective of what caste he/she is from.

I’m not trying to discredit reservations. I’ve also read the story about reservation success stories. All those are fine. In all cases, you will notice that people came through for the opportunity they were given. They were not free-riders. The current reservations system seems to based on the premise that you can “jump start” people into success. Consequently, for the bulk of the junta out there, the quota system has just become yet another short-cut to the system, yet another kind of bribe. It is no surprise that [[http://www.deeshaa.org/2006/04/04/education-matters-part-1/|people consider "obtaining" an SC/ST certificate]]. Clearly, something is amiss.

The other part of the equation are those who belong to the SC/ST, but don’t really “need” reservations. I have several very good friends who are in this category. I sometimes feel bad for them, because atleast from my point of view, belonging to SC/ST has been somewhat of a stigma. Both parents and children in school would make conscious efforts to not bring up the fact that they were from SC/ST. I think the system as it stands is very unfair to such people. It seems all their achievements are undermined by the fact they are SC/ST. No one says it up front, but the minute people find out, at the back of their heads they’re thinking “haan, tabhi iska itna achha rank aa gaya hai”.

I have also seen several people who got into IIT on account of being SC/ST, and suffer. Yes, I said suffer. Because some of them didn’t want to or had planned to come to IIT in the first place. Some of them were simply unprepared. You can’t just make up for years of lost education in your first sem at IIT, it doesn’t work that way. Its degrading for these students, who are shoved into one of the “premier” institutes. Some people make the best of the situation and come out victorious. Others are crushed, their self-respect and confidence depleted.

Who really is benefiting from this system? Most certainly not the people who the system was //intended// to benefit. But I can understand that its a game of numbers and statistics. Picking isolated examples from here and there, one might construct a case either way. I can also buy the argument that in a democracy the size of India, there is bound to be some collateral damage, but in the grand scheme of things, everything will even out and we will come out a better nation (though it would be better if we had some numbers to back this wishful thinking). **But 50%?** Thats just insane!!

I hope the HRD ministry is not deaf. I hope the press will sense all the discontent floating around this proposition, and make sure that the government listens. I hope that the people on both sides of the camp realize that increasing reservations to 50% in higher education will //not// solve **any** problem, either in the short-term or the long-term.