ROTE NOT RIGHT
Over seven decades of independence, the country has made rapid advances in social, political and economic spheres. Investments in education has helped us create a large pool of engineers, scientists, doctors, architects, accountants, teachers and other professionals who have made a mark worldwide. We are not far behind in introducing the new technological concepts of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Robotics, Smart Classrooms and simulated learning even in schools. However, despite the improvements in infrastructure and introduction of new teaching methodologies, there remains scope for further achievements in the education sector.
Against such a backdrop, the 48th Rajagiri Round Table Conference on ‘Changing Needs of Education’ was held on May 8, 2019, at the Rajagiri School of Engineering and Technology (RSET), Kakkanad, Ernakulam. The panelists were Dr. K PouloseJocob, former Vice Chancellor of Cochin University of Science and Technology (Cusat), Mr. Biju Vithayathil, Director of Amity University, and Dr. S.Muraleedharan, Economist and former Associate Professor of Economics, Maharaja’s College, Ernakulam.
Mr. R.Ramabhadran Pillai, Editor of Pallikkutam Monthly, made the introductory remarks and was the moderator of the session. The event was attended by experts from academia, industry and students.
Dr. K.Poulose Jacob
I don't agree with the view that education is at the crossroads in our country. I believe our educational scheme is on par with more developed nations. We have produced eminent scientists, engineers, doctors, economists, historians and other professionals. We are on the right track but quality of education has come down in some sectors. The number of aspirants willing to take up new courses is increasing but institutions are not able to provide adequate resources to cope up with the demand. Students are unable to decide which track to follow.
There is a popular saying in our scriptures:
MathaShatru, Pita vairi, yenabalanapathitah
It means that the mother is an enemy and father is an opponent in the case of a child, if they do not educate their child. The uneducated child is not adorned in a society of learned people, just as a crane is not respected in a herd of swans.
The present situation is that our parents are not only ensuring education for their children but going a step further and deciding what the student should learn and not leaving that choice or independent decision making to the child. They are spoon-fed and not made to think.
I wanted to become an engineer while I was in the school. I had dreamt of being taught on making machines and how aircrafts could be flown. But when I joined for BTech engineering, I had to study physics, mathematics and a dozen other subjects that did not seem to have any connect with the industry I would be working with.
How many of the subjects that you learn in engineering have any relevance in real life?. When my daughter joined Engineering college, she was taught about a microchip, which was no longer in use, in the same way it was taught to me back in my college days. Generally speaking, a country becomes rich or poor depending on how much money is spent on human resources. How much of our funding goes to promotion of basic science, training teachers, funding of research are all vital questions we need to ask. There is resistance from the teaching community to introduction of reforms. The teachers have resisted move for giving autonomy to a top ranked college in the State, thereby shutting the doors to quality improvement. I also feel that there should be a radical change in the way educational institutions are funded. The funding should be given to the students who come in the merit list. Th students should be allowed to study in a college of their choice and tuition fee should be funded by the government. This will shift the focus away from meritorious students going to government colleges just for the sake of lower fees, thus encouraging all colleges more accountable in terms of improving performance.
It is good to talk of introduction of artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, etc. in our curriculum from school onwards. But look at the broader picture. Our IT and engineering professionals are largely under-employed. They are engaged in jobs that require much lower skills compared to the degrees they hold although our IT sector's contribution to GDP has risen from 0.5% in 1990s to 9% in 2010.There is no fundamental research happening in IT and engineering, and several of our Management graduates are also under-employed. There is a need to increase our public expending on education to 6% of GDP as against less than 4% now. We spend less than 1% of our GDP in research and development. The number of universities in Indian has gone up from 103 in 1970's to over 400 but the quality of learning outcome has not improved and that should be our major concern.
Participants were generally of the view that teacher training has to be given emphasis and that very little change is seen in pedagogy. Dr Raman Nair, former Dean of School of Communication and Management Studies (SCMS), Kochi, said that there is no point in changing the syllabus unless the faculty is able to take up the new challenges, adapt to and assimilate the new technologies. They are afraid of changes in the system.
In a dynamically changing society, where we find changes taking place in the socio-economic and political spheres, the field of education cannot remain static, according to Dr. P.R.Poduval, former Director of School of Management Studies, CUSAT. The quality vs quantity issue is still being debated in higher education. When you introduce new technology, what is the specific purpose for which it is introduced- is it information-oriented, procedure-oriented or skill-oriented? Dr.Poulose Jacob said that quality of teaching has to improve and evaluation has to become criteria-based. He said most courses offered by universities are up-to-date and with changing trends.
Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran, Professor of Engineering at RSET, pointed out that our learning eco system can be made more creative, more open and the learning experience can be made better for the new generation of students.
Prof. Dr. Job Kuruvila was of the view that the system of accreditation of institutions should change. It should not be based on the number of labs and square foot area of the buildings but should be based on intent learning outcomes (ILO). Our education is based on evaluation of examinations; teachers are fearful of introducing change. "I have worked with private universities also. The major fault with them is the bottoms-up approach which suits the students but not much effort goes into improvement of pedagogy. What is required is a top-down approach or an objective based system," Dr Job Kuruvila said.
Writer K.L. Mohana Varma was of the view that our students are studying the same syllabus their parents may have studied. The purpose of education is to create knowledge and our study is limited to what is already written in the books; 90% of what we learn is never quite useful in our lives, he added.
The prevailing practice of giving too much emphasis on theory rather than practicals was highlighted by the student participants. Megha Mary Biju, student of Muthoot Institute of Technology and Sciences (MITS) was of the view that rote learning is given weightage in the credit semester system. The engineering education should be overhauled. The role of the teacher is also changing from imparting information to facilitating students to go the extra mile.
JesudasDamasie, student of RSET, said that electrical and electronics engineering students were taught about various machines that work on AC and DC currents but not in an environment in which it will be applied, and where problems could be encountered in its application in industry. Ananthu T Mani, another RSET student, said that “we should not be blindly going behind trends”. Today it will be machine learning or artificial intelligence, but it could be something else when the students pass out of college. Internships can provide a lot of exposure to students and curriculum should be made indepth and broad-based, he added. Amala Menon, student of Computer Science at RSTET, wondered whether too much theory will prove useful to students when they get a job. "We are taught Java programming, but not the application side of it for making an app or program,she said.
Dr. Raman Nair was of the view that all that is learnt in theory can have a practical application and every activity one doesin the laboratory can have a theoretical framework. Ananthu T Mani suggested the idea of moving the theoretical teaching to the lab and not confining it to the classroom.
Relevance of inter-disciplinary learning
The importance of inter-disciplinary learning was also highlighted by a few of the participants. Megha Mary Biju pointed out that learning should not be confined to water tight compartments. It should become more inter-disciplinary. The engineering curriculum should become more broad-based and multi-disciplinary. It should include algorithms, psychology, sociology, economics, artificial intelligence, according to Dr. S.Muraleedharan.
Daniel, Managing Director of Best Talents Consultants, said that engineering
courses were broad-based and inter-disciplinary, but seemed to have undergone
changes. What is required now is to develop a certain type of individual who
can face the challenges in industry. They have to interact with people of
different nationalities. For example, the Japanese culture is focused on
attention to detail. Improving communication skills, designing and conceptualising
should become part of our education strategy. We need to develop our human
resources in view of the larger goals of the nation. An engineer needs to go
into management or learn MBA only after 5 or 6 years of working.
The two-hour discussion did throw up a number of suggestions and recommendations while some took exception to taking a highly critical attitude towards our education system. Dr. Varghese S Chooralil, Assistant Professor at RSET, said that considering the population explosion in Asian region, we are able to make education accessible to a large number of people. "Our youth is our strength and they are employable. The challenge is to ensure quality education in the midst of huge population growth.” Dr Varghese Panthalookaran said that historically speaking, education in India was not accessible to a vast majority due to caste system. Now technology and IT give us an opportunity to make learning accessible to the majority. How to make education more adaptable and personalised is the challenge. Now the student doesn't go to the teacher to solve a problem, they might look at the apps for a solution.