Over the past few months, I have got quite a bit of exposure to the undergraduates here. Interacting with them has inevitably led me to compare the system of UG education in India and in the US.
There is a great deal of flexibility in the kind of courses that a student here has to take to complete the degree. There are only a few 'core courses' that every major student HAS to take. Most universities require 120 credits for the degree, of which only about 20-30 come under the 'core' criteria. This is in total contrast to the requirements in India, where a student has to take and clear all the courses specified by the college/university. That is the case with the arts colleges, and I think it is the same with the Engg. colleges as well. If I am not wrong, pl. do correct me.
The language courses here are much more useful than the mindless 'memorize-and-spit' stuff an arts college student in India has to take. There are a couple of courses in 'Academic writing' or 'Analytical writing' which greatly enhance one's language and writing skills. Also, the educational curricula are quite diverse in most universities, which means the students HAVE to take at least one course each in areas such as US history, European history, Fine arts, philosophy, maths, physics/chemistry/biology, and psychology/sociology. This widens the student's perspectives in several disciplines.
3) Class selection:
So, the student here chooses the subject based on: a) the general liking of the course; b) the teaching/grading skills of the professor from ratemyprofessor.com; c) time-conflict with other courses; and d) interestingly, most want to avoid classes on monday/friday, so that they can have a long holiday. Also, the students who commute long distance, like to have most classes on the same day itself.
Moreover, if a student is very good, he/she would be allowed to take more courses in a semester. Many students make use of the summer courses (which most dont do - they take time off from studies during summer) and even the 3-week Winter courses and it is possible for one to finish a 4-year program in just 2 years.
4) Quality at the entry level:
I was shocked to know that most students get their first introduction to mainstream chemistry, physics and biology when they enter the degree program. I was told that, during school education, they are mostly taught as to how to attend the classes, how to take notes, etc. In essence, the things that we learn in class 11 in India are taught in the beginning of the UG program here.
5) Concept of 'class':
The concept of a batch hardly exists. It is highly possible that two students who join a given major in the same year may never be in a single class together throughout the entire UG program. The strength of some of the classes is humongous, with some having even 400+ students. Sometimes, there would be several sessions of the same subject offered in the same semester.
Because of the huge number of the students admitted to a major in the same year, the busy schedule of the professors (teaching + research), and the work that the students do to earn their tuition fees/living, each student attends only about 15-18 hours per week of classes. In India, it is 25 hours a week, mostly. That gives more time for a given course to be taught, without too much rushing. Here, the profs with improper planning would end up short of their syllabus or hurrying up.
All colleges and universities work the way 'autonomous' institutions in India work. It is upto the instructor how he/she wishes to handle the tests. So, there are cases like (i) frequent quizzes/tests followed by a cumulative final, similar to the Indian system, (ii) only short quizzes/tests, with a final being just another short test (non-cumulative), and (iii) grading based only on presentations/papers submitted. The questions could all be multiple-choiced, or descriptive. There is no guarantee that the grading system of a professor in one semester would continue to the next sem. If the whole class performs poorly, usually there is a 'curving', which means a few marks would be added to all the grades.
Unlike in India, where 35% is a passing mark, one can fail here even if he/she scores 60%. Also, most papers would require one to answer all the questions.. so the spoilling system of 'choice' in India, where one student can skip a chapter fully and still score 100%, is not possible here. Because of the tough grading, IMHO, the student has to learn more here than in India to pass or get high grades. Due to the letter system of grading, someone who has got 100% answers right might be considered equal to one with 91% answers - both get an A.
7) Professional degrees:
While a BA/BSc student inIndia takes about 30 courses towards a 3-year degree, one here takes about 40 for a 4-year degree. Similar to the way a BE/BTech student in India spends 4 years for the degree, an engg. degree in US too requires about 140 credits. Unlike in India where a student can join a medical/dental/pharmacy/law college after class 12, in US, one has to complete the UG degree, or some form of pre-medical or pre-dental program to enter such specialized schools. That is bcos of relatively low quality of class-12 education.
In India, all instructors take the attendance; so if someone misses a lot of classes, he/she could be debarred from taking the final exams. Here, there are some who would not take attendance for even a single class.. thus, by simply studying the prescribed book at home, and getting the notes from the friends, a student can get an A. On the other extreme, there are some who would reduce the grade point to the next lower letter grade, for a student who has been absent for just 4 classes.
9) Class timings:
Unlike the fixed 10AM-4 PM or whatever fixed timing in Indian colleges/universities, here there are some classes which start at 8 AM, and some which go on till 10 PM.
10) Choice of university:
The students choose the university based on (i) its national ranking, (ii) presence in the same state (to save tuition fees), (iii) the quality of the particular program in the university and (iv) the performance of the university's football/basketball teams, though not necessarily in the same order.
Considering all these things, I was wondering which one is better - Indian or American system. Though in India one gets good opportunities to do well, not many grab them. Moreover, the Indian system encourages 'mugging up' bcos many times one has to reproduce the answers verbatim. In US, many courses make one to think a lot, do quite a bit of reading outside the books, and enhance writing, presentation skills, non-linear/abstract thinking.