Science and Technology in Indian Education Today [Where Is The Real Science?]

Posted on September 6, 2010 in Education

By Alex Mathew V:

There are an enormous number of technical institutions in India today, well over a thousand engineering colleges alone. Yet the number of institutions conducting useful research is very small. As far as engineering or physics goes, the only places I can think of that do real research on the cutting edge is perhaps the Indian Institute Of Science in Bangalore, Tata Institute Of Fundamental Research, and maybe a handful of other institutes as well.

The tremendous flow of students in India towards technical courses is mainly for the promise of a job with a decent pay. IT companies are now recruiting “engineering” degree holders, to do jobs even a tenth standard student could do. As a result, what seems to have happened is that the general quality of engineering education in India has plummeted. The huge mass of engineering graduates either end up wasting their entire education by spending their lives in an IT or software company cubicle, or go for “higher studies”, hoping it will increase their chances of a good job.

Not that I am against higher studies. It is only that I think this is a wrong reason to study in the first place, leave alone higher studies. I speak of engineering more specifically as I am an engineering student and am familiar with the situation in this field.

A generation or two ago, studying science used to be something people did for the love of science. The transition from that, to the money hungry – job searching type of education we have today has happened so seamlessly that nobody has stopped to notice. Today, though we are managing to keep our heads above water with a few institutes that I mentioned earlier, the general science scene in India is quite shameful, especially considering the capability and resources we have. Improper utilization of resources have become the norm here. Even at the NIT’s, I see that so much equipment is kept only for the AICTE affiliation and not really for any kind of real use.

Professional colleges in India today have turned the idea of technical education into a money-making industry, and this has had a direct impact on the Indian science scene. It is a waste of time, money, and resources, to train and educate a person in a school of engineering, if he/she is going to spend the rest of their lives working in an IT or software sector. It would be understandable of course, if these people were studying these courses out of pure love for the subject, and then changed their minds later. However, we all know that this is not the case. This country cannot run on doctors and engineers alone. We need scientists, farmers, photographers, artists, technicians, pilots, divers, and a thousand other types of workers that I can’t even begin to count. Why are engineering graduates being taken for IT jobs even when there are IT courses? I feel that India could do a lot better than this.

I really think we need to reform our entire concept of what science and technology is really about, and correspondingly change the way we educate people. Education merely for a job is a little too shallow and short lived. If our entire population was rich, everybody had a grand inheritance, and nobody had financial issues, I doubt whether this many people would even go to school. And in my opinion, the few that do cross school would not be so stuck on the stereotype of “engineering” and “medicine”.

We need to educate people for the tasks they are going to perform, the tasks they want to perform. We need to start institutions of reputation to train people for their appropriate callings. It is not only inefficient, but also terribly short sighted and senseless for us to turn everybody into a doctor or engineer and then hire them to do completely unrelated work.

I feel that to achieve this, we as a society must stop attaching respect, dignity, and importance to such a very narrow band of professions. Ultimately, every work, no matter how small or insignificant (yes, sweeping the road and cleaning the offices too) needs to be given its own respect at least for the fact that no matter what, it is in service of our country, our fellow people, and even more importantly, of mankind. And the real purpose of science is ultimately, the service of mankind.

The real need now is not to start more institutions, but to improve the quality of the existing ones, not in terms of just infrastructure or facilities, but in terms of their vision and mission. Science, through history has never developed through people who studied for the sake of a job. All the greats, all the inventors and theorists, all of them became who they are through love for what they did. They did not see science as a subject, rather , they saw it as truth. And they were on a quest for truth, not a quest for a job.

To correct this terribly lop-sided situation we are facing in India today, we need to be more passionate about what we love to do, so that we are brave enough to pursue it with full rigor, and willing to undertake the risks involved. Only then can science and technology truly develop in this country, and when it does, it will be in perfect balance and harmony with every other stream of education.

Maybe then we can see some real progress and some real passion among graduates, for the development of Science and Technology in India.