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Making engineers job-ready

Mohan Babu G N, Nov 15 2017, 20:05 IST
To shift from teacher-centric practices to learner-centric practices, sufficient time and freedom should be allowed to students and faculty members to experiment and self-learn.

To shift from teacher-centric practices to learner-centric practices, sufficient time and freedom should be allowed to students and faculty members to experiment and self-learn.

A renowned Kannada poet urged students not to be the bags
collecting paddy, but rather be the fields growing paddy. The current Indian education system is accused of drying out inquisitiveness that is natural in children. Consequently, students are finding themselves less competent to solve societal and industrial problems. This is more conspicuous in technical programmes like engineering.

Technical education and research, the backbone of Indian economy, is provided by institutions identified under tier I, tier II and tier III categories. Although, tier I and tier II institutions are known for high quality education, they account for a tiny proportion of technical manpower supply to Indian economy. It is the Tier III institutes, which are mostly university-affiliated institutes, that supply more than 90% of the human resource. Thus, they determine the quality of technical core of our economy. However, some of these institutes are blamed for producing graduates who may not have the necessary knowledge and skills. Why is it so?

National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) has remarked that only about 15% of the graduates, certified by universities as employable, have the necessary skills to thrive in a workplace. Then, why do universities certify others? If we don't think and act on this with all seriousness, it could be fatal to the economy. Colleges often blame it on the quality of students getting admitted.

How correct is it? For instance, in Karnataka, about 75% of the students are admitted to engineering courses based on their performance in competitive exams conducted by the Karnataka Examination Authority and the Consortium of Medical, Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka (COMEDK).

Well-rounded development

Hence, we can say that many students have the interest and potential to do well in engineering provided they are properly trained. Then, where are the pain points? What can be done to ensure that the graduating engineers are of acceptable quality? Let's take a look.

Peer and parental pressure: Some of the students enter the field of engineering either on the insistence of parents or due to peer pressure. When the course is not their preferred choice, they either drop out of the course or finish it with substandard technical competencies. As a result, they either settle for a non-engineering job or would be professionally less productive.

University system: The university curriculum, which is normally revised once in four years, has failed to catch up with the rapidly advancing industry. While engineering fundamentals do not get
outdated so fast, technology applications and developments do. Hence, universities can involve industry associations and research laboratories to frame a curriculum that is relevant.
Evaluation in universities should happen on a continuous basis with a great stress on original thinking, creative problem solving, and project-based learning. Intensifying project-based learning and bringing in research orientation are the needs of the hour. For institutions to make a paradigm shift from teacher-centric
educational practices to learner-centric practices, sufficient space, time and freedom should be allowed to students and faculty members to experiment and self-learn.

Quality teaching: A majority of faculty members in the engineering colleges are occupied significantly in the completion of university curriculum. They hardly have any time for creative and innovative work. Many enter and continue in the profession without any industry exposure or pedagogical training. They solely bank upon learning by experience.

Added to this, they are bombarded with various tasks that are in no way related to their profession. Further, some institutions find it hard to pay the prescribed salary to teachers. This has resulted in shorter tenures of teachers and has affected quality and continuity of teaching.

Industry partnership: As engineering is a practice-intensive profession, institutions which embed industry experience in their teaching-learning process would do much better than others. A joint survey of engineering colleges in the country in 2016 by AICTE and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) revealed that more than 90% of the colleges failed to secure even 35% marks with regard to their engagement with industry to make student employable.

Additionally, 73% of them did not conduct even two industrial visits in a year. Hence, AICTE should find ways to rope in professionals for strategic partnerships with institutions. However, the participation of professionals in the development of the curriculum and enabling the institutions to ensure industry readiness among graduates is low. If professionals can contribute more proactively in this process, the quality of learning for engineering students can be continuously monitored to meet the industry requirements.

Government policies: The quality of education in some engineering institutions is not great. Inability to check illegitimate practices and failure to make engineering colleges subscribe to the grand vision of national development are all responsible for the present scenario.

Fortunately, the union government and the state governments have been implementing the Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme in selected engineering colleges with the support of World Bank over the last 10 years. However, its spread and reach is very
limited. If governments allow market forces to determine the quality of education, it would go a long way in building a strong foundation.

Accreditation for quality education: AICTE's move to make it mandatory for all engineering programmes to earn the accreditation by National Board of Accreditation (NBA) is a welcome move. NBA, being a signatory to Washington Accord (an international agreement between bodies responsible for accrediting engineering degree programmes), accredits only engineering programmes that ensure adequate learning outcomes in terms of engineering knowledge, skills and attitude in its students.

However, getting an NBA accreditation is not an easy task for engineering colleges as there are several parameters that are looked into. Hence, policy makers and administrators at the national, state and institutional levels should seriously focus on creating and sustaining a conducive ecosystem to empower institutes to earn the accreditation.

Passionate engineering colleges in a high quality ecosystem can make a huge difference to the nation in terms of employability, entrepreneurship and research.

Hence, it becomes important for institutions to extend their support to students and enable them to reach their full potential and contribute to the society in a meaningful manner.

(The author is principal, BMS Institute of Technology & Management, Bengaluru)

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