Sunday, July 24, 2011

Teachers, Students, Textbooks – A Sad Tale of Higher Education in India

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It is more than a year now that we returned back to India and during the last one year we had a lot of chances to visit engineering and management schools in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. With the “quantity” of engineering colleges around, “quality” was what was missing from most of the colleges we visited. Here are three incidents that come to my mind.
I was invited to deliver a lecture for three hours in one of the colleges in Coimbatore for a Faculty Development Program (FDP) funded by All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). For teachers of those colleges affiliated to AICTE it is mandatory to attend fifteen days of such training once in two years.
My presentation was supposed to start at 9:00 AM. I was there in the college by 8:00 AM. One of the organizers welcomed me to the college and took me around the college. There was not much to walk around in that two building college. As the time was getting close to 9:00AM I told him that we can now go to the lecture hall so that I can set up my laptop for the presentation. The organizer told me that we have lot of time as the participants won’t be coming before 9:30 AM. Anyways I reached the lecture hall by 9:00AM and there was no one in the room. First participant came when the time was 9.25 AM and by the time 10 out of the 15 participants came it was 9.45 AM.
Now the main organizer with whom I talked over phone (he is a professor in that college) made his appearance. After exchanging pleasantries he told me to wind up the three hour talk in 90 minutes. He told me that most of the participants want to leave by noon and so if I finish my talk in 90 minutes, the three hour afternoon session can also be squeezed in the morning slot and all of them can leave by 1:00 PM. Waiting for that 1 hour had already drained all my enthusiasm and I agreed to it.
So I started this lecture. I designed the three hour lecture such a way that it was full of interactive sessions. Five minutes into presentation I understood that I am talking to twenty odd people whose physical body is inside the room and mind is somewhere. They just want me to complete the presentation and leave the stage so that they can get that days’ participation certificate and leave.
That day I understood something – organizers like those conduct such events so that they can put those in their resume and participants attend those just because they have to. No “faculty development” actually happens here. The money spent by the government who pays for all the expenses of the participants goes to drain. Just imagine what quality education these faculties can impart to the students they teach.
Now the second incident – I was going through some of the engineering books and one book caught my attention. On the front cover it was written “tailor made for Anna University”. I opened the book to see the contents and was shocked. The text book is like question and answer type that covers the enter syllabus of Anna University. After seeing this book I talked to a few students studying in various engineering colleges in Anna University. I was told that they need to learn just that text book and don’t have to refer any other text books. Teachers teach from the same text books and dictates notes from the same text book.
A Textbook Of Control Systems Engineering (As Per Latest Syllabus Of Anna University, Chennai, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli And Trichy)Also at the end of these text books there will be solved answer sheets of previous five years question papers. The students were telling me that most of the time questions very similar to previous years appear for exam. If one could learn all the five years question papers by heart a day before the exam, you could clear the exam with very good marks. In short just buy the book that says “tailor made for XXX”, by heart previous question papers, clear the exams and move ahead. So for such students when they graduate can we expect any quality output from them?
Third incident - my wife was invited to a college in Trichy to conduct a one day workshop. There were over 50 participants and majority of them were students into their final year of their MBA program. These students will be graduating in another three months with specialization in Marketing and Human Resources. My wife asked these students to come to the stage and introduce themselves. Most of the students who will soon be awarded Masters were scared to death to speak in front of the audience, majority of who were their own class mates. If students like this with no ability to speak in front of few people are graduating with an MBA degree where is the quality in these graduates?
Yes we are producing thousands of engineers and management graduates every year but do all of them have necessary qualities of engineers or management graduates? From what I have seen in the last one year, answer to that question is a big NO. What do you think?
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Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 24, 2011 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Jhanvi said...

real good one!!

July 24, 2011 7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree.. I can see myself among those "scared" folks.. But I am also confident that most of them will do just fine with a tiny bit of push (and a short pep-talk) at their work place or a place of higher education they join later down the line.. I know a "scared soul"-- the kind discussed here who decided to present a graduate thesis to a committee of experts in the area with little practice and still managed to do it pretty well.. His advisors only concern was "You would have done just fine even with a few slides less"..

July 24, 2011 7:53 PM  
Blogger MayilVahanan said...

This is a bigger problem not just confined to engineering/mgmt colleges. If people are not punctual in general, why would they change that for a presentation? If high schools don't encourage students to do presentation, where do students get opportunity to present themselves in front of a group etc? Don't know where to start.

July 25, 2011 2:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

when educators encourage book knowledge more than practicle experience and knowledge, its going to be difficult.
i think the way our education system is designed does not encourage out of the box thinking.

Good article Nair..

July 25, 2011 2:45 AM  
Blogger Suraj said...

This is happening all across India. I have always found walking up to a Campus for a Lecture session as a THANKLESS job. The main reason is the fact that TALENT is no more a criteria to get into Higher Education. It is all about MONEY. Given the infrastructure investments that have gone into setting up the Tech and MBA institutes, the management is mostly concerned about getting back their investments as against developing even the fundamental employability skills. As a result, the admission process if a big Farce.

I do not want to sound one sided, I know there are quite a few of those Academicians who want to change things but either find themselves under utilized or find no response from the Student community.

July 25, 2011 4:08 AM  
Blogger JK said...

totally agreed...more than 500 engineering colleges; more than 20000 vacancy seats every year; no entrance exams; no minimum cut-off marks criteria; quota system based on caste, based on school system State board/CBSE, based on medium Tamil/Enginsh, based on rural/urban;politicians agenga of socalled 'pro-poor'; etc etc.....
Brijesh., unlike UK, we have problems that are very diverse in seems we cannot find an optimal solution for this...lets hope for the best by doing small better things that we can do..

July 25, 2011 5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem is the low quality of teachers. This started right from late 90s onwards when the high quality students went for good paying industry jobs rather than come as teachers. Also low quality students ( think students who get rank above 7000 or 10000 in kerala entrance are not fit for technical education) are the majority now.So a killer combination - low quality students and low quality teachers - result you have a bunch of engineering gradutes who can work in TCS or Infosys (crank out some code, write ppts) and have no engineering in them

July 25, 2011 6:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree with u in toto. Indian politicians are interested in Swiss
Bank A/C only. Look at this fellow - Karunanidhi who is only interested in Kanimozhi and nothing else. I fear if she is convicted, the old guard may end up in MI (Myocardial Infarction) and drop ....?

With such selfish leaders, u can not expect better. The Western Govts are happy that our institutions produce low grade students so that the "Sibbal Inc" helps them with our poor grade clerks. India is no better and we have no chance of bettering either with these corrupt politicians.

I delivered a lecture at Mumbai and
had to fund the audio-visual equipment myself because the Grant Medical College did not have their equipment. It is a sad state of affairs.

Indian politicians do not understand the deep seated business
aspects of designing, funding and managing the education to suit our national needs and its social values. We have become the true Macaulay's Children. Malcolm Muggeridge said it all in two sentences.

Unless the politicians stop meddling in everything, there is no chance of improving it. Unfortunate.
God bless
Dr. O. P. Sudrania

July 25, 2011 12:54 PM  

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