The work-study equation

February 08, 2019

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YOU should not have been doing your bachelors in Computer Sciences. Instead, you had all the potential of doing well in Business Administrations. This was a teacher telling me when I was on the verge of picking up a profession. He was a senior person professor specialising in marketing who had taught me in the my last year of the bachelor’s degree which I had just finished during which I had led teams organising numerous events and had been the president of the Students Council for about half a year at my university. So, did I follow his advice? We will get there in a while.

If you are from the millennial generation, being the eldest in the family here in Pakistan has its highs and lows. Back in our teen days, in such situations, we mostly think it is mostly the ‘lows’, especially if your father is mostly living abroad to put bread (and a whole lot of butter as well) on the table. But with hindsight, I can tell you being the eldest is definitely more about the ‘highs’ than the ‘lows’.

In the late 1980s and ‘90s, communication with people living abroad was not that swift and accessible as it is today, which resulted in taking a lot of decisions on your own. That was a part of growing up in such families. Though the joint family system was pretty strong at the time but I am still not sure if that was an element helpful or distracting in such situations.

I wanted to study architecture, but had already ended up doing bachelors in Computer Sciences without feeling too chuffed about it. This was the backdrop when the teacher spoke to me about what he thought I had the potential for. There were two decisions I took within days of that incident. One, I was not going pursue my masters in Computer Sciences anytime soon. Two, no matter what, I was going to give myself at least five years to decide where or what I will study for my master’s degree.

Evening and weekend programmes at various universities have a life of their own which has a pretty different texture than the routine that marks the regular course of study.

The comments from the professor stayed with me as I started working in a multimedia house soon after my bachelors as a 3D Computer Graphics (CG) artist which was just what I had taken as an elective in my bachelor’s programme. It was not long before I realised that sitting in front of machines for long hours was not something I could do for the rest of my life. I needed human interaction. This realisation made me shift my energies towards finding something closer to what I had done at university; events management. This is how I started working in the communications industry, starting with events but later moving to the larger umbrella of Public Relations. No regrets at all, and I remain grateful to the professor who put that thought in my mind.

As advised by him, I attempted doing MBA from a leading private university in Karachi in the evenings after having worked for some years in the industry. But later left the university midway for a variety of reasons. Finally, back in 2015, I completed my Master’s in Mass Communications from Karachi University – again, in the evenings – as it was a piece of qualification that was the closest to my professional career. I had some great learning and it helped me to be where I am today. It was not easy to keep a balance between work, education and life (marriage and kids included!). I had planned to put off my masters for five years. It actually turned out to be almost twice as many!

With my experience of being a student spanning many more years than is the routine, I guess I have the privilege to comment on the types of fellow students I came across all this long while. Let me share a few broad categories at the university level. Here we go!

THE BHAI CLAN: No, this is not the type of ‘Bhai’ you want to stay away from. These are the senior students who are both working and studying together. Most of the times, they are also the ‘elderly’ of the class. From the outset, they have this ‘been there, done that’ air about them because of their exposure and experiences but they really have to go the extra mile to mingle with the classmates and in making sure the teachers don’t play up the contrast too much. It gets really funny when the faculty is relatively junior in terms of both age and professional exposure. The tiff becomes a tangible commodity when either of the two sides shows a little hesitance in accepting each other as the reality.

If the clan is good in numbers, which is the case with evening programmes, things work out a little more smoothly compared to when that is not the case; the acceptance from fellow students also takes a while. A return to student’s life after a gap is in itself a big challenge. So the Bhai clan has to fight the demons inside while making external adjustments.

YES-TEACHER: While doing the masters, my belief was – and is – that we need to both learn and polish our knowledge simultaneously. This calls for having an exchange of perspectives with the teachers. Yet, from childhood it is drilled into the learning chromosome of our DNA that we get the information from the surface only, mug it and get the exams out of the way. Higher the grades, happier is everyone. Knowledge is the country cousin of academic learning in our case.

The ‘yes, teacher’ variety makes sure that there is no change in this unfortunate equation. They are joined in this game by the ‘Photocopy Champions’ who make life around the photocopy shop lively and festive around exams time. There are ‘fan moments’ aplenty between them and those who had attended all the lectures and thus have the notes with them.

It is some bizarre fun watching the Yes-Teacher-Photocopy-Champion combine when the results are announced for they often end up getting higher marks than the students from whom they had taken the notes. It is also reflection on the system of education prevalent in our scenario.

ATTENTION SEEKERS: Throughout my academic life, I personally didn’t like this particular type of classmates who start moving towards the faculty room as soon as the class ends. Is it the thirst of knowledge that makes them do this? They would love to have you believe that, and love it even more if they can have the teacher fall into the trap. You know what the irony is? Teachers, even if knowingly, do fall for it. Their heart-melt is obvious in the manner in which they mark the exam papers.

THE INSATIABLES: No matter how easy a professor would make it for the students this type will always find reason to grumble. They will whine about everything; faculty, teaching styles, quantum of courses, lectures, the length of lectures, the behaviour of the teacher, the nature of assignment, the number of assignments and God knows what. They behave as if they are doing some kind of favour to the world at large by simply studying.

SHORTCUT CHAMPIONS: Whether you call it smartness or something else, closer to the end of terms, you will find a selected bunch of students gushing around their teachers to ‘out’ the paper. They do it a bit discretely though, asking the teacher about the ‘pattern of the exam paper’. Replace ‘pattern’ with ‘content’ and that is what is the actual intent. Irony? The teachers walk into the trap; most of the time willingly.

What always amused me the most were occasions when the odd teacher would go for ‘open book’ subjective assessments. The silence in the exam hall is screaming.

All these categories is indicative of the manner in which society raises its young. Scoring well in schools is treated as the only benchmark of success in life. It is indeed necessary, but not the only thing. And it is that very mindset at play behind most such student categories. And don’t forget the simple fact that the teachers have been students in their lives as well, and today’s students will be tomorrow’s teachers. So the mindset continues to bug the society. It also explains why we fail to produce innovators and motivators. What a pity.