My brief experience of teaching to grad students in Pakistan, the Good, Bad and Ugly

by Aug 14, 2017Life Experiences, Public Speaking, Teaching

This is as raw as it gets, I’d get in to the Good, Bad and Ugly aspects of the educational industry. Notice the word *Industry*, prior to me joining an premium business university in Pakistan, I literally had no experience of teaching as Visiting Faculty, though I’ve been on and off teaching/mentoring voluntarily through various means for almost a decade now.

The good

It was certainly an experience of a lifetime, since I had always found pleasure in giving others vision to pursue, helping in their journey of life. Being a subject lecturer allowed me to do exactly that and more, since I was really driven to add value to my students careers, I went all in with what I could. The initial few classes were definitely a pain for both of us, as they were trying to adapt to my way and I was getting hold of the ropes of how to fit into the role.

Eventually I found, if I had to stick by the definition of lecturer I’d not be doing them any favor, since I had hated those types of lecturers in my student years. Many of you may have read this awesome quote by Toni Morrison “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I did exactly that in the context that I became the lecturer I wished I had, and that led to a unique fun atmosphere in class, by challenging them to their limits whilst at the same time rewarding them for their effort. I took the role of a facilitator more than a lecturer who stands there and just disseminates knowledge, I find that so odd that in this age of technology and rapid access to information. There is nothing one cannot find on his/her own and yet students are still made to sit and be spoon fed, I had conducted a very informal survey in the very first class and told that the whole semester being taught will depend on what students vote for.

Interesting survey results from that very first interaction with my class

I must say Pakistan has very unique sense of humor, and that was apparent from the results. There was one interesting pattern, students generally didn’t valued their courses as long as they pass them to get their degrees, which is okay but that’s not a goal the institution or the faculty members should be proud of. After all we have a responsibility to instill in values in the upcoming generation to take the mantle forward, and for that I completely blame the societal standards we have made ourselves. Having education is no longer about knowledge, it’s rather a rat race for who gets ahead in the corporate world.

Oh the horror stories of very well established HRMS ( Human Resources Management System ), This question got into the survey to establish a very raw and human connection with students who had to endure a portal which looked and worked like it was from the time Windows 95 was launched, yes it was that bad. Anyway what’s good in all that you may ask, great question, it’s that we need to acknowledge the problems and even if we cannot solve them, by acknowledging the problems we are in a mindset to make change happen sooner or later.

I really became fond of using GIFs into the slides rather than plain old text and diagrams and that resonated quickly. The willingness to break the norms was difficult at first, but eventually got the hang of it and so did my students.

To my surprise, my class comprised a very diverse demographic from all walks of life. They were ambitious, they were ready to break the status quo and do what they didn’t believed themselves.


Now the real good part, I am attaching the slides I had for that in class.

The final results of the class were nothing less than a miracle, I didn’t just handed over the whole class great grades just like that, but they were forced to push their own limits and eventually during just single semester. I had made them cover enough material on the subject which could easily be called as Mini MSc course in itself.

My students completed on-line courses by IBM ( Shout out to IBM for such awesome content. )

Data Science Foundations

Data Science for Business

Furthermore 99% of the class also passed Google Analytics Certification too. Although I do understand, due to the lack of time I was not able to go with them on intricate details in person but that was the beautiful aspect of flipped classroom I had implemented. I made an complementary on-line course to supplement in class learning and I can say certainly that it made a difference statistically speaking of course.

Like all good things, the good part ends here. I decided to discontinue and put this wonderful experience behind me, the reasons for which will be discussed in detail in the Bad and Ugly.

The Bad

Not to come across a person who makes blanket statements, but this is what I had experienced. Remember I used the word *Industry* for the education and that was because it really is, a big corporate entity whose objective rarely is to benefit the general population by giving them quality literacy but to drive their own business forward. I know many of the folks in the same industry will have differing opinions and I respect that.

To me it was really disheartening to see that how a sacred element of education is turned into top dollar business, students are not seen as equals or even humans in the eyes of management. They are customers and I am okay if they were actually given the care as the way businesses treat their customers since they are their blood line but sadly that wasn’t not the case.

The higher ups rarely know what is going within the middle management and most do not care about delivering what they should instead opt doing bare minimum to keep their jobs.

My discontent started with the way seniors in the academia viewed their juniors, again this is just my personal experience and that may not be the case with everyone. Since I was not accustomed to all the SOP ( Standard Operating Procedures ) and there was clearly no established knowledge base to consult, I had to repeatedly inquire from my senior and he was excruciatingly painful to deal with, being very friendly in his conversation and hating me to guts on the back. At least that is what a person feels if he gets replied to a question a few months after he has asked something which would have just taken a minute. Anyway I’d have sucked up to that for the love of teaching, but then dawned the reality that I cannot repeat what I had done, apparently there is a alarm which goes off in the heads of management if the whole class passes with flying colors. I am glad that I didn’t had to endure such talks because I left right after the semester and finished on a great note, but I was informed from the students and some other faculty members that they have a bell curve to maintain about grading and passing. Though this is still a myth not a fact, but the ground realities were not looking so good to pass that as myth alone, when there is smoke there is fire.

The only thing I disliked in the students for which again I’d not directly blame them is that they are so accustomed to be spoon fed, they rarely are ready to take the step into unknown and figure things out on their own, they’ve been dumbed down through decades of autocratic educational empire. I had to include creativity, learning techniques within the class to overcome that, for which I was successful to a certain extent but of course one cannot change a mindset which is ingrained from the early childhood all the way into adulthood. Does that mean I am bragging about my own intellectual superiority over them, no not even close. If I were to do that then I’d playing the same card as the majority of senior academic members of our society do, they somehow consider themselves above and beyond of students and do not want to connect with students on human level. This disparity and classification was another downer for me in evaluating whether to continue or not.

The Ugly

Alright so now we are down to worst part and that will be again relating to how universities here in Pakistan are run as corporate businesses rather than a place where knowledge is prioritized over everything. Like any other ambitious person, I wanted to take advantage of the excellent learning materials made available from great startups for academia for free, all I needed was a email at university’s domain and faculty page listing.

I wanted to use DataCamp’s offering which is used by Harvard University, Imperial College of London, Princeton University and other top notch institutions. I requested that I’d be needing an email address at the university’s domain, which got into discussions after discussions and nobody could do anything about it because apparently that’s not the rule listed in their book to accommodate visiting faculty with custom emails. I thought to myself well not a big deal, I immediately opted to email a senior faculty member to assist me in registering for the service on my behalf, which would have taken just a few minutes of his time. To my surprise he wasn’t willing to assist or even reply to my messages, of course this experience of mine does not dictates that every other person in the academia is like that, though it is what it is. As I stated earlier, this is about my individual experience with other individuals, who in turn represent the industry for which they had failed to inculcate in me a positive feeling.


The silver lining

Not all hope is lost, their are so many bright stars in the academia, enlightening others and so many students who have the perfect will which just needs a little push to allow them to turn the wheel of change. Slowly and steadily we will reach the day where education is not the prestige of institution or how much one can memorize, but how one behaves and benefits the society as a whole.

P.S No hard feelings for anyone

P.P.S Just because I didn’t continued as a visiting faculty, doesn’t mean I’d not be contributing to academia, in fact I’d love to take up one off workshops/seminars/public talks for the greater good of community.