Let a student study engineering in the language of her choice: Shekhar Sanyal, director, IET India

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September 06, 2021 6:00 AM

Earlier, universities focused on training students in core technical skills via face-to-face classroom sessions, while the more difficult social and contextual skills were left to extracurricular activities like professional development programmes and student clubs etc.

Shekhar Sanyal, Director & Country Head, India, IETShekhar Sanyal, Director & Country Head, India, IET

The pandemic is changing the way engineering education is delivered. Shekhar Sanyal, director & country head, IET India (Institution of Engineering and Technology), says that while before the pandemic colleges taught core technical skills face to face and social skills via extracurricular activities, in a few years this will turn upside down. “Students will get into a personal learning cloud for technical skills, and social and communication skills will be taught face to face,” he says. In an interaction with FE’s Vikram Chaudhary, he adds that students must have the independence to learn engineering in the language of their choice. Excerpts:

Over the last few years, many engineering colleges have shut shop. Do you think the market is correcting itself (in the 1990s, when engineering colleges mushroomed, India needed a lot of engineers)?

At that time we needed a lot of engineers (as we do now), but what got produced were not engineers, but graduates with engineering degrees, many of whom didn’t have the skills demanded by the industry. Now, quality correction is happening—colleges that cannot produce ‘engineers’ are shutting down.

Will the pandemic change the way engineering education is delivered?

Earlier, universities focused on training students in core technical skills via face-to-face classroom sessions, while the more difficult social and contextual skills were left to extracurricular activities like professional development programmes and student clubs etc.

What is going to happen is students will get into a personal learning cloud; it could be curated courses provided by edtech players or by universities themselves. This will turn the university system upside down, i.e. core technical skills will be taught using a personal learning crowd, and the more difficult skills (such as interpretation skills, social skills, application skills and communication skills) will be taught face to face. My prediction is that, in about 10 years, universities will play a completely different role than what they are playing right now.

Can engineering education be effectively taught in vernacular languages? Do we have good teachers for that?

Forget vernacular, we are grappling with the lack of good teachers even in English language in engineering colleges. We need a roadmap on how to get good teachers into engineering colleges, get better students into the teaching profession, making the profession more lucrative, and so on.
As far as learning in vernacular languages is concerned, let’s focus on the end-goal, not the medium. There are a large number of students from the hinterland who are very good in science and mathematics, but not in English. When they switch to English, many of them initially fail, not because they don’t understand science and mathematics, but because they have to learn a new language along with core engineering. Why give them an additional burden of learning a language at that point in their academic journey? If you go to Germany, for instance, you are not going to learn engineering in English!
The idea here is, let them learn engineering first, language can be done later.

But isn’t the knowledge of English an advantage for Indians?

What I am saying is that a student should be allowed to learn engineering in the language he or she is comfortable with. The medium should not be a challenge. At the same time, the language of business globally is English and it may give an advantage to a person in the long run, but then the language can also be learnt after one has excelled in engineering. Let students have the independence to learn engineering in the language of their choice.

Do teachers in India have access to adequate upskilling programmes?

That’s where our organisation fits in. We work with universities and look at areas they can excel in. For example, an advice we always give to universities is don’t be just be an engineering institution, but be known for something unique. Select a niche area and build your teaching and research capability in that area.

What are your views on certain IITs not taking part in global rankings? How important are global rankings for Indian institutes?

Global rankings are important in the way how the world views and interprets you. If there are larger numbers of Indian institutes in top ranks globally, the global corporate world might see students from those institutes in a different way.

Top Indian engineering colleges also should launch MOOCs to attract more global students to Indian shores without them having to visit here physically. It will give our colleges greater global outreach. But for this our engineering colleges need to have more autonomy—the NEP 2020 is a great step towards that.

One advantage Indian engineering colleges have over their global counterparts is there is a lot of application of engineering to solve large-scale societal challenges, which may not be the case with certain global engineering colleges.

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