Sunday, March 18, 2007

Re-Engineering the Engineering Euducation

It is a pathetic fact to note that India, in spite of churning out the largest pool of engineers in the world, is yet to channelise their expertise into nation building excercise. ( a look into our roads, bridges, sewer system, telecom sector,urban planning etc. is enough to certify this paradox.)
It seems we are churning out worthless engineers , who are even incompetent for call center jobs. The situation is worst in Tamil Nadu which has the largest number of engineering colleges in the country. (around 300 of them with the inclusion of one IIT, Government colleges, deemed universities and 'n' number of self financing colleges.) There is joke which says on any given highway in Tamil Nadu there is more probability of coming across an engineering college rather than a fuel station. That is the pathetic state of engineering education in this country.
Nowadays getting an engineering seat has become so easy, that any Tom Dick or Harry could get one, provided he passes the SSLC . (last year around 11000 seats were vacant in TN alone, with a few colleges registering single digit admissions for courses)
The scenario needs some serious intropsection as tremedous breed of talent is off on the drains. This can be utilised for vital. The only solace for this so called engineering boom is the the appetite of IT companies of fresh engineers. But for IT comapnies hardly there would no need for Placement wing in colleges. What is lacking is the diversity in palcement offers. ( In one deemed uinversity at Vellore, around 525 students were placed at TCS!! Just liking sheparding sheeps on to a IT bandwagon.)
To refine and fine tune the system changes must be made from the admission stage itself. A question that lingers in most of engineering students mind (like myself) is that if majority of palcements and job offers are only for IT and ITES sectors, what is relevance of pursuing traditional non-IT branches like Mechanical, Civil, Electrical etc. Institutions must streamline their admission numbers and focus more on diversifying their career oppurtunities. The emphasis must be more on quality and diversity, rather than quantity and universality.
Engineering syllabus must be made to suit the needs of the present day demands and not based on text books written decades ago. Some of the changes I suggest are summed up below.
  • Case study based approach, periodic practical exposure( like the five year sandwitch courses offered by PSG Coimbature), compulsory industrial internship etc. must be incorporated into the mainstream syllabus.
  • The choice of subjects can also be based on individual discretion. ( in the present scenario electives are offered in the final year). With the excercise of self discretion the students volunteer to learn more, rather than confining to the syallbus alone.
  • Mini projects and teaching assiatanships must also be made a part the curriculum.
  • Emphasis on attendance must be done away with. (imgine college students waiting outside Director's office with leave letters or worst with parents for leave sanctions.)
  • College students are responsible adults and it is up to them either to study or not to study. Spoon feeding and coercive tactics is not going to churn out qualified engineers. ( there are colleges in TN where it is a heinious crime for the opposite gender to interact!! They even have seperate staircases for men and women. Reason: It spoils the pristine learning atmosphere in the campus.)
  • Since enginners have all time in the world to kill (out of my personal experience) the education can focus on dual majors. ( with fundamendal science or humanities) This is very musch in practice in US universities, where you can two concentrations say for e.g. John Nash ( dramatised in the movie A Beautiful Mind ) actually majored in Chemical Engineering and Economics. He later went on to win the Nobel prize in Economics!
  • In this way the analytical skills of engineers can be coupled to the fundmendals reasoning of science, or humanist approach of arts. Carrer prospects and diversification is also possible through this.( only BITS offered this dual makor programme in India)
  • The objective of learning must shift from securing grades or percentages to that of understanding the engineering problems. Segmented approach to problems would not help. eg. A lot engineering mechanics problems can be solved by vector claculus approach which is thougt in two different subjects, but never applied together. ( even in the final year I find students traumatised by engineering mathematics, with the idea that maths is no way connected to engineering at all!! They can hardly distinguish between a partial derivative equation and an ordinary differential equations!)
( To be countinued....)

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