معمارِ حرم باز بہ تعمیرِ جہاں خیز
از خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خوابِ گِراں خیز
ادھر آ ستمگر ہنر آزمائیں
تو تیر آزما ہم جِگر آزمائیں

Monday, 15 August 2011

A Professor's Dilemma

A young and enthusiastic professor joined a local private engineering university. After completion of his doctorate he returned in a highly motivated state of mind in order to impart what knowledge he had acquired to the younger generation. He aspired to design the course in state-of-of-the-art sort of way so that he be able to make his students to strive beyond their capacities and try and achieve excellence at least in that particular course. He wanted to lead the students to the research horizons of his field so that to make them reach the skies. His colleagues advised him against such high goals arguing that this is a very new university and intellectual capacity of pupil does not support endeavours for such high standards. One of them suggested the professor to test these students with very trivial mathematical problems that can be solved by students of grade 10th or 12th. He further informed that the intellectual abilities of these students were not even of such a level that they could handle such trivial mathematical problems. On one hand he aspired to make his students to excel to world class standards of knowledge and on the other hand he was warned and discouraged by his colleagues and seniors that the students can not handle such high standards. With such conflicting thoughts in his mind, he moved towards the classroom to deliver his first lecture.

Assigned a course of final year students, the professor decided to conform to the later advice of his colleague and test his students with very trivial mathematical problems that should be of the level of 10th grade students. To the astonishment of the professor the complete class managed a score next to zero. These final years students of an engineering university miserably failed to answer the questions that should be within the grip of 10th graders.

With the test results in his hands the professor found himself in a fix. He was at a crossroads, where he had two choices and had to choose one of them. Unfortunately, he was not comfortable with any of these available choices. One of the choices that he had was to lower down standard of education to such a level that would be comparable with that of the pupils whom he was supposed to be teach. In this case what he could do was to start from this bare minimum level and then try and raise the standard of these pupil during the course of an 18 weeks semester. Having established this, one thing was certain that no matter how hard he tried and exerted these students, he might be able to improve them to a large extent but will never be able to reach the epitome that he aspired to reach. Considering current intellectual level of these students, an 18 week semester was way too less a time for a task of building it up to the level that is required for the professor to fulfil his aspirations. The second choice he had was to leave the students on their own and continue lecturing, maintaining those ideal standards of education that he wanted. He could lecture them without reducing the desired standard of education dis-regarding the intellectual ability or dis-ability of these students to grasp ideas presented. They were final year students and they should have been able to do it. If they are not capable enough they would simply fail as all those not capable enough always do. Reducing the standard of education just so that the students can pass the exams, it seemed morally wrong to him.

Now from here a question arises that what is morality? What constitutes a morally right position on this or any other issue for that matter? Kantian definition of morally right action states, “A maxim is morally right if it can be universally applied and then does not produce negative effects.”[1] Using this definition of morally right action let us analyse the above choices.

Let us first consider the case of reducing the standard of education. When such a maxim is universally applied this means every professor will have to do the same. Suppose every professor does reduce the standard of education just for the sake that these students can cope with it. This will obviously have some positive implications and some negative implications. The possible positive effects of such a move can be that nevertheless when the semester ends there will be some improvement in the intellectual ability of these students even if of the order of say 2%. Secondly, the results of the class will be respectable which at the end of the day matters to the students who had been paying the tuition and administration of the university if not to professors themselves. As for the negative repercussions of such an action, this will eventually reduce the standard of education on the whole. Reduction of standard of education on such a scale would obviously reduce the value of the course, thus the degree and the education itself. It leads to a sort of never ending downward spiral. As with successive years the standard of education would ultimately keep on reducing in real terms and a time will come when the degree would be worthless and outdated according to the technological level of that particular epoch. Unfortunately for us, the technological development in current age does not take into consideration the fact that pupil are intellectually not capable enough and therefore it should slow down its own pace. Rather it moves at its own pace which happens to be an exponentially accelerated pace.

Now analysing the second case of maintaining the standard of education. A standard of education which intends to stand at the pinnacle of technological advancement in current era and aeons to come. As with every deed this one will also have its own positive and negative ramifications. The negative effects of this will be that many of the pupil will fail the course and under the condition of universality of the maxim, they would eventually drop out of the university. It would increase rate of university drop outs which will negatively influence reputation of teaching staff at least if not the university itself. A high percentage of university drop-out might have a negative bearing on unemployment rate in the particular society and thus might possibly lead to social problems of its own. But these affects should be short-termed considering the fact that if such a maxim gains universality, then educational institutions catering for prior education would try to increase their standard of education for their own sake leading to reduction in the problem in long run. As for positive effects of this action. It will lead to increased respect for institution as it will be recognised as having a class of its own. It would attract intellectual brains from near and far, this would positively effect the university in form of its research output and the society at large as well. The university's graduates and its degree would gain respect and have its own worth, making it a favourable investment for those willing to invest for their education. The university would reach epitome in education and would be at the helm of research, and would surely retain such a position as long as it does not compromise on its standard of education.

The above analysis (I by no means claim neutrality for it, it may or may not be neutral) would find its supporters on both sides of the divide and many looking for a compromise between these two positions. I for one surely support the second position and abhor the idea of compromising on standard of education under any circumstances. I guess the other position would find many a sympathizers for itself and I would not be surprised if most of them are students themselves. But one thing I am pretty sure about is the fact that compromised reasoning leads to compromised results. Lastly, let me further add here that I by no means intend to blame students for these conditions, rather it is the system that is to be blamed. But unfortunately, it is the students who would suffer the brunt, one way or the other.

[1] Fundamental Principles of Metaphysics of Morals [1785], Immanuel Kant