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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

About Education : Live Projects, Employment,Imparting,Curriculum, Whose responsible?? .... India Jai Ho

Any article on education draws considerable attention and even controversy.

Last year my article on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) drew so much attention, that it made it to the home page of WikiHow. Anything reaching any wiki home page is bound to become controversial. A substantiated statement that, US ranks 29th in the world in the math literacy, among the 15 year olds, brought huge protests from the Americans. The brickbats are still there for all to see in the discussions section of the article.

While I write this article, I have just received the highest honor the wiki community awards to its members. “The Barn Star” award for my contribution to the wikiHow community in the form 15 articles to “make the world better.”

Coming to education in India, you can discuss endlessly and still do little to correct the situation. A malaise afflicting the country for more than half a century cannot be cured overnight. In a country, where the majority of the educational institutions, are owned and used by the politicians, to create a mass base of support, and a viable avenue for revenue, the concern for education and its standards becomes secondary. But then we cannot also keep blaming the system and do nothing. A solution within the system with its inherent ills needs to be found. Employability credentials of the students have to be upgraded and enhanced to make them job ready. To that, we need to analyze the present malaise, in order decide where to make a beginning. 

Let us analyze

India is one of the leaders of the developing world today. In the times of global slowdown, the Indian economy is likely to grow by close to 6% in the year 2013-14. However, if India wants to grow rich and get into the league of the developed nations, it has to strengthen the pillars of scientific research. To understand this let’s take an example of I-Pod, a product developed by an American company, Apple. China, the manufacturer country of the I-Pod, gets only about $4 out of the sales price of $299. Most of the amount goes to various component suppliers and the product developers in USA.

It is clear – the country that holds patent-rights and develops global brands benefits the most. If India wants to become a developed nation, if it wants to compete with China and the United States, it has to develop global brands. And the first step in this direction is scientific research.

This is what is happening  in India 

The development in the field of science and research is rooted in university-level pure science courses (i.e., Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry and Biology). Unfortunately, the educational practices in an average Indian university can be described as follows:

·         This is the syllabus, and these many theories are to be memorized. Refer the test papers of last five years to get an idea of possible question-items.

·         Reading material can be obtained from the seniors (however, some ‘helpful’ faculty members would dictate notes to the students in classrooms).

·         Drill and practice are the keys for success, so practice writing theories ones, twice, thrice and so on. Once you are able to reproduce theories as in the “reading material”, your first-class is confirmed, possibly with a gold medal.

·         If you perform below expectations, consider that you failed to put sufficient laborious efforts, or wrongly played “the option” card. [Note: University examinations often give optional questions with instructions such as – “Answer any 3 out of 5 questions”. So, it is possible that a student has not studied the entire syllabus and still gets high score. Students often strategize what not to study and leave out subject-content in “option”.]

This method may efficiently produce trainers (who identify themselves as “teachers”), who can pass on their memorization techniques to the younger generation, but how can it produce scientists and researchers? [The reason of a few exceptions that can be seen in the society can be either student’s strong intrinsic motivation for learning or a presence of a dedicated faculty member]. Given this absence of research culture, it is not-at-all surprising that the Indian universities hardly ever appear in the list of top 500 universities of the world. As a consequence of such educational practice, India has not yet participated in the global competition in the field of science and research. 

According to the Science Report 2010 of UNESCO, India’s contribution to the world research publication is only 3.7%, whereas China’s contribution is 10.6% and the United States’ contribution is whooping 27.7%. In the category of global patents, India’s share is merely 0.5% (USPTO patents) and 0.2% (Triadic patents), whereas China’s share is 4.7% (USPTO) and 0.5% (Triadic) and the US’ share is massive 52.2% (USPTO) and 41.8% (Triadic). Though India has almost doubled its research publications between 2002 and 2008, this progress is overshadowed by glittering Chinese advancement.

Table 1: Scientific Publications in India and China.

Year 2002
Year 2008

Resource: UNESCO Science Report (2010)

Almost 16% of the world’s population resides in India. However, only 2.2% of scientific researchers of the world hold Indian citizenship. In addition, for every one million of population, India has only 137 scientific researchers; this is outnumbered by many times by all of the developed countries and many of the developing nations (for e.g., China -1070, US -4663 and Japan 5573). 

What needs to be done ???

Indian policymakers ought to finalize the aims of science education at the university level. If Indian students are expected to get absorbed into the research centres on completion of their graduate studies and to add value to research projects, then they must have had enough opportunities to develop required knowledge and skills during their course work at the universities. The graduate studies must nurture the thinking and working pattern of scientists in students.

Usually, a researcher follows the following steps:

1. Identify and define a problem

2. Literature review

3. Form hypothesis

4. Develop methods, conduct experiment and collect data 

5. Analyze data and produce results

6. Explain results and draw conclusions

7. Provide directions for further research

Now if a graduate programme requires students to reproduce already obtained solutions of given problems and theories, how will a student come up with newer research problems? And without training, what literature review will s/he pursue and what sort of hypothesis will s/he develop? Of course, in such a scenario, the expectation of methodology development is out of question. This is a grim picture of the pure science programme pass-outs. These graduate programmes are not aligned with their professional-aims.

According to the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER, 2005), out of total unemployed graduates, 22.3% are pure science graduates. The proportion of pure science pass outs is 62.8% among total unemployed post graduates. This may be a major reason why students avoid pure science programmes after completion of their high school studies (as suggested by NCAER, 2005). As per UNESCO’s Science Report 2010, one of the biggest challenges for India in the coming years will be to revolutionarily improve both quantity and quality of scientists and researchers. This gigantic task cannot be done without structural reforms in university education. In order to directly link pure science departments with research work, I present certain suggestions based on my observations of research universities in the USA.

·         Every university should have at least one world class library with a strong e-database of e-books and articles of national and international research journals. All of the students and faculty members should have access to this database through internet (e-network), irrespective of their physical location. E-copies of all of the master’s and doctoral theses/dissertations should be included in this database. In addition, various universities can be networked throughout India. Throughout the country, such e-network will facilitate a free flow of knowledge, which is a precondition for research.
..All of the research centres can be linked with this e-network. And experimental data/results and research articles/reports can be made available to each and every university student and faculty member.
.At the post graduate level a student must be educated for the following:

o   Critical analyses of research articles

o   Identifying and defining research problems and developing hypotheses

o   Understanding technical limitations

o   Preparing research and grant proposals

o   Working closely with faculty members on research projects and writing thesis

o   Publishing research academic articles/papers/thesis

In addition to the written examination, the above points should have significant weightage, while assessing a student’s academic abilities.

Curriculum & Imparting

Whatever perspective you take (Student, Institution or Industry).Everyone agrees that, the objective of the curriculum designing & imparting should identify itself closely with Industry need.

Is that happening???

The people I have interacted in the industry sector over the years feel that, it is not happening. They state that, the organizations have to spend substantial amount of time, money, and other mentoring resources to make the people job ready. Ideally the organizations would like to have a product that is ready to use and delivers from the first day. To this end some organizations have started an effort to interact and collaborate with the academia. However the scale of activity is still miniscule and in no way addresses the demand supply gap.

What are the ills, what is the remedy??

Designing of curriculum:

This is usually a lesser evil. Universities usually have an expert committee that contains elite personalities from the Academia and Industry. However it is time span that is taken to finalise it that makes it almost obsolete by the time it reaches the implementation stage. However it has an inbuilt industry familiarization mechanism by way of mandatory industrial projects of different duration depending on the domain. However there is no established ways to monitor and verify the authenticity of the projects.

Majority of the students of engineering and management that I interacted with had fictitious projects. Institutions also expressed their helplessness. Add to this are the mushrooming small time organizations which are minting money in the form of campus recruitment programs or job empowerment programs. Poor student have to dole out money for this. This is done with c the institutions acting as conduits.

How to overcome this??

In the area of medical sciences there is a mechanism by which student intake is directly proportional to the hospital facilities available and this is strictly monitored by the MCI (Medical Council of India), and any violation results in the permission being withdrawn.

This is not the case with Engineering and Management Institutions.

An institution should be accorded affiliation based on its ability to establish an industry interface. In United States, and some other western countries, institutions have an MOU with industries for the intake of fixed numbers of interns every year. Here also the intake of students, in an institution should be regulated by the universities based on the capacity to provide live projects to the students.

This of course is easier said than done. I accept.

However what is laudable and appreciable is the willingness of the industry to create an employment bridge in the form of projects and knowledge in order to make the students’ job ready. The number of the industries with such an attitude is growing by day. However it is for the Institutions to wake up and shoulder their part of the responsibility by responding to these offers positively. Institutions please note, there are no free lunches here. They need to invest their share in the costs. Definitely industry academia interface can be established for the welfare of the students.

However all is not lost, even in the education front. Some prestigious Universities have been delivering quality since decades; They will continue to do so. We can also see a small silver lining emerging in the form upcoming private Universities. These institutions are setting exemplary standards in the design of Industry specific curriculum, imparting, projects and the quality of the teaching staff. These are   the Harvard’s, Stanford’s, Wharton’s, and Ivy Leagues of India in making. As of now they are too few in number to create any meaningful impact. However the future will see these institutions in majority and they will take Indian Education and Imparting to the standards unheard of before, and India will lead the world in the education field.

In addition to this, we now have the industrial houses getting into the education. We have Azeem Premji foundations investing hugely in education. Their Global University which will start functioning shortly will set new standards in education. This should prompt other Industrial houses to invest hugely in education. This will automatically raise the bar in standards of educational institutions.

Once this happens, we will see the greedy politicians managed institutions driven to extinction. And that would be a red letter day in the annals of Indian education.

I would like to conclude by stating that a country with knowledge-based economy will take global leadership in the coming times. The heart of “Knowledge Economy” is progress in science and research. The USA, EU, and East Asia are far ahead and still firmly marching forward in that direction. 

Will India participate in the global competition and be a serious contender?

I am sure it will

Best Wishes,

Note : This article was originally written in April 2011 and modified on 28th October 2014