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A Misplaced Belief

The Technical Regulator in the country AICTE, has certainly not removed Mathematics from the engineering curriculum. It has however, made it optional along with Physics at the qualifying examination that gives entry to an engineering college. ‘I don’t need to study a core subject of a discipline at the entry level, in order to seek entry to the very same discipline’. A case of reductio ad absurdum, a method of proving the falsity of a premise by showing that its logical consequence is absurd or contradictory. The provisions also mention bridge courses to tide over the gaps. Are full-fledged core courses, to be looked at as bridging gaps even as we acknowledge that they are needed? A bridge helps us cross an obstacle, whether that be a river, ocean, swamp, canyon or highway. Time will tell what the AICTE bridge will actually bridge?


Engineering is an Applied Science. It is Applied Mathematics, Applied Physics, Applied Chemistry, and Applied of every other Science including Social, Liberal, and others. Removing them at the qualifying level is like building an edifice without a foundation. To keep such an edifice from falling over, one will need ‘acrow’ props along with timber needles to support the load bearing walls. What then is in store for a massive robust engineering structure that has served us so well through ancient times to this day, when its foundation is sought to be shaken?


If AICTE is focussing on outcomes rather than inputs, it is most welcome. However, outcomes are a cumulative effect of a series of actions that include inputs. Physics and Mathematics are not dispensable entities. Unfortunately, that they are treated so, is a commentary on our education system. It is a flawed policy if they are institutionalised through regulations.


We have a large number of engineering Institutes in the country. 4000 of them which cater to almost a million students. All of them are regulated by a single regulator unlike in other countries. The writ of AICTE runs large in them. A regulation that changed the teacher – student ratio from 1:15 to 1:20 a couple of years ago saw many teachers losing their jobs overnight. Its impact on quality will only be felt in times to come for teachers in adequate numbers affect quality outcomes. Whereas IIT’s boast of even 1:5 in some disciplines, why should rest of the system make do with far larger ratios? The irony is that the system is seeking to facilitate it, with a caveat that the institutions are still free to admit students with Physics and Maths at XII. Be that as it may, how does one assume that the institutions and universities would only admit students having Physics and Mathematics? Is the onus now on the students to make good what they lack? Time and again, students resort to watered down passing rules. This time round, we could see them resorting to even more watering down, citing the new provisions. How would the outcomes improve in a system that is designed to fail?


The NEP 2020, is committed to breaking rigid silos between different streams and allow students to pick subjects based on their liking, inclination and aptitude. This is very welcome. The underlying spirit though cannot be missed. It is true only when a student has a sound foundation and maturity of wisdom to understand the difference between what is essential and what adds value. Is it not true that the policy lays a great emphasis on learning Physics and Mathematics even at pre-primary levels? One must break silos mentality by building stronger, more collaborative relationships between departments and not by weakening the foundations.


There are several theories being proposed to justify the new rules. A UC Berkley US, may offer a supposedly engineering program to non-engineering graduates or a University of Sussex, UK may do similar. For a start, there is a large difference between the regular engineering undergraduate and Postgraduate degree of UC Berkley or even University of Sussex compared to their own degrees that are offered to students from other backgrounds. Even then, the numbers who opt for such programs are at best very small. It is another matter that most of them seek new programs as a matter of interest and business options rather than claim equivalence later. In contrast, the changed AICTE position applies to all the 4000 odd institutes and a million students. Are not these comparisons then odious? Are such profound changes made that affect masses by a simple regulation?  A better comparison would have been that of an IIT to a UC Berkley. Do we have an example of an IIT doing a UC Berkley? If the reform is truly path breaking why not prod our premier institutes like the IIT’s also to adopt it? On a different note, can medical education also be opened up to students without Biology, in the spirit of new found flexibility?


We fail to see the finer aspects of a discipline of study and tend to brush it aside as trivial and unwanted. A course in engineering first prepares an individual to be an engineer, specialisations such computer, electronics, mechanical, electrical civil or any other only supplement core understanding of an engineer. An engineer is a professional who invents, designs, analyses, builds complex systems, gadgets and tests materials to fulfil functional objectives while recognising limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety and cost. This is irrespective of his specialisation. There is a foundation on which all this is built. Can we dismantle it in the name of flexibility? In fact, all those options besides the core that are proposed are the ones an engineer pursues in his later career based on his interest. Innovations need strong fundamentals. Ideation to product development can happen anywhere, provided the right mix exists. Such an ecosystem must be created and nurtured.


Our early universities, be it Nalanda, and Takshashila of ancient times, or BHU and Madras of more recent times, had all the departments like, Liberal Arts, Social Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, Fine arts and many others on the same campus. Students and faculty collaborated across disciplines to produce inter and multi-disciplinary research. Over the years, many of them closed down for want of support, both administrative and financial. In the name of reviving it, which we must, we cannot formulate policies that are beyond logic.

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