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Progression in technical education: Neither zero nor infinity

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The white light is made of seven basic colours. But there are all the more shades in between which have equal vibrancy for the light. It neither means that colours are all complete nor does it mean that there are no new colours to be found.

The fact that Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry are essential subject to pursue technical & engineering education has suddenly become a topic of needless discussion with AICTE opening up the window of opportunity for the development of the domain (& minds) by broadening the entry level qualifications.

Suffice to say, a stagnancy in education is a sign for its devaluation as much as it facilitates the progression. The NEP provides a spark for this change with its abundant inclusivity proposals. The will to break the status quo should thus be welcomed rather than debunked through the trepidations & forebodings of unseen fear.

The broad basing of entry level qualifications is akin to opening the front doors for accepting the students who were erstwhile progressing as lateral entries or getting the equivalence status through allied domains. The pragmatism in allowing the ‘zero’ to take the leap of faith is based on reasoned approach of inherent aptitude of the students taking the subject.

The science of medicine is indeed strange. The basic titrations & tests that we all observe in pathology labs are devised on reagents. Interestingly, all elements of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and even Biology are intricately involved. To say the least, a treating physician may have academically pursued biology & chemistry with other two being on the side-lines. On the contrary, the cutting edge domain of modern diagnostics (such as tomography) much depends on the marvels of image processing which draws its strength from physics & mathematics. This only goes on to prove that ‘infinity’ does not exist either.

Rather the education is a continuum in between where the aptitude to excel and produce/ achieve outcome is the desired end state. With NEP focussing strongly on the outcome based education, we cannot allow scholastic aptitude of our students to be restrained on account of hesitation & apprehensiveness. If such were the case, the theory of conservatism would have prohibited growth in the first place itself.

On the contrary, the motivation to rediscover the lost wisdom is another factor that has prompted Ministry of Education to take initiatives of Indian Knowledge System that aims to promote interdisciplinary research based on rich heritage & traditional knowledge of our Country. Would it then mean that the re-discovery of scientific principles ensnared in our Veda & Puranas is regressive or will it be that our scientific pursuit will be emboldened by the addition of ancient wisdom.

If the disagreement arises on account of former, then it is indeed a misconception that rejects our contribution of ‘zero’ to the world. But if the disagreement is on account of latter, then it is ironical that the change is being feared- when indeed that’s what is being espoused for!

It may well be recalled that the traditional Indian system was based on skills with hands on experiential learning. And it has been a matter of great achievement that there have been many a Diploma student who have bitten the silver bullet to rise and excel. To have shunned them and disallowed their progression would have not only killed the meritocracy at its infancy but would have also dealt a severe blow to our National prospects.

A similar case exists at premier institutes such as IIT which functions on high entry barrier with merit being at the soul of its brand. However, the system has well founded mechanism to develop the merit for considerably disadvantaged students. As a matter of fact, some students who are weak in subjects of Mathematics/ Physics/ Chemistry but may have qualified the minimum threshold cut-off are coached in these relevant subjects via a one-year preparatory course. This in no way be-littles their ability to shine with greater rebound. Of-course, those who do not have the desired aptitude find the natural exit.

It is therefore important to develop the latent capabilities of the student to pursue study in domain of engineering & technology rather than firewall it with ‘deny all – allow some’ policy.

The changes enunciated by AICTE in the Approval Process Handbook aims to achieve greater inclusivity through more pragmatic approach of aptitude & skills. The natural ability of a student should find means to prosper for which AICTE has already introduced reforms; such as specifying model curriculum which advocates four Mathematics courses, two physics courses & a course each in chemistry and biology. Another step in that direction is the adoption of Massive Open Online Courses for e-learning and its acceptance into overall credit system to obtain a formal degree.

The study of Environmental Sciences, Indian Constitution, Universal Human Value etc as part of Induction programme is another step to prepare the student to traverse the academic journey.

At this crucial juncture of Nation’s growth, the progression of technical education should not be merely seen as a choice of entry level subject. Nonetheless, it merits clarification to bring out that the essential subjects of Mathematics/ Physics/ Chemistry as contingent for chosen domain of study by a student shall continue to form the basis of academic progression & this has not been diluted. Hence all subjects must rather be considered as an enabling factor to impact the outcome with right approach towards inclusivity.

(Lt Col Kailash Bansal is an Indian Army officer and presently on deputation as Director, AICTE. He has served for more than 18 years in Corps of Signals in Indian Army.)

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