Lessons from Sweden: Learning semantics over syntax!

Again, an early observation this post might seem. Within 5 days, and after 5 lectures one cannot understand an education system that exists in ‘the West’. But, with my experiences in these five lectures, and the rich background in Indian academic scenario both as a student and a teacher, I have already been able to ascertain some of the hitherto (to me) made claims about the education away from home.

Simply to encapsulate the value of the education here, one rule as stated in the course memo of my course will do.

It reads: On the written exam, the solutions are more important than the answers. Hence, a good solution that yields an incorrect (but reasonable) answer because of a minor mistake can give almost full score, whereas a correct answer without a correct solution may give 0 points.

The statement above to a great extent tells what the core of the education here is, in comparison to that still is going on with tremendous momentum back at home.

The emphasis is entirely given to deep understanding ideas and applications of concepts, and almost no emphasis is given in rote-learning monstrous empirical formulae. Almost all written exams allow students to bring the formula sheet, or other catalogues which have results that need to be applied in the exams. Like one of my professor said “In solving real world problems you can always look up the books or the Internet, what is important is to visualise the solution using these formuale, so you are free to get your formula sheets”.

In these few lectures that have passed, I have come to realise very quickly that all I thought I knew were still unknown to me.

The syntax evaluation rather than semantic evaluation, that is so prevalent in India has to vanish, if we truly have to increase the standards of education. This is one, simple but massive lacuna in the education. Like Feynman says, “Knowing the name of something, is different from knowing that something”. Unfortunately, in most higher education courses all we learn is the name of many many things, which we really don’t know anything about.

Also, one other distinct feature here in Sweden is the truly flat model of the society, and hence also in education. The rapport between the teachers and students, even based on my personal experience is immensely improved which reflects in the quality of work that can happen in the interaction.

Another important aspect of academics is the emphasis on original research.

This post might not be a comprehensive treatise on the pedagogical differences, with deep understanding of the social conditions between the two countries. But, a personal observation of the stark contrast that seems to exist at every step, and that is simply hard to miss.

I will keep a close watch on not only learning new technical concepts, but also the motivation behind the pedagogy that is adapted here, and what other reasons might be preventing us in India to hop on to this model.

About Raghav/Raghu

A fortunate mass of hydrogen cloud conscious enough to be contemplating that very fact.
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