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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Indian universities and higher education institutes seem to be caught in a time warp teaching things

IIPM BBA MBA Institute: Student Notice Board

As the world moves ahead at a maddening pace, many major Indian universities and higher education institutes seem to be caught in a time warp' teaching things that became irrelevant ages ago

Subhash Kumar, an MCA student at Maulana Azad National Institute of Technology, Bhopal, woke up to the bitter reality that the academic degree for which he had sweated out day and night, was not going to be of much help, as soon as he got his first job as a programmer in a software company. The huge disconnect between what is being taught and what is required in the industry made life difficult for him and though he managed to save his job, he got average annual performance review.

He did not know Java, a computer language, because it wasn't included in his curriculum. This despite the fact that three-fourth of programming in the software industry in India is done in Java. 'I fail to understand the logic behind teaching things such as neural network or compiler designing when a minuscule percentage of students work on these domains. On the other hand, programming languages are not taught in the colleges while 95 percent of jobs in the market demand these skills,' says a discomfited Subhash. Tribhuvan Kumar echoes similar sentiments. 'How many computer science teachers in these reputed colleges even know the name of technologies such as Hybernet and SAP?'

Prateek Kumar, a law student at ICFAI law school says, 'We are taught everything from criminal procedure code to business and corporate law. It means there are more than 600 sections that have to be finished in just 44 classes. The teacher is able to explain only 250 to 300 sections.' The students are left to fend for themselves for the rest of the sections. For smaller law colleges in the country, it is very difficult to subscribe to those online sites which provide latest live case studies and judgments. 'Law is an evolving field and many new subjects are coming up such as Cyber Law, Environmental Law etc. There are very few teachers who can properly teach these subjects. Very few law colleges in the country have mock courts to teach proper way of pleading in a case,' adds Kumar.

The problem in India is at many levels. The syllabi are decided by the affiliating colleges and the curricula are prescribed by the universities. 'This leaves little room for quality control because syllabi are not revised frequently,' says Fr. Ambrose Pinto, Principal, St. Joseph's College, Mangalore.

Rajkumar Falwaria, a political science assistant professor at DAV college, Delhi University, says, 'The Delhi University is trying to revise the syllabi of many subjects. But there are hardly any books for the revised or newly introduced curriculum such as globalisation. I teach 'Reading Gandhi' for which there is no proper book in the market except for some cheap examination oriented guides.'

The college education scenario in the developed countries such as the USA is altogether different. Jesse Marks, a student at Yale University, sheds some light on the system while speaking to TSI, 'The curriculum is updated every semester (our classes are taught in spring and fall semesters)... and must be approved by the directors of each faculty. As for the content, many courses reflect current events and trends, whether it is a political science course on terrorism and counter-terrorism or a foreign correspondence course on the Iraq war reporting. Of course, others, especially in mathematics and history, may be taught in the same manner for decades.' Now, compare this situation to the one back home. The physics (Hons) syllabus of Magadh University in Bihar has not been revised since 1962, the year the university was established! Students here are still taught diode and triode in electronics. Rajesh Ranjan Prasad (name changed on request), head of the department of Physics at a college affiliated to Magadh University says, 'The world has moved to microprocessors that can do a billion calculations per second and we are teaching diode and triode. Frankly speaking, if the curriculum is revised and I am asked to teach those things, I will fumble in all likelihood.'

Except for commerce and a few other subjects, the curricula of most of the subjects are outdated, outmoded and obsolete. But the problem is not confined to the obsolete curricula. Many colleges have revised their course structure and curricula but in those cases the teachers are not able to handle the newly introduced syllabi. For example, Patna based National Institute of Technology has completely updated and revised its engineering syllabus two years ago, but this has created problems for both students and teachers. Rajeev Kumar, a fresh electrical engineering graduate from the institute says, 'Electrical power system problems are completely based on Matlad software and hardly any teacher is equipped to handle this. The college should have given them a proper training before they introduced such advanced things.' Kumar is currently employed at Power Grid Corporation of India.

The asphyxiating dominance of universities over the affiliated colleges is the primary reason why colleges are not able to revise the curricula as per the needs of the changing times. Political interference in universities has created an unhealthy atmosphere and this has added to the problem of the plummeting standards of education in the colleges.

Suvro Kamal Dutta, a political and economic analyst, has had opportunity to study both in India and at Cambridge University. He shares his experience with TSI, 'The big gap between India and other western countries in terms of educational standards seems very difficult to bridge. For example, see the history syllabi. We are not ready to move beyond Ashoka, Babar, Akbar and the independence movement. Even the students doing post graduation do not know about the technology of carbon dating and the use of remote sensing technology in the analysis of pre-historic locations.' He further adds, 'It is good to teach about our past but the education should be backed up with reality. It is more important to know what is happening at WTO and the impact of privatisation, liberalisation and globalisation on the Indian economy than what an emperor did a few hundred or a few thousand years ago.' The compartmentalisation of subject matter with no linkages in between and very few curricula linking the theory with application in the real world around render students wanting for motivation. Graduates should require minimal training before becoming productive, but typically there is an immense and inevitable need to retrain when on field ' waste of resources and time. 'The undergraduate syllabi are almost irrelevant, de-linked from the rest of the world. Educators and those responsible are usually apathetic and indifferent. Lack of refresher courses for teachers and infrequent syllabi revision leaves no room for innovation and creativity due to the smothering system of examinations conducted by universities,' says Archana Sharma, an eminent physicist and staff-scientist at CERN.

Some of the topics taught in Indian economics in the old syllabus as well as the new are totally irrelevant. There could have been interesting debates on topics like globalisation and liberalisation. It could have contained the economic backlash of the recent Iraq war. But sadly, our undergraduate curriculum has no scope to deal with contemporary topics.

Similarly, in journalism what is the use of teaching lithography when it is a junk technology? At most of the government universities, Hindi teachers have been assigned to teach journalism. Brijesh Mishra, a senior-producer in a leading business TV channel says, 'Most of the teachers who are teaching journalism have not seen newsroom in their life. They teach obsolete things which do not help students when they join industry. Instead, they should have taught how to write a good newspaper or television report, how to prepare rundown for the bulletin and most important how to cope with the immense pressure in a TV newsroom when news are bombarding you every second.'

The disconnect between the industry and academia is evident with report of Confederation of Indian Industry which clearly says that only 39.5 per cent of graduates in India are employable and that if India wants to sustain its pace of development, nothing less than a radical surgery will help.

The quality of teachers is another problem plaguing our universities and colleges. Vishesh Ranjan (name changed on request) says that the majority of the faculty in the MCA department at MANIT, Bhopal' where he is studying' is run by ad hoc teachers who are totally incompetent. 'They teach wrong concepts and even bring their own notes. The MCA course demands good computer lab. However, only 30 out of 60 computers work. There is no student feedback system. We are in a way forced to be taught by such teachers,' says a disappointed Ranjan.

India is a country gifted with large talent base and time has really come to change the outmoded education system in order to tap the creative energy of Indian students. This can only be done by revamping the curricula, and incorporating students' feedback so as to be informed of their needs and demands.

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