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

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I like the article on the whole and am of the view that the second option is more "morally" correct of the two. But I believe that the first option has to be viewed in another light. When the university took in these students (test scores or 12th grade scores), they should have filtered the bad crowd out then, those who would be unable to meet the high standards required. Also, if say for the sake of argument that it was a new university and needed the intake of students for the sake of its existence, then it should have taken the first few years of the degree preparing students for what was to come.
As for the idea of failing the final year students, I believe that the above mentioned facts make it "morally" incorrect seeing that it was the university too that was in part responsible for that state of students. And if the choice "A" had been applied from day one, I for one em sure that there would be no downward spiral, infact quite the opposite, even if at a pretty slow pace.

Anonymous said...

I like the article on the whole and am of the view that the second option is more "morally" correct of the two. But I believe that the first option has to be viewed in another light. When the university took in these students (test scores or 12th grade scores), they should have filtered the bad crowd out then, those who would be unable to meet the high standards required. Also, if say for the sake of argument that it was a new university and needed the intake of students for the sake of its existence, then it should have taken the first few years of the degree preparing students for what was to come.
As for the idea of failing the final year students, I believe that the above mentioned facts make it "morally" incorrect seeing that it was the university too that was in part responsible for that state of students. And if the choice "A" had been applied from day one, I for one em sure that there would be no downward spiral, infact quite the opposite, even if at a pretty slow pace.

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

I totally agree with you. As I mentioned in the essay as well, it is not the students that are to blamed for the situation. But this is a dilemma that a professor has to go through in himself. Secondly, the students will suffer no matter what the professor chooses. this is because if he lowers the standard, it will it will also affect the students as they will not have the knowledge that is required for the particular course. They might get a degree but will not have the knowledge to back it up and thus will have problems later no to mention that it will be professional dishonesty on part of professor who would pass the students who do not deserve to pass. On the other hand if the professor maintains the ideal standard, it will harm the students as well as they will fail.

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

the article as a whole is not so much about morality only. it is also about the inherent flaws of the educational system, the collective good, subjective idea of right and wrong in a given situation among many other things. i will try to be brief. you need to understand what a 'maxim' means. a maxim is basically a presumption. it is not the same as an axiom as some people confuse it to be, but, if a certain thing is presumed from the outset as a general rule that can only have exceptions in rare circumstances, then that thing is deemed to be a maxim. secondly, the credibility of the university was lost when it chose to not only take up, but, also promote students with a sufficiently lower intellect to the final year of engineering course. one is quite a learned person at that time, and, in the system that you have mentioned (the standard testing education system), learning is tested through tests which are standard for everyone. the opposite or rather a better type of education system is the individual skills testing system in which the individual is scrutinized and his or her best capabilities manipulated. i think the professor is to make choice between letting one system prevail or introduce the techniques of the other in a manner that fits the former. this is where the real question of morality actually arises, whether a thing is right or wrong as per the moral code. there was once no gulf between the moral wrong and the legal or administrative wrong (in this case, the professor's will to work hard or stick to the system) when the naturalists ruled the world. but the positivists and neo positivists brought about a divide between morality and legality of a thing. a good example would be the laws made in the regime of Hitler. some people say that those laws usurped the fundamental rights so cruelly that they cant be considered laws at all. they were absolutely devoid of any morality that could exist. the other group of people say that being moral is one thing, being legitimate is another. if those laws passed the legislative process in good manner, then they are laws, no matter how bad they are. another thing is that the consequences of each decision has its own merits and demerits as you so rightly outlined. if the merits outweigh the demerits or outnumber them, then the decision would be called 'moral' as the collective good would be taken care of. i will give a little bitter situation. if there is a war going on, and you are a civilian trying to hide from the enemy soldiers and you and a few others are hiding in a quiet basement. suddenly, a baby there begins to cry. you try to calm it down but the baby doesnt respond so positively. in fact, it begins to cry even louder. the enemies are approaching. now, if you let the baby cry, you will have exposed your location a few hundred human lives will be slain. but, if you kill the baby by suffocating it, then there will be one little life lost but a few hundred saved. which one is a more moral thing to do? would you go for the collective good or greater good as it is called, or sacrifice yourself? remember, in either case, the baby is killed! so, that becomes the constant of the equation. the variables are how well hidden you are and how far will the enemy go to search you. so, there are such intricate contingencies that if you try to narrow down the chain of ramifications, then too, you cant escape the reality that each decision has its flaws. in your article, the subjective idea of morality is also there. like you yourself said at the end that you personally are inclined towards the second decision. thats your subjective view of morality. the objective view is going to count more.
-By Waqas Ghazi

- By Waqas Ghazi

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

i think i have broken my promise of being brief, but, to conclude, i would actually not choose between the two things unless i am pushed. humans have a lot of talent to reason and find better alternatives then they find themselves trapped in. the prejudice of professor that everything will be good and he will be able to make geniuses out of the students was kicked out by the practical reality. prejudices are removed that very way. there is room for a third alternative as well. thanks.

- By Waqas Ghazi

sameer iftikhar said...

I like the article and i have been some what in this situation about 2 years back in my final 1 year.our finance teacher was very committed to give us knowledge but our base was not that strong.what he did was that he chose the second option but what he did different was that he increased that lectures and started giving us more home work so as to apply the new learned concepts.more assignment,presentations,discussions.this was viewed differently by different students.those who wanted to learn responded in a positive manner while others became reluctant.He focused on the willing students while forced others to follow them.

What i think here is that its an individual's(students) choice if he/she wants to learn or not.a class has 100 students and not everyone willing to study.I hope you understood my point and this helps in solving your problem

Muhammad Shemyal Nisar said...

Yes sameer you rightly pointed out the third way although it is a bit tough on the professor but still seems to be an obviously right decision.
I would definitely include it in my upcoming write-ups.

imperialism said...

Well said ... I am totally agreed with the situation and if one have to make hasty decision then he (professor) will chose one of the two option that are mentioned in the article. Furthermore higher the responsibility and pressure to work for the apparent success of the university, higher the possibility that one will opt for the first option. But, if we will go in details to find out reasons behind this situation, then there is no escape with out stating that evry one is guilty in every ones part. University should be blamed for generating such a product to keep its existence. Professors to get rid of theri responsibilities of teaching and taking such a students as a challenge for themselves. Students because they are not hard working and serious with their future.

My morality and sincerity leads me to make a tough decision that I (as a professor) will work hard and will generate new methods of teaching and inculcating concept to these students. Whareas i will also force students by encouraging them to burn midnight oil so that they may produce better results in the finals.

Actually hard work is key to all problems. But we as a nation are not acustomed to it.

naqvi said...

LAMHA E FIKREA:

Haq e tankeed tujhay bhe hasil hay magar
iss shart kay saath

kah jaiza laity raho apne bhe giraybanoo ka.


likha to ap ne bohat khub lakin shayad ap khud ka kirdar waziyah nhe kar sakay.
kia apne kabi un students say pocha jinhain ap za'eef ul mayyar kahte hay kah wo ap ko kia samajhatay hain yakinan nhe.


lecture tiyar khud na karain aur murad a ilzam student aur system ko thahrayain ye kaha ka adl hay.aisa konsa system hay jo apko lecture prepare karne nhe daita

• kia ap khud ke zimaydariyan nibha rahay hai ?
• ap ne to student ke qabiliat ko janch liya lakin apke qabiliat ko kon parkhay ga?
• kia ap enginerring ko parhane kay ahal hain bhe?
• konse research ya innovation ke apne ?
yaha aik shair yad agaya kah

"hum to samjte thay kah bdal jaiye gy din
lakin
zulmat e shab say badtar ye ujalay niklay

har koi tanqeed barai tanqeed ki bat karta hay koi tanqeed baraye tameer ke nhe sochta.

apke ye bat darust hay kah wo student wakay he na ahal hain par unhain ahal banane ke zimaydari he to apko sompi gaye.agar ap samajte hain kay ap unhain nhe badal saktay to

ay tair la hote us rizq say........................iqbal.

ALLAH HUM SAB KO MUSBAT TAGAYYUR PAY AMAL PAIRA HONE KI TAUFEEQ DAY