Thursdays are set aside for the weekly trek to SPA. I spend about 4 hours there, two of which are dedicated to a group of students exploring the role of an architect while working in the low-income housing space. The next two hours are spent interacting with 5 students doing individual dissertations in subjects ranging from hospital design to vernacular materials. It’s a tough ride for the kids, to be expected to think in a structured, critical way and to express themselves clearly in language that is not the first language for most of them! They do rise to the challenge though, in their own topsy turvy way.
The discussion today though, veered to another aspect of student life, especially in a professional college. As the youngsters poured out their hearts, it struck me that little has changed. I distinctly remember asking our faculty in our final couple of years of college about why they felt the need to burden us with so much workload that we are incapable of quality work. These kids asked me the exact same question today! Back then, we also asked our profs if they didn’t think unstructured time was also important to the creative process and to the business of learning, in general. I don’t remember getting any reasonable answers. The gist of the response was that pressure is the only tried and tested way to make kids work. Full stop.
At the time, I thought that is ridiculous. Having experience the American system of college education, and despite being on the ‘other’ side now, I know it as ridiculous. Students perform very well when given some choice, some flexibility and encouraged to exert their opinions. But they do need excellent resources, exposure, role models, inspiration….which is hard for our stuck-in-a-mould institutions to muster. So, even though I do get rather frustrated by the lackadaisical attitude of some of my students, I do believe a more liberal system will sieve the meritorious from the average, the curious from the idle, and teach kids to take responsibility as opposed to the current system that is, from what I see, rather top-down!