“Interventions have to begin from school. And, this has to start with attracting the best people for teaching and keeping them updated.”
While India has become a good destination for students in Information Technology, banking and management, it is far from becoming one in science and engineering.
J.C. Bose National Fellow and Former Director of Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research Baldev Raj says technology has become globally competitive and so science has to be taught as an international subject and not restricted to the country's requirement.
Mr. Raj is the Director of Research in PSG Institutions, Coimbatore, an assignment he has taken up for his three-year fellowship period. The fellowship has been instituted by the Central Government under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology for promoting scientific research in the country.
Besides carrying out research projects involving students and research scholars from PSG Institutions and other parts of the country, as a member of various apex and advisory committees of the Prime Minister and Human Resource and Development Minister, Mr. Raj is involved in working out interventions needed to bring about changes in education in the XII Five Year Plan.
Speaking to The Hindu Education Plus, he shares a few proposals that are in the pipeline to augment science and technology education, increase quality of teachers to boost quality of students, and orient research towards addressing challenges of the society.
Intervention to upgrade teachers
“For a growing economy like ours, it is essential to have well-educated people. The science taught in schools is not binding on the children and hence they are not motivated enough to pursue it further. It is important to make it attractive, so that India becomes a destination for science education not only for Indian students but also for others. Hence, interventions have to begin from school. And, this has to start with attracting the best people for teaching and keeping them updated,” he says.
The MHRD is finalising a programme for school teachers by which they will be mentored by scientists of national laboratories to enable them make students experience science rather than teach the subject.
This is expected to take forward the already successful mentoring programme in vogue for physics and engineering subjects. Another proposal is to encourage teachers to do doctoral programmes in national laboratories rather than in educational institutions.
About the next major challenge of attracting students towards science and higher education and also retaining their talent for the country, Mr. Raj says that once a grand challenge is announced by the Central government with a concrete structure and target, it is sure to attract not only talent from India but also from Indians who are abroad. “The XII Plan will lay down some grand challenges before India — energy, water, healthcare, transportation, environment, etc. This will include strategies that the government has devised to address these challenges. When such a challenging environment is presented, we will be able to attract Indian talent that is being used for foreign research. The very reason people leave the country is the environment is too bureaucratic. The grand challenges will also look at beginners because these challenges will only grow and hence it is the beginners who will sustain the movement,” he says.
While many changes are happening in the area of higher education at the national level, Mr. Raj says that these changes are not happening at the pace they should be. With regard to the Bills on higher education, he says decision on these should be hastened.
On the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, he says that there is a thought that these universities will exploit the Indian students. In case the Bill is passed and the foreign universities set up shop, they will be told to work out a business model to ensure that all strata of students will be able to use their facilities. Working out the modalities of implementation is very important.
Speaking on higher education in Tamil Nadu, Mr. Raj says the State has everything going for it in terms of industrial success, but the government has to play a proactive role in improving institutions so that they are able to feed these industries with qualified manpower.
“It should begin with creating dignity for technicians. We are not producing enough technicians as we are producing engineers. South has a rich tradition for engineering and technology, but not so in other disciplines. The need of the hour is setting up inter-disciplinary institutes for promoting inter-disciplinary education”, he says.
Commenting on the employability factor, he says it can be improved only if industry takes interest in institutions. They should realise that their participation is more important before they demand anything.