disciplines are those in which the main interest is in succeeding
in and/or completing physical tasks. Examples are engineering,
medicine and dentistry. Other activities such as driving motor
vehicles, playing musical instruments and operating machines
also fall into this category.
The following four aspects of personal achievement are associated
with ‘do’ disciplines:
- Being able to do (e.g. Peter is able to design a bridge.)
- Having the experience of doing (e.g. Paul has designed
- Knowing why it is done the way it is (e.g. Harry knows
why bridges are designed the way they are.)
- Understanding the underlying principles (e.g. Thomas
understands the principles of bridge design.)
In ‘do’ disciplines, being able to do matters
a lot. If you visit a dentist, he being able to do matters
a lot. If the dentist knows only principles, it does not mean
anything much. But actually there is a subtle difference between
being able to do something, and having the experience of doing
it. If somebody asks me: “Can you calculate the stresses
in a chamber of an aircraft?” My answer is: “I
can, I am able to do it.” But that does not mean I have
done it before.
In the ‘do’ disciplines, having the experience
of doing it at least once is important. That was the original
idea of setting up lab experiments and so on. But somehow
over the years, some academics have converted lab experiments
to routines. They give students a nice sheet with some blanks.
The students do not know what they are doing, but they fill
in the blanks with numbers. They take down the numbers shown
in the meters. Thereafter, they plot the graphs and hand in
the report. It is then considered done, but I do not think
they have got the experience of doing the actual thing, although
the original idea was to give them the experience of having
done it once at least.
The third level is knowing why something is done the way
it is. There is a reason and theory behind everything. But
this is not the same as understanding the underlying principles.
Actually if you understand the underlying principles, you
can devise another way to do the same thing; even a completely
different one. So we hope that in the university, we can go
to the fourth level because there is no institute of education
higher than the university. We have to be responsible enough
to provide the highest possible education.
How to Do and Why?—The Difference
The following poem written over a century ago summarises
some important issues about doing things, especially the difference
between methods and principles:
Without ambition one starts nothing.
Without work one finishes nothing.
The prize will not be sent to you. You have to win it.
The man who knows how will always have a job.
The man who also knows why will always be his boss.
As to methods there may be a million and then some, but
principles are few.
The man who grasps principles can successfully select his
The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure
to have trouble.
The following general observations are broadly valid at
least in engineering disciplines:
- Teachers believe that merely being able to
show (1) is enough proof for (2), (3) and (4). This is evident in examinations. We believe that if
students are able to solve an exam question, they know why
it is done in a particular way. This is a false premise.
- How to do is taught in component form using
neatly trimmed and packaged examples. But
in real life, things do not exist in nicely trimmed packages.
Yet we believe that somehow, students will be able to put
things together and handle other situations.
- Detailed demonstrations using multitudes of
examples are done to teach how to do. Students
end up being able to solve problems of the type that are
demonstrated but fail to consider changes and differences
in other problems and variations.
- Teachers give multitudes of exercises to students
to practise with. The teacher’s way of doing them
is later made known by posting solutions on notice boards
or through the web. Adopting the teachers’
answers and format will lead to the next observation.
- Students feel they ‘can do’ after
such ‘successful’ teaching.
- Grades are awarded on the basis of the ability
to do a set of familiar (predictable) neatly packaged problems. It becomes almost a necessity because if you vary, either
the students will complain, or your bosses will because
the grades are too low.
- However, snap-tests several months later reveal
that the majority of students are not capable of solving
even the classroom problems they did during that ‘successful’
This is the pattern of behaviour we have established, at
least in Engineering.
Like parallel parking, you will be able to do things after
being trained. So if the objective is training, it is justified
that you give a routine to practise, practise, and practise.
Otherwise, teachers should not set patterned situations through
tutorials and examinations. If they do that, then they will
create a situation that finally constitutes spoon-feeding.
Principles cannot be understood to a sufficient degree by
carrying out a set of operations according to a fixed routine.
(Therefore, the teacher should not set up situations that
would motivate the student do such routine operations unless
the objective is training.)
Principles can be understood by undertaking a task that offers
a mental challenge. (There has to be a mental challenge—a
struggle, as mentioned by Mohanan. Therefore, the teacher
should do things that will motivate students to undertake
mental challenges whenever the objective is a higher form
Intellectual development is a result of mental challenges.
Intellectual development must be at least one of the objectives
of higher education at university level.
How Do We Know a Particular Act is an Instance of
It is not possible to determine whether a case of spoon-feeding
is occurring just by examining a single instance during a
teaching process. There should be a sequence of happenings
forming a pattern known to match one that can be considered
as spoon-feeding. Take the case of a student who has not been
enabled/empowered despite undergoing a teaching process and
being successful at examinations—a possible cause is