In India, practical training is imparted mostly as part of college education. Students who choose a professional / job oriented course be it engineering or medicine or any other discipline have to undertake practical class and appear in examination.
Based on my experience, a long time ago, most undergraduate laboratories used to be in shambles. During regular practical hours most of our experiments never used to be over. Hardly any student ever stayed late to complete his / her experiment. Even if he wanted to, laboratory assistant / attendant would throw them out, because they would have to prepare lab for next batch or rush to catch bus to go home.
In the final examination, we had three sets of marking.
- One for maintaining our laboratory notebook and being regular in the laboratory,
- second for viva voce where we would be tested on our understanding of the theory behind experiments we are performing. Viva voce examination ususally covered the whole course, but not a single question from the experiment being undertaken,
- final component of the examination would be actual experiment. Most of the time experiments would not work. Partly faulty equipment, untrained students and others. But every student passes in practical test, some said it was the convention. No external failed a student unless he is blatantly caught cheating.
There seem to be apathy from the point of view of students and neglect from the side of management when it comes to imparting undergraduate practical training.
(i) From the point of view of students, practical classes may be considered useless because of the following reasons:
- Many students see their school or college science projects is a means to jack up grades. Students, instead of applying their minds, get their projects done with the help of professionals. Only person that benefits is the owner of the shop / agency.
- As a society we are obsessed with grades. Grades open doors to higher education and jobs. All of us want to be managers. Working on the shopfloor is for lesser people. No wonder after a tough ten years, five for gaining entry into and another five years to clear courses in an IIT, students opt for a management degree. Because managers get more money, managers are white collared, and have a higher demand in social circles, read matrimonial columns.
- It cannot be ruled out that students may not relate to outdated laboratory exercise that may not have any relevance to future course of study or profession a student is likely to adopts.
(ii) From the point of view of university or college administration,
- one cannot ignore the reality that laboratory chemicals, and equipments cost money. It is a sheer wastage of money and reagents when a student leaves his experiment unfinished.
- Many colleges do not have access to state of the art equipments to train undergraduate students.
- Fee in most government colleges is very miniscule. By contrast private colleges charge a lot of money. But still may not be enough to upgrade laboratory equipments and provide a real life experience and exposure to students.
In many universities abroad, undergraduate labs are not. Only those students who enroll for MSc and PhD degrees, get to wet their hands. These students work with a supervisor in his laboratory using equipment brought for specific research by the supervisor from his research grant. Students create a research proposal, that they validate doing experiment and defend their conclusions in the form of a thesis.
I think in India, we need to think out of the box. Instead of asking students to undertake laboratory experiments day in and day out, students should be exposed to the following approaches:
- show video/s of experiment/s done is a state of the art laboratory.
- Such an approach may familiarize students about processes that need to be followed to conduct a good experiment.
- Student should be quizzed on what they observed and what is the relevance of what they observed.
- Students should not think watching video is a time pass. Once they are marked, they will pay attention.
- Students should be asked to design experiments on paper, based on certain principle, and asked to explain rationale of the proposed experiments.
- This will help us analyse their desire to learn, look up literature and synthesise information.
- Students should be able to come up with an experimental plan to validate their hypothesis with the available resources.
- This may help stimulate thinking ability of students. They will learn to apply what they have been taught.
- Expose students to a functioning laboratory for a fixed period of time during their stay in the college curriculum.
- University may not have to invest in laboratory chemicals and equipments.
- Students can be a source of man power to the organization that is imparting training.
In conclusion, I think most of our education system does not teach us to think. My suggestions include, the following:
- Hire good teachers that can apply theory into practice.
- Students must have opportunity and access to a good library, so that they learn to do literature search and think about potential ways to design new experiments.
- No organization is the world can accumulate every state of the art equipment in every discipline.
- Students must learn to innovate and improvise.
This post is written as part of Indispire Prompt. More posts in response to the prompt may be found here.