Archive for the ‘Education in my homeland’ Category

Counting the piano tuners – the hard way.

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Enrico Fermi

No, Enrico Fermi and his questions weren’t my inspiration for this post – it was Stan Ulam’s quote I read few days ago:

Knowing what is big and what is small is more important than being able to solve partial differential equations.

That is exactly what an engineering student (or an applied mathematics student) needs: sense of reality. One needs to know what parameters of dynamic systems are normal, natural, what is the magnitude of results, what is negligible in calculations. Making fast estimates, estimating the accuracy of such estimates – knowing what accuracy is needed for certain calculations: it saves money, nerves, trees and shows intelligence. One could start with that in a calculus course, where problems concerning integral estimates (using MVT or some known inequalities for instance) could be given. After that – let the student take a course like the one on MIT called Street-fighting matematics. Without that, you can’t expect your students to make an estimate of the number of piano tuners in Chicago – they’ll do a brute-force search through the phonebook.

But hey, no one in charge of making the curricula will ever think of something like this – they managed to squeeze out probability theory, statistics, stochastic processes, numerical methods out of control theory students’ curriculum – enough said.

Still – Mark Twain was right:

Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.


IMO & Google

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

IMO logo - knot theorist probably designed it

Google financed the organization of the International Mathematical Olympiad with $1,000,000 (link). Finally! Finally the market recognized the value of IMO. I usually frown upon attracting big sponsors to the world of science and education, commercializing it that way  – but in this case I will make an exception: Kudos, google!

Now, the problem of participating countries financing their trip and preparations of the team remains – we can just hope that after a global player has entered the game, local players will show some interest.

Respect their authoritah!

December 24, 2010 Leave a comment

Eric Cartman, PhD

You might recall my post named Latent fascism in education?

Yesterday I watched a talk show with an interesting topic: Corruption (bribery) in higher education. Two things caught my eye in a bad way, and one in a good way.

1. The students’ representative, president of the Students parliament kept saying that every possible case of bribery goes to the district attorney or the honor comity, while asking a person in the audience to stop exposing the bribing system – “please, don’t shake the authority of our professors”, he said. That is hypocrisy!

2. Now, what about the professor in the show? He pointed out that the bribery is inherent in every society, and that it is institutionalized in the US via high tuition fees – paying $42k in Harvard guarantees the student to pass the year – he claims that the percent of students failing to pass a school year in the US is less than 1%. After that he made a claim that the Yale dean said that when Yale professors give a student grade E, it is a sign to the employers not to give him/her the job. Oh yes, he also said that our senior year undergraduates are much better than those in top US universities and that we do much harder projects and write much more serious theses.

3. The young T.A. from a private university has told him that his every argument is false (grade E – at Yale?). His reply was that there is an E grade at every school in the US. After she said she graduated in the US, his reply was – maybe you graduated at a lousy institution such as University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

Is that a person whose authoritah I should respect?

PhD: home vs abroad

November 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Every now and then I reconsider my options for obtaining PhD degree in my home country and obtaining it abroad. As one could expect, the PhD program on my home institution is not what I would like to go through – even if we ignore the fact that I don’t want a PhD in engineering, it leaves an opportunity of changing the institution, staying in the same university – but the cost/utility ratio is extremely unfavorable in each case. Neighboring countries offer better PhD programs and the price is lower. I understand our principles, though – whoever enrolls these programs here, (s)he already secures the title in 3-4 years. Maybe I am being just bitter, but on one hand you have very expensive programs in your home country with no scholarship opportunities, and on the other hand there are excellent programs abroad, in the West – they cost much, but the scholarships earned thanks to academic excellence (I wonder whether our Minister of Education knows what that is?) and the fact that you work as a TA or an RA at the institution make it quite easy to cover all expenses. What would you choose?

Latent fascism in education?

November 17, 2010 1 comment

Holidays are the time when I watch TV, read the newspaper more, surf on the web. That practice always takes me to the edge of my nerves, since I hear, read and see enormous stupidity and ignorance – OK, I see it during the workday too, but it is kind of different when it comes from so-called experts, so-called free media, etc. I will not write about the fact that in every news block, there are at least three pronunciation or spelling errors, I will not write about the horrible accent and language the news anchors and talk show hosts use – I will write about the same old story told by our university professors, politicians, journalists and all other ‘experts’ featuring on the national TV in prime-time. It is the story about our students abroad – how they are always brighter than the locals, how they skip grades, make careers, live the American dream (or, more often, the West European dream) because of their cleverness, intelligence and knowledge. It is told for both the people who go abroad after finishing elementary or high school here, and the people whose entire education took place abroad.

While in the first case the ‘experts’ telling the story might imply that the success made by ‘our people’ is a consequence of the curriculum through which the students went through before they left the country, the second case implies some kind of genetic intellectual superiority –  how convenient, and how fascist.

If we are so brilliant, so talented, and if our curricula are so good – why is our education rated as the worst on the continent? Why is our scientific, technological, and every other development stuck? Why do we enjoy lying to ourselves, feeding our national ego with success stories of individuals?