A couple weeks, I watched a Bollywood movie called 3 Idiots. The plot centered on the adventures of three friends who are attending a top-ranked engineering college in India. The 3 idiots in this movie are a group of friends named Rancho, Farhan, and Raju. Rancho is a brilliant student who graduates at the top of his class while his two friends are consistently last in everything. Farhan was pushed into studying engineering by his parents, in spite of his talent at photography, while Raju’s studies are affected by his fear of poverty and failure. Rancho’s mantra is that people should follow excellence, not success, as success will follow excellence.
3 Idiots features an argument between two types of people – people who learn and people who memorize. The protagonist is a student named Rancho, who is studying because he loves engineering and wants to understand how machines work. The antagonist is a student named Chatur, who believes in mindless memorization, in order to achieve the social and economic status he craves. Chatur, in a fit of jealous rage, challenges Rancho to a bet: after ten years, who will end up more successful?
Silly antics and over-the-top drama aside, this movie raises an important point: what defines learning? Memorization or understanding? The movie came out on the side of understanding, which is a conclusion I agree with personally. However, as I have seen, real-life is not always that way. I have known many people over the years – including some very highly ranked researchers – who believe that memorization is the key to becoming a successful student. In the short-term, memorization is very useful. For some areas – learning the muscles of the body in anatomy class or the myriad of reactions in organic chemistry – memorization is necessary. In other areas – such as research – the habit of memorization proves to be a crutch that inhibits a student from asking questions and challenging assumptions.
3 Idiots was a fun movie that also raised a few questions. The engineering college featured in the movie was modeled closely after my husband’s alma mater, the Indian Institute of Technology; he informs me that the college-life details featured in the movie is a very close match to what he experienced.
This movie, with English subtitles, is available on Youtube.