The Four-Year Undergraduate Programme

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Education in Canada aims at developing an all-rounded personality of the student. That graduation is the stepping stone to the employment market.   Why does Canada/USA have four year graduation courses? After analysing the curricula our daughter and her friends went through for  graduation in life sciences in Canada, my observations are as given below.

Finances.   The students being over 18 years of age want to be financially independent and do not want to depend on their parents. All of the students I met (including our daughter) had taken student loans to pay for their education. As they were paying for it with their own money, they wanted each and every penny to be counted, resulting in no bunking or whiling away time in the class – every minute had been paid for by them (not by the parents).

Part-Time Work.   Most students undertook part-time work (our daughter taught in the tuition centre for 10 hours a week) to pay for their other expenses that is not met from the student loans. Studies have proven that the students who take up part-time jobs are more dedicated to their studies, better at time management and outperform the students who do not take up part-time jobs.

Every Academic Year is Three Semesters Effectively.   The academic year commences in September with the first semester and the second semester begins in January and ends by April. The period between May to August may be called a summer vacation, but is used up to complete a particular requisite course which could not be taken during the two semesters or pursue a course of interest. Students use this time to volunteer both within and outside the country or join a research team, or work for four months to make money and also gain experience. Many employers like the government, city, private institutions that conduct summer camps, etc, earmark jobs for the university students. They work as swimming instructors, life guards, kids’ camp guides, area cleaners, gardeners,  etc.

Course Content.   I was flabbergasted to see our daughter taking “Bollywood Music” and “Prem Chand Kahaniya” as optional subjects in the second and third year as part of a life science course. I am sure no Indian Universities would be offering such subjects. Here the students have a variety of courses to choose from and there are different pre-requisites for post graduation in different universities.

Assignments.   Assignments typically consist of 15- 20 % of the total grade. One cannot  get away by copying assignment from friends, plagiarism is very serious and may even result in failing the course. Original works and ideas are well rewarded. Assignments are given every week or at least once every 15 days and are mostly corrected by the Teaching Assistants (TAs) of the professor. TA is generally a research student under that professor and the TA makes some money by assisting the professor.

Tests.   There are anywhere from two to four tests in a semester. The midterm tests range from 25 to 40 % each. The weightage for the tests are about 50 – 80% depending on the professor. The key point is you do not lose all your points if you miss your final. So, if you get sick or have issues with some chapters, you are not penalised for that. The risk is evenly distributed. The catch is, you are forced to study all through the semester because you have tests every 4 to 6 weeks depending on number of tests.  Some tests are comprehensive, but most are only part of the text. It all depends on the professor. The key thing is, Professor who teaches the class dictates the rules of tests and he is a God for the students.

Quizzes:   The quizzes are quite important and are sometimes online and sometime they are pop-quizzes or surprise quizzes in class. The weightage for quizzes can be from 5 – 20 %. So, you have to be prepared every time with previous class material.

Group Projects and Individual Projects.     They can be from 20 – 40% of the grade. The goal is the professor wants the students to apply what they learned in the class. There are two types of projects. Group projects as name says, will be between 2 – 5 people. Individual projects, you only work on it. In either case, you end up giving final presentation in the class. The presentation skills are developed in the students from high school onwards and they are well trained in executing group and individual projects.

Term Papers.   Some classes do not have anything other than writing papers after extensive research. The research paper has to be based on a given format with full citations. One will have to follow the APA or any other similar format as per the university policy (it starts from High School here). For arts and literature classes, there will not be any exams like mid terms and they usually have two or three papers to write during semester.

Class Participation.   There is about 5 – 15 % of marks for class participation. The students have to actively participate in discussions and hence have to be fully prepared for each class. The TAs sitting behind the class do the marking and the professor will award the final marks.

Co-op. This is where the industry and the academic institution come together to offer the students a chance to work in the industry during graduation. In some universities it is mandatory for all students to take up co-op assignments.  This ensures that education remains at par with the developments in the  industry.  The curriculum aims to provide the students exposure of actual industrial and business processes. Students’ projects are mostly related to real problems identified with the industry/ business.

Recommendations.  For applying for any job, even part-time or for a post graduate course, it is mandatory to provide recommendations of two to three professors. In case you are not well known to them, the professor would end up saying that he/she is ‘not comfortable’ giving the recommendations. It is not all that easy to ‘buy’ these recommendations.

The economic progress of a country is strongly linked with the quality of education.  The Canadian education system  from school level onwards undertake periodic review of the curriculum and subject content to ensure that they are up to date and not outmoded or obsolete.  They also ensure that the system effectively fulfills the requirements of the country in creating valuable citizens for the future. Norms and standards of education are set up so as to educate the students with appropriate skills suitable for a rapidly changing economic scenario.

We would always get an education system we deserve and not what we desire.

4 thoughts on “The Four-Year Undergraduate Programme

  1. Recently I spent a few hours with Nikhil. I was amazed at his all round development at his age. No Indian student will be able to match up with Nikhil’s thought process. His education in Canada stands out distinctly. I am 63 and he is 19 yrs of age. I did not get bored for even a second of the 6 hrs we were together. Healthy engrossing discussion.

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  2. Regi I had given my children the complete choice of education with no interference but guided them. I gave them the choice of West, Far East & India. They wanted to do their higher education in India, selected subjects to their desire & are very successful in their respective careers. All said, Indian education has enough drawbacks but true outputs are a cut above the rest & can survive the present competition.
    It’s my feeling & thoughts by many can differ.

    Your same old 895

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  3. I tend to agree with Shyamdas. Perhaps it’s difficult to link the state of a nations economy with its education system. It’s my feeling that over the past four decades the education system in India has remained more or less static. Some may opine that it has taken a turn for the worse. Yet over the same period the Indian economy seems to be on an upward trajectory. It is true that education and employment are interlinked. So is employment and economy. But as a standalone factor it is difficult to hazard a guess whether there is a direct co relation between education and economy and the degree of impact of the former on the latter.
    Essentially we inherited the British System after the Nalanda/ Taxila tradition got lost somewhere in history. But somehow we seem to have got stuck in a groove . The evolution quotient is pretty poor.
    As a senior instructor at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, I have often compared the average Indian officer on the course with the US/ Canadian / British / Australian / Singaporean counterparts on the course, strictly on the criteria of general awareness and personality. To my mind they are more or less at par. And so are those from Bangladesh and Srilanka. I agree that the comparison is not a true reflection on the respective education systems. In fact the education one gets after joining the defence forces in India is many times more than all the previous education put together.

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