Why does one need a PhD to teach students?’ – I asked this question to several academics over the years and the common answer that I got was – “It is like a passport or driving license to be a Professor”. This is not at all convincing to me. Then it is a ritual like the driving license that we get in India which neither tells the quality of the driver nor ensures the safety in the roads. What led to the need for such a license? What is that skill or ability that you will develop if you do a PhD? Why is that skill important to become a Professor?
I posted this question in social media to some of my friends and some of the answers that I got was
Another friend who holds a PhD told me that one needs a PhD to understand the complex research from the journals, distill it and present to the students in a simple way.These answers are interesting and they address some aspects of my question but not my core question. Another friend posed an interesting question //why is a bachelors or master degree in a subject needed for teaching school students a subject?//. This brought a new dimension to my question. Whether it is primary school or PhD students, there is ‘teaching’ involved and depending on the complexity, the requirement changes from Bachelors to Masters to PhD.
Recently, I introduced Khan Academy lessons to my kids with the hope that their Math will improve. In 2 weeks, I realized that Khan Academy is not a substitute to a teacher but rather a tool to practice a concept after you have understood it. It teaches Math as a sequence of steps and whenever I allowed my children to start a concept with Khan Academy, their understanding tend to be very weak. Whenever I help them to understand the concept and then use Khan academy to make them practice, it worked out to be effective. A small misstep here can ruin a child’s understanding of a subject which will take many years of unlearning to course correct later.
The basic math would have also come from deep research where some researcher would have studied about the process of imparting knowledge to kids and educators would have taken every possible effort to find an approach that works for most kids. Even after this, the learning styles are different and so, recently it is being discussed on how educators can cater to individual learning style. When the subjects become complex with so many variables, so many layers and so many nuances, it becomes even more hard. What I realized is that teaching involves two things 1. Discovering the truth about a subject and understand the process of discovery 2. Using your ‘truth’ to help the student to gain interest in a subject and help them to find their own truth about the subject.
Let me explain through a simple example. People from tropical countries know Jack-fruit. To know more about the fruit, please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jackfruit. When I was a kid, my father used to bring jack-fruits during his trips to Kodaikanal , a beautiful hill station 3 hrs from my hometown. But to cut the hard outer cover and take the edible fruits outside is a nightmare. There are many videos available in youtube too. Once taken out, it is a feast for us, kids, because the fruit is so delicious. I think this analogy may help to explain my point.
If I have to explain what is the best way to cut a jack-fruit, I need to understand 1. What is jack-fruit and how it is organized? 2.what are the different types of jack-fruits available in the world? 3. what are their similarities and differences? 4. What are the different techniques used in different parts of the world? 5. When is it eligible for cutting, how do you identify whether a jack-fruit is ripe and so on and so forth?There may be many more questions and there is a tree of questions with cause and effect that needs to be understood and answered. This will help me to find my ‘truth’ about the best way to cut a jack-fruit. I can use this truth and the process of getting the truth to educate my students. But it doesn’t stop there.
The real question is ‘Why do we have to cut the jack-fruit?’. The purpose of cutting a jack-fruit is to take the edible fruits outside and help the people to enjoy the fruits. Otherwise, why do we have to invest so much time and effort to cut the fruit?Most of the PhD dissertations are of no practical use to anyone and they rest in the libraries of universities without much value. A student spends 3 – 7 years of his life to do this PhD and if the fruits of the work is not going to be consumed by someone, what is the use of learning to cut this jack-fruit? How do we expect the PhD to help his students?
A PhD needs to impart the rigor, curiosity and pursuit of truth along with an ability to help others finding their own truth. Whether it is for primary school students or for MBA students or astrophysics students, the job of a teacher is to help them discover the truth around the subject. For that, the teacher should have a clear understanding of the truth himself. The assumption that PhD will help a potential teacher to discover his truth and help students to discover their truth is not a valid assumption. Let us test these assumptions and re-define the need for doctorates.