A friend and former colleague recently complained about a private message received on LinkedIn from a former student. The message read: ‘Assalamu alikum, sir.’ Sadly, people in the teaching community find themselves on the receiving end of this sort of message way too frequently. For a message of this type means one and only one thing: That the sender needs some advice or favour but has no intention of disclosing the matter unless you acknowledge his greeting first. This is a logical and civil approach when paying somebody a visit, but which sadly defeats the very purpose of written communication.
What is the problem in returning the greeting? one may be asked. The trouble with that is that in that case, instead of stating the matter, the sender is apt to proceed to inquiring about one’s health and spirits. Whether it is the fear of wasting precious time and energy explaining the details of the matter only to discover that the message fails to elicit a response; or the sender is forced by an unusually gentlemanly and caring disposition on his part is a moot point. (I have a suspicion that for the most part it is the former because many are now resorting to voice messages instead. Apparently, even typing one-liners is way too much hard work now.) Be that as it may, those of us who, at any given time, must deal with hundreds of individuals realize after a while that this sort of activity is hardly sustainable. This is where we feel obliged to start ignoring such messages altogether, albeit with some guilt on our part.
While on the subject of e-communication, another common failing on the part of students is their propensity for sending anonymous text messages. They fail to realize that while they have, at most, ten instructors at any given time; their instructors have to deal with hundreds of students, past and present. It is grossly unrealistic to assume, therefore, that they would make it a point to have all their numbers saved. These are, of course, very twenty-first century issues, which were non-existent in the pre-IT age.
There are ways other than the technology-related ones in which we have come a long way from the golden age. (The golden age naturally refers to the era that ended in the 90s when the author graduated from UET Lahore). Of course, long gone are the days when heroic souls were perfectly willing to risk and accept an F only for the pleasure of triggering a hearty laughter from their fellows. In the Electrical Engineering viva, one such specimen responded to the question ‘What is a motor commutator made of?’ by saying ‘Wood’. Although no Faraday by any stretch of the imagination, he knew perfectly-well that wood was the last material a commutator could be made of. But he still said so, to the infinite joy of those who were present and all those who were told about the incident by those students and the exasperated instructor himself. The legend lives to this day.
Teachers becoming much more accessible is a welcome change. Students now get to see their marked answer-sheets and discuss them with their instructors – something unheard of in our days.