Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Technical curriculum sucks

My wife just posted to her blog about how much she's enjoying the math classes she's taking at the community college.

She always did well in math, and had a friend/rival in elementary school who she always competed with to be the best in her math studies. Then in 6th grade, her teacher wouldn't let her move on to the fast track because she hadn't done enough homework to get an A, even though she was acing the tests.

Apart from feeling cheated, she was now also behind in the expected progression for technical fields. She studied English in college, and never got past college algebra.

Now she's back in school, thinking of doing a graduate degree in engineering. So she's at the community college, where she's supposed to take several years worth of prerequisites outside her final department, to get the math and science core she feels like she needs just to apply to a good grad school.

Likewise, my cousin loved astronomy in high school, where they had a neat research-oriented pilot program. Her project was to study historical photos of nebulas to see if expansion could be tracked over decades.

I encouraged her to take more when she got to college, but when she saw how many math and other science classes she'd have to take as prerequisites, she also decided to major in English.

One last related anecdote: I just met Sridhar Vembu last weekend. He found such a brain drain from the indian universities that he had trouble hiring for his indian software company. So he started a trade school. He takes 17-year-old poor kids with interest and a cursory hint of aptitude, and teaches them programming (while giving them a stipend and feeding them). The curriculum covers programming, english and math in that order of importance, and in that order of preference. The kids hate abstraction and math notation, but later appreciate it more after they've spent a few months solving practical problems in web programming. After 6-9 months, almost all of them start working for the company, and they do just as well as the college grads. As he puts it, "math is the new sanskrit".

Oh, and I believe he's taking about half and half girls/boys. (Except that more of the girls get recruited away by the colleges.)

1 comment:

Wife said...

I don't think everyone who gets behind in math *has* to get a degree in something not math related, like I did.

However, when I first looked at doing a more technical major, aside from the fact that I had no idea what people in those fields did, I was very much put off because of the math. I realize now that I didn't need to be, but at the time I was.