India, Undergrad Education And Technology: Still Not Good Friends

Posted on December 27, 2010 in Education

By Vidit Aatrey:

Few days ago, a newspaper reported the appointment of an LSR alumnus, Gita Gopinath, as the professor of Economics at the prestigious Harvard University. She was only the second Indian and third woman to receive the honour. This news brought a sweet grin on the typical Indian reader’s face, who takes pride in every Indian’s achievement considering it their own. But overwhelmed with the amazing feat, the “typical” Indian missed the important part, her concern for the undergraduate studies which she shares with Chetan Bhagat and many other intellectuals of the country.

Harvard University, which has produced many Nobel Laureates and innovators like Mark Zuckerberg (he invented facebook in this university’s dorm) over the years, has continued to set benchmarks in the education and boasts of an impeccable educational system. It is during the pursuit of the undergraduate degree that a student realises his true interests. Harvard University’s undergraduate department does justice to this argument by offering a wide range of courses in the freshman year. This flexibility enables students to pursue their interests and hone it in the right direction. Another outstanding attribute of the system is the ample research opportunities and incentives it offers to the students. The University allocates huge amounts of funds to research projects. The beauty of the atmosphere that has evolved asa result of such policies is reflected from Mark Zuckerberg’s statement “Money or the ability to make money does not impress anyone here. Novelty does”.

On the contrary, Indian universities are known for their strict curriculum and thus, limit the opportunities for the students. To get a clear picture, let us take the example of IITs. They are considered to offer the best technical education in the country. The truth is, they hardly have anything to offer except technicalcourses. Firstly, the humanities courses offered are very less and secondly, the rigid curriculum eliminates any option of doing these courses for atleast 2 years. The research opportunities offered by the universities lack “lustre” and hardly attract students. The result: IITs produce more civil servants thanresearchers and the initial days of placements (then, the best companies come to campus to recruit the top performers) includes consulting firms, investment banks and hardly any technical firm. Is this what these technical educational institutions set up for? I don’t think so.

India has not produced a significant scientific discovery and remains dependent on other countries for technology. Recently, many deals worth billions of dollars were signed with France, US and Russia during their visits to India. All those deals had one thing in common: India was “buying” technology for defence, nuclear power etc. I still remember my Power Engineering professor saying “A gold medallist inCommonwealth games is awarded with lacs of rupees, accolades and fame but a scientist, involved in thesuccess of Chandrayaan, gets an award of meagre Rs.10,000 and a congratulations from President. Such is the irony ”.

Establishment of a conducive environment for research and development of global standards requires several immediate measures. Firstly, flexibility in the curriculum should be introduced with the widening of options in courses. Secondly, the appeal of research should be enhanced by proper measures. This canbe done by providing incentives in the form of money and recognition. The government has a bigger role to play in advocating the importance of R&D among the general public and attract more people in the field.

Charles de Gaulle once said about Brazil “This country has great future, always will have.” Lets hope this statement does not hold true for India.

The writer is an electrical engineering student from IIT – Delhi.