It’s All in a Chance

Written by Sakura Koner – Edited by Sandrine Jacquot

The first day I met my supervisor and we talked about my project’s workflow, I remember apologising for my lack of knowledge and shortcomings. He nonchalantly moved past it, waving his hand: he said I was there to be trained. I knew, in that moment, what education truly meant.

As a student in Kolkata, India with a continued interest in studying and researching a niche topic like neuroimmunology, I found myself getting desperate and feeling frustrated with the lack of available research opportunities I needed. Even though I wish it was a more isolated experience, I realize that students from developing countries often face confidence issues due to the substantial differences in education systems when applying to universities abroad. 

What does an education encompass in the modern world? In an urban setting with a million people, what power does education hold? It is an ongoing process in search of ‘what’s next?’. It’s almost subliminal – the movement from high school to college or university, from one degree to the next, all with a singular goal in mind. In a highly commercialized world, we tend to prioritize obtaining an education for the purpose of landing a high-paying job, over the enjoyment of studying or thirst for knowledge. We are pursuing the possibility of better jobs and raising the standard of education that we require. Yet, our accomplishments remain directly proportional to the opportunities that are at our disposal. On a global scale, where all graduates seeking similar jobs are assessed with the same measuring tape, how do the differences in our education systems and approaches fare? When will local differences across the globe stop being an excuse, and transform into a real issue?

My experience in an Indian education system has been as different from my Canadian educational experience as chalk and cheese. As opposed to a Western education system – which is more research-oriented and encouraging of the creative process, the Indian system focussed on abject rote learning. With its main goal set to increase the quantity of knowledge a student can learn, the Indian education system lost the emphasis on delivering a more meaningful and holistic learning experience to students. 

The monetary concerns of education are disquieting. In spite of the overarching nature of this problem faced by many, funding capacities and priorities in India are starkly different. Since a significant chunk of research funds are provided by governing bodies, research fields become narrow and constricted, along with the degree of freedom independent researchers have. While publications and research output from India is enormous, the nature and fields of research that are represented can be overly repetitive. 

From my perspective, research and independent thinking are salient components of any education system. I’ve found it a key feature and driving force in Western education systems. While most education systems face their own challenges, every country has their own important debates about what education means, and what a degree should confer on a student when they step into the world. At this juncture in life, it doesn’t matter where a person is coming from. What matters is the experience and skills they carry with them. So, at the post-secondary education level, at no fault of their own, students who receive a predominantly theoretical education lose out. A research-oriented system allows a student to go beyond learning  important concepts, it encourages students to apply them in real-world situations. Students can develop their ideas, research them, and prove their feasibility – a fundamental skill that is necessary for success in any occupation.

I have been angry for a long time with the mandates of the Indian education system I grew up in. I have blamed people for sublimating my ambitions, for putting me in a  psychological choke-hold causing me to lose confidence and doubt my ideas. But I realized that I was not alone in this experience. Millions of students undergo similar struggles when they seek to widen their nets and apply to schools abroad – the initial evaluation can be harrowing. Expectations from schools are high, and a lot of international students do not have the necessary skills, especially when it is a lab-based program, to fulfill the requirements of successful admission. It makes me wonder about the fairness of this system. There is unfortunately nothing in place to rescue and equalize the playing field for students simply seeking opportunities abroad.

Feeling an immense disparity between knowledge and practical skills can be a new and difficult form of culture shock when adjusting to a different country. To be standing before a group of accomplished people feeling completely empty, is the most tortuous moment one could experience. This issue may not be fully related to educational differences, but I do believe it can be attributed to the vast differences in how kids are moulded from a young age. 

From the time I have spent at Queen’s observing my peers, friends, and lab mates hailing from so many different countries around the world, I have inferred that content cramming and theoretical knowledge can only open a limited number of doors. Ingenuity, creativity, and research are invaluable, and should persist. Encouraging students to be original and experimental should be a pillar of education. Although one may argue that such traits cannot be taught, I would insist that they can be cultivated within a young mind. A chance is all one may require to find the niche they were meant to hold in the world; the chance my supervisor gave me when he welcomed me into his lab to learn and explore. 


Image: Image by Freepik

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