Unlike most Indian students who come to study in the UK, I did not come to pursue my undergraduate or postgraduate studies. I came to the UK as a 13-year-old accompanying my father, who had been posted to the UK by his employer.
Before coming to the UK, I had been a student at Delhi Public School (DPS) R.K. Puram in New Delhi, that venerable institute of learning from where pupils such as former Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan have gone on to achieve great heights.
Based on a 2014 report by 'The New York Times', even a nursery spot at the school (run in two separate campuses) yielded only a 5 per cent admissions rate, which rivals that of top universities in the US. Given the environment that I came from, I could be pardoned for believing that education in the UK would be a breeze.
Out of the box
While still in India, I had been instilled with a false sense of comfort that when I landed on British shores, I would be among the smartest kids around. As someone who had academically been an average student for long, I was ready to experience life as a topper. But my bubble was about to burst.
Once I commenced studying in the UK, it did not take me long to realise that this education system needed me to 'think' - and that too out of the box! And even come up with solutions - for problems that had never been previously discussed in class. How preposterous?!
In terms of content/syllabus, I think I had possibly covered more than my British counterparts but my education in India had not been application-oriented.
The British education system focused on “learning” and the “application of learning”. In India, all I was trained to focus on was “scoring”.
In India, a history exam, for instance, would have questions along the lines of:
*What were the three main occupations of the people of the Indus Valley Civilization?
*The answer: Agriculture, domestication of animals, and trade and commerce.
The question would be worth three marks, and I would score a mark each for each point mentioned above.
In the UK, on the other hand, after having read/studied topics such as the Second World War extensively, I would have been expecting questions like: What were the causes of the Second World War? or What was the US's role in the Second World War'?
Instead, what I got was German propaganda material from the Second World War and was asked to analyse the content, which I found somewhat perplexing. The UK education system not only expected me to have read extensively and learned about the Second World War from others but also expected me to give my take and perspective on how events unfolded.
Let's consider French as a subject. When I commenced my studies in the UK, I realised that my written French was generally superior to that of my peers. The downside though was that while in India, I only had written examinations for French.
In the UK, I would have exams testing my reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. In hindsight, it makes so much more sense to have all these dimensions tested than just the writing skills. One simply cannot communicate effectively unless a reasonable level of proficiency has been achieved in each of these dimensions.
The above were some of the examples of how the education system in the UK differs from India. I do not want to unnecessarily panic anyone who is pursuing or thinking of pursuing education in the UK. Indeed, in terms of knowledge/syllabus, it is likely that Indian students would have covered more.
However, the British system will most certainly test your ability to apply that knowledge. So, be prepared!
by Akshat Jaganmohan
Akshat is a healthcare entrepreneur and Mentor & Midlands Coordinator for the Indian National Students Association (INSA) UK.
*This column is part of a regular 'iGlobal' Campus Roundup series