Engineering Syllabus In India: The Problem And How To Fix It

The Indian Education system and its flaws have been a matter of discussion for several years with regards to its practicality, impact on children and their ambitions and so on. Unfortunately, this involves engineering as well, with only around 7% of the total engineering graduates employable.

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The issue of lack of employable engineers in India should be looked at with great concern. IITs are no exception to this as well, with many professionals like even the co-founder of Infosys Narayana Murthy, expressing his displeasure regarding the quality of students passing out from IITs. The All India Council for Technical Education(AICTE) had also taken note of the issue and implemented certain steps this year to curb the issue. One of the major changes includes mandatory internships done in a firm or an institute, to give students some insight into the practical and industrial side of things, and not be restricted to just theory and lecture halls.

Although this may help to some extent, I feel that this approach is misguided for the following reasons:-

1. Not every internship is a good one.

2. Not everyone can land an internship in an IIT or a reputed firm. There are several companies which offer classroom-oriented internships for a fixed fee, where the students are spoon fed concepts similar to a classroom rather than a workspace. To make matters worse, since the internships often coincide with vacations, many students often take it lightly.

3. Internships may reduce the symptoms, but doesn’t cure the disease which is the lack of any sort of connection between theory, lab, projects etc in the curriculum. “Why am I studying this?” or “What is the use of this?” are questions that come to the students’ minds often.

4. Even if the student lands a quality internship, what they will learn or use there would be completely different from what is taught in the classroom. For in engineering, you learn one thing for theory, another in labs, and you would probably need something else entirely for your main project. This is the root cause of the problem, which is often overlooked by any syllabus.

The Solution

I had taken some online courses from a website called Udemy and I have to say that I am quite envious of how well-structured their courses are, with them being taught by professionals in various industries. A person even without any prior coding or engineering experience could learn complex topics like deep learning within months, while in India a student passing out with a computer science degree after four years may not be able to write a program by themselves, let alone learn topics like deep learning. Generally, the syllabus is too rigid and traditional for an engineering curriculum.

For degrees in political science or law, a rudimentary structure is suitable because the main principles don’t change often. Engineering, of course, has some basic rules like the laws of thermodynamics or syntaxes in code that don’t change, but as far as the rest is concerned, it is an ever-changing field and advancements in technology would render a rigid syllabus obsolete.

So keeping all this in mind, I propose two possible solutions which are:

1) Bring An Hierarchical structure To The Syllabus

Questions like “Why I am I studying this” and the disconnection between the modules I mentioned above are primarily due to the fact that engineering syllabi have no order. Take the example of Microcontrollers and Microprocessors which are used in industries to control circuits and process data. For familiarising with the topic, an Indian student would be introduced to four or five random related subjects in no specified order. The student would be taught say C++ in one semester with assembly language programming in 8051 MC in the next and assembly programming in 8086 MP in another. Perhaps the concepts of signal processing and its math equations may be taught as a theory subject without any practical overview and a couple of semesters later,  a lab subject consisting of its implementation with coding in computers or processors will be included and the student won’t have any prior memory of the theory. A simpler orderly structure could be –

  1. First, introduce the low-level assembly language in MPs and MCs so students know their internal working.
  2. Teach them a higher level program like C++ and how to use it in MPs and MCs.
  3. Teach them their applications like signal processing and then focus on the practicals.

2) Learn Technological Advancements By Learning New Products In The Industry

Design engineering is a subject that has been introduced to several B-tech programs and it teaches students practical and industry relevant concepts like Design for X, need-feature metrics, and others typically used in the R/D field. A part of it includes studying existing products in the market and their design process. Updating the syllabus every two to three years to incorporate advancements can be overwhelming and possibly impractical, but allowing students to study new products in the industry could keep them up to date on current technology. Thus, this concept could be modified in such a way that instead of the products study being exclusive to Design engineering, each subject could require students to study features of a related product. Instead of just studying the theoretical principles of ECG acquisition, studying a currently used ECG machine along with it could provide better insight into the topic.

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Students should be given sufficient freedom in choosing such products, firstly to inculcate interest and secondly, perhaps universities could take feedback from the students on the changes they would want to see in their syllabus, as students would be more aware of relevant technology being used, after studying various products. So on one hand, the students will be in touch with recent technology and on the other, it offers a viable means for the university to get feedback and change the syllabus.

To improve the quality of engineering in India is a tremendous task and needs the effort of the government, universities and most importantly the students.

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