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'It's time to end the three-hour drama'

Last updated: 31 March, 2010

INTERVIEW

Prof Sanjay Govind Dhande, director, IIT Kanpur, tells Vijesh Kamath why continuous evaluation of a student’s intellect is important

WHAT STUDENTS WANT Dr Dhande believes higher education in India is in need of better quality and bigger investments.  DH Pic/ MANJUNATH M S

WHAT STUDENTS WANT Dr Dhande believes higher education in India is in need of better quality and bigger investments.  DH Pic/ MANJUNATH M SProf Sanjay Govind Dhande has been in the field of technical education and research for the past 30 years. Presently, he is working as director of Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur and has been instrumental in taking the institution to new heights in engineering education and research. Dhande is a member of the Scientific Advisory Council to the Prime Minister and heads two major task forces in the field of education. In an interview with DH Education, Dhande speaks on a host of issues including the present reform process in higher education and the challenges ahead.

What is your take on higher education in the country?

It’s an exciting and challenging time. India with 9 per cent growth in GDP is going to witness a very large middle class. Gross Enrolment Ratio presently at 12.4 per cent is going to increase. It takes a lot to design and manage such a higher education system. There are a number of issues to debate and discuss. It’s a Q2 — quality and quantity — matter. On the one hand, quantity is bound to grow; on the other, the challenge is how to maintain quality.

What is your response to the reforms presently being initiated by the Human Resources Department?
It is not as though a particular ministry or a particular individual proposed the reforms. Discussions have been going on for several years. It looks like we are on the cusp of ending ‘license and permit raj’ in the education system. Today we have initiatives like the foreign universities bill, malpractice prevention bill, education tribunal bill, right to education bill and so on.  It’s good that we are witnessing some specific action.

Is doing away with the Class 10 board examination as proposed by the Centre, a move in the right direction?

We must realise that there is need for continuous evaluation. In IITs, it is common. But in the present university model, you attend classes the entire year and there is a three-hour paper. Whatever happens in the three-hour drama is final.  We learn continuously and one needs to distribute the testing — homework, term-paper, project, quizzes — and take the sum total.  We will know the true strength of the person’s intellect.

Are we ready to face the challenge that foreign universities in the country may pose?
There is unnecessary hype created when it comes to entry of foreign education service providers. I do not care if the service provider is from Africa or California. What matters is quality. They should be provided sufficient freedom and resources and at the same time we need to demand quality from them. We need huge investments in higher education but quality cannot be compromised.


You head a task force to set up a national database that will facilitate online verification of degree certificates and marks cards. What is the progress so far?
About five crore documents are generated each year in the education system. The idea is to create a national database of academic qualifications to ensure authenticity, online verification and easy retrieval of degrees. We will start with centrally funded universities. Eventually every state and educational board has to adopt the system.
Holding of academic qualification in an electronic depository will eliminate the need for persons to approach educational institutions for obtaining attested copies of marks cards and certificates. The system will also help in eliminating fraudulent practices like forging of certificates and mark sheets. We hope to have trial runs this year.

You head another task force appointed to assess the existing faculty shortage and suggest remedial measures. When will you submit your recommendations?
It is a complex problem. We are in the process of collecting data. We are working out the quantum of shortage of faculty and what sort of financial incentives can be provided. After we arrive at the remedial measures we will put them in public domain. The final recommendations will be submitted after holding public consultations by visiting different parts of the country.

IIT Kanpur is completing 50 years. What is the road ahead?
Having done well in undergraduate education, the focus is now on how we can improve PG education. We will upscale the size of research. We would like to see that IITs play a far greater role in tackling grand challenges related to energy, environment, communication and infrastructure.

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