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IEEE attacks employability gap with 'blended programmes'

Posted: 19 Nov 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:engineering education  IEEE  blended learning  VLSI design 

We've been here before. Back in 2010, when we discussed the complaints from the industry that education was not meeting their expectations, we brought the two sides together in an open discussion (see this).

Has anything changed since then? When I recently spoke with Harish Mysore, director, India Operations, IEEE, efforts are indeed being made to take education closer to what the industry needs. Behind many of these efforts are engineers like you and members of IEEE.

The IEEE board of governors and directors had asked Mysore to grow to meet the requirements of the local technology community. The organisation in India plays a bit of a regional role by taking care of the digital library operations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. From time to time, they support standards and education initiatives in Africa and other places out of the India office.

Addressing the employability gap
In 2010, we talked to industry executives and professors in an attempt to gauge the so-called "employability gap" in India. In case you missed that coverage, here is the opinion we gathered at that time.

"The way we are looking at it is that if we have strong enough staff as well as the knowledge base in India, we will be able to share that expertise with other geographies where it is needed. That is the principle of IEEE, anyway, of advancing technology for humanity," said Mysore.

Where does our education stand?

There are roughly 3,700 institutions that teach engineering, according to Mysore. Of those, the top 200 or so are directly funded by the Union Government, including IITs (15 of them), NITs (about 50), and other centrally and state-funded institutions, such as the IISc in Bengaluru. Mysore regards them as the Tier 1 of the institutions and sees them delivering high-quality education. It is below Tier 1 that Mysore believes the standards for teaching fall drastically.

Harish Mysore

Mysore: There is no innovation taking place at the institution level on teaching a certain programme in another way.

"The reasons are several. In many of these colleges, the faculty are primarily students from the same college who did not work in the industry and did not go for higher studies elsewhere. They are undergraduate teachers teaching undergraduate programmes. They have no experience and do not have another viewpoint at all. That limits their ability to teach the students," said Mysore.

"[What's more,] they haven't been trained as teachers. There is a clear distinction between what you can learn yourself and how you can teach the same thing to somebody else.

"So they just follow the syllabus set by somebody else. There is no innovation taking place at the institution level on teaching a certain programme in another way. In a U.S. university, a professor is empowered to design the programme and how to assess the programme. That programme will be validated by another organisation."

There is no such accreditation programme in India that certifies outcomes. Mysore said there is institution-based accreditation, which looks at criteria like the facilities and teacher to student ratio. There is no similar accreditation process for teachers or indeed of the institution's assessment of the teachers.

"The challenge is that we are a large system. There are 101.5 million engineering students in colleges as we speak," said Mysore. "The system has a slight inertia because education in India is a concurrent topic: It is in the purview of the Union Government to regulate and it is the responsibility of the state governments. Hence different states in India have different levels and standards of education.

"[Another challenge] is the lack of adequate infrastructure, such as policy framework, availability of teachers, ability to attract good teachers, ability to manage the institutions, defining the quality of output, etc."

On the industry side, there are no occupational standards. "For doctors [of medicine] and lawyers, they have medical and bar associations of which you can be a member but nobody certifies you that you can perform at [a certain] level. In many industrialised countries, every profession, be it a plumber or an electrician, is part of a group and there is a certification process," said Mysore.

Addressing the learning gaps

The learning going forward, Mysore believes, is going to be both in the classroom and online. However, he worries that there is no feedback when students take most online courses, except at the end of the assessment. Up to what percentage of a programme should be online and how should a degree be awarded for an online programme? Are there scientific answers to that so that we can make that a way of learning in India? These are the questions that preoccupy Mysore.

"We can never have enough fantastic teachers anywhere in the world. One excellent teacher gives an advantage to some 30 students. We are trying to break that barrier. How do we deliver the ability to [best] teach a topic to a large number of students, while not reducing [compromising on] the way it should be taught?"

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