Friday, February 24, 2012

HEC University Ranking Criteria. Is that Correct?

HEC Pakistan has recently published the list of universities based on their ranking. The criteria and weights through which universities have been compared are highly debatable.  Let us try to dig deeper to investigate that does this criteria really reflect the true outcome of university through which they can be compared.

The highest criteria mentioned is the teaching quality, that is 42%. This is good but the question is how the teaching quality will be judged.  The most common method that HEC has provided to universities is the student satisfaction with the teachers. During and after the semesters, students are required to fulfil their satisfaction about the teacher and his/her quality. This criteria seems good as the students can be the real judge about the teacher but here we have also seen some irregularities which affects these results.  These lengthy surveys come as a burden on student usually as start-up screens on university portal logins and they try to fill with speed to get rid of them. As a result these surveys do not reflect student real judgement about the teacher.  Apart from this, it has also been seen that the teacher who try to cover most of the syllabus become bad in the eyes of the students whereas the teacher who teaches less and give more marks to student  get good outcome in these surveys. As a university teacher make and check his own paper, so he can also lower the quality of the paper to give more marks and become good in the eyes of the student. So in conclusion this method does not reflect the real quality of teaching.

Another criteria for judging the teaching quality is the teacher student ratio. This is a very positive point. If their will be more number of teachers in the university, result would be that each teacher will have to be associated with less number of students and he/she can give more quality time to his/her students. Judging universities on  this basis is highly appreciable.

Implementation status of quality assurance is given 18% according to HEC. One may wonder what it is.  It is actually the paper dumping work in the physical folder that the teacher carries daily in his class. Paper dump includes daily lecture slides printout, previous quizzes, assignments and question papers. This is good but most of the universities have their online portals as well for sharing of these materials with the students but HEC only counts the paper work which affect negatively as the teachers have to do the dual work. Apart from dumping work, this implementation status also includes the in timely display of results which is good enforcement. These criteria can be used to judge and compare different universities but the percentage given to this is too low.

Assets possessed by the university that could be the laboratories, number of classrooms and playing facilities  also come under "status of quality assurance". As all of these assets plays an important role in the learning environment of a student. Still its value counts along with the daily paper work, only about 18%. This should be increased.

Worldwide and by HEC paper publication was given too much importance although they have nothing to do with the teaching within the universities. HEC has given 40% weight to paper publication.  IT has been seen numerous times within different universities of Pakistan that teachers who focus on paper publication do not give their whole hearted effort in teaching in the class and student of that teacher suffer more. This is due to the fact that the teacher who focuses on his research work normally has less time to prepare the lectures and quality tests for the students. His attention mostly remains toward his own benefit and number of papers. This should be given less weight but worldwide this is normally considered as the most import factor for university ranking. In foreign countries, researcher only focus on research and not teaching whereas in Pakistan teacher have to do both the work, have to do the research and teach at the same time.

In conclusion, I would say that HEC criteria do not reflect 100% true outcome of universities. At least this is good that they have published it openly and so it can be made a topic of debate. Hopefully with passage of time and constructive debate, criteria will evolve and inshallah will represent the true outcome in the near future.

All above is based on my assumption, i don't have contact with any person at HEC or with higher end personal who really plays important role in judging quality assurance in the University. Being at the lower end only as a teacher, all my analysis is based on assumption so that could be totally wrong. But still i believe that  criteira should be debated so that the real assets ( students of Pakistan) improve overall.

As soon as HEC has update his site for the criteria and provided as more detail criteria.  I have decided it to have a look  it again.
For quality teaching they have provided the criteria mentioned below
Teaching Quality                             weight                  =42

  • Student Teacher ratio (12)
  • Ratio of PhD faculty to total faculty (9)
  • Total PhD output for 2010 (5)
  • Selectivity (5)
  • Computers(4)
  • Library books (4)
  • Full time PhD faculty (3)

Looking at the above criteria, selectivity, computers and library books are considered as criteria for quality teaching. It is really hard to understand how these things become part of quality teaching. These should come in the “Status of quality assurance”. Secondly how having PhD faculty improves the teaching quality.  These are also the assets of the university not criteria. It is wrong to assume that PhD teacher can teach better than a teacher with a master degree.

The criteria given by HEC for implementation of status of Quality assurance is given as

  • Plagiarism Policy Implementation (6)
  • Eligibility Criteria for appointments of faculty members (4)
  • Criteria for M.Phil./Ms & PhD programs(4)
  • Quality Enhancement Cell (04)

All except criteria for M.Phil/Ms & PhD programs are clear and straight forward. Criteria for M.Phil/MS & PhD programs are set by HEC and not by individual university so what is the purpose of putting this in the list.

Again in conclusion, almost all the criteria is debatable.

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to install collaborative learning in Pakistani Educational System?

Edited version of this blog is published on Express Tribune on 29th June, 2012
According to the Charles Darwin collaboration is the key for progress.  In his famous quote he said "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."  Getting inspired by the talks of Dr Ashraf Iqbal, Sugata Mitra and Ken Robinson, I had tried to implant collaborative learning in my classes to check, can it work in our educational system or not? And what could be the methodologies to bring it into our educational system.

Presentation by Ken Robinson

Presentation by Sugata Mitra

For an individual person who tries to implant collaborative learning in the class, seems as the one working against his own job. Being at the lower end of education system i.e. only as a teacher, I am unable to change the whole system, what most I can do is to make a space for collaborative learning within my class keeping the whole original system intact.

During my 18 years of education, one and half year of working as a developer, I have seen various methods of collaborative learning and have tried them during my  three and half years of working as a university teacher but most of them fail at some stage due to the system overall. So I am trying to list them out and want suggestions for newer methods.

Group Presentations or group assignments: Group presentation or group assignments are the most commonly used methods to bring collaboration among the students. Idea behind group presentation is that students sit together, prepare one topic, discuss on that and present what they have learned in their gathering. But in semester system (our education system at university level) this idea does not flourish or work properly. The biggest reason, as described by most of my students, is the lack of time. On an average, daily they have to take a test. During whole semester, they have to take six subjects and in each subject they have to give four quizzes, 4 assignment and 2 lab assignments so they always remain overloaded. So as soon something come in a form of a group, most of the member of the group put the entire burden on one or two members and start preparing for other tests.

Open book group tests: The other method which I have seen in various pedagogical presentations and lectures is the open book group test. But to my surprise, most of the teachers and even student do not like them and always remain afraid of it. Teachers hate this method because making the question paper for these tests are not straight forward and student fear this because they think they might get some question which is unsolvable.

Group based semester projects: The method that had mostly worked to some extent among my students was the group based semester projects. They also suffer with the same problems as that of group presentations and assignments but still by working together with class fellows on a project for at-least 4 months they learn comparatively more.

In order to summarize, I would say almost all methods of collaborative learning need time and relax environment where student can discuss and come to one conclusion. In semester system we bombard student with too many tests in a short span of time which gives little time for them to learn and collaborate.  Only choice left to them, is to get isolated and go for cramming which the test obsessed system demand from them. As far for a teacher is concerned, an easy way to do a job is to not alter the predefined system or to do experiments :).

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Race is on after Arfa kareem, Now comes Sikandar Mehmood Baloch

In my previous blog, I put emphases on parents to not make their child Arfa Kareem that appears to fell on deaf ears. The race for becoming young certified child is on; everyone is bringing their children to highlight them in the media.  This become more and more clearer to me after I met with the young boy named Sikandar Mehmood Baloch on February 6, 2012, a 14 year boy who did a lot of work and after two days he is on media.

I met this boy with his father and school teachers at COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Abbottabad. He had done lot of work; ahead of his age no doubt, he is hardworking student, but with too much ego and less concepts.

According to him, he had developed seven different operating systems. On checking, it becomes clear that his operating systems are the live CDs like OPEN SUSE. Although they cannot be called as standalone operating systems but for a fourteen year child compiling these live CDs is a big achievement. Apart from this, he still insists that these are his operating system, so when he was asked to describe, what does mean by scheduling and paging in operating systems and how his operating systems handle that he had no answer. Boot process was scheduling for him and operating system's paging was the documents like text files.

According to him, he knows more than 107 programming languages and don't like them and writing a compiler for his own language. If that is true, that should come in the gunniess book of world record. But when he was asked to write a simple program to check the number is prime or not, he refused to do so. His answer was I don’t work for background or algorithms, I only develop GUI. Apart from softwares, he also has expertise in hardware and he can develop any kind of motherboard and microprocessor and even can build the world best processor. Whenever he was asked about how he can do that, his answer was, give him machines he will and can do everything :)

In his CV, 21 certifications are mentioned and he did them from 2009 onward mostly from Microsoft, Novell, Expert rating, Autodesk Revit, w3schools and Google. From his certifications, first time I come to know that Microsoft also certifies people in the installation of Microsoft Windows XP (Exam 70-270). His father had claimed at that time that he did that in only two or three months and on his own, I didn’t understand how he paid the fee of certifications as even expert rating ( is also charging 100 to 130 USD for each certification.

One of the most strange thing, that come to me during the meeting that he don’t even have his own email address and he uses his guardian email address. What could be the reason, I didn’t understand. The bad part of the episode that I see during the meeting was his father and teachers are pushing him for the race. It had created ego in him that was visible when we had talked to him. He had so much pride in him that he was not even ready to listen to others advice.

To summarize, I would say, his work was too much distributed, we the computer science faculty members told him to focus on one thing, he is no doubt very talented and hard worker, but jumping and trying to do everything and not going deep before starting another is not going to work even for him or anyone else. I wish him best of luck, we told his father to not bring him in media but no one listen :). I wish him to succeed in life and become good asset for Pakistan.

 I end this blog with one of his father’s quote that I liked a lot about him and prove him to be the hard worker. "In order to separate him and his computer I have to switch off the main power of house".