The tendency of many engineering institutions to recommend the same editions of books year after year might work well for the second-hand book market, but experts are concerned that the practice would deny students the benefits of a current and relevant syllabus.
Most students say the dependence is encouraged because the Anna University syllabus prescribes editions that are quite old. “Sometimes, we are forced to buy the older editions because the teaching and evaluation are centred around them,” says V. Jagadish, a student of computer science engineering at CEG.
S. Parthiban, who has been dealing in second-hand books for 15 years says, “Often, students want to buy 2004-2006 editions even if the 2007-2008 editions are available. There is a significant increase in the number of engineering books, but most students stick to the ones recommended by the curriculum.”
This practice, say industry experts, only helps them prepare for their examinations. “Being a student of technology implies they need to be up-to-date with the advancements, but most engineering students are merely learning the basic and sometimes, obsolete concepts,” says P. Raghavan, a recruiting consultant with software firms. To address this, the training procedures of most companies focus on newer technologies and self learning methodologies.
The problem persists in other engineering streams too. “Anything related to newer technologies such as Nanomaterials, or Material sciences need to be revised, and made known to students. There is little use of buying older editions of books in these subjects,” says G. Sakthinathan, associate professor, Department of Manufacturing, CEG.
Anna University of Technology Vice-Chancellor C. Thangaraj, however, feels the issue has to do with the number of colleges being affiliated to the university
“With so many colleges under us, we have to ensure that there is no ambiguity about the syllabus in the minds of the teachers, students and evaluators. The situation here is not like that in other prestigious colleges where the teachers are free to teach and test the way they want,” he says.
For instance if the study of electronics of mobile phone deals with Micro processor 8088 in many presigious engineering institutes, the ones here still go by Micro Processor 8085.
“The student may not learn about the latest, but the books we recommend will make sure he knows the concepts well, which don't change,” says Prof Thangaraj.
The web can be a powerful mechanism to bridge this gap, say students. Online learning schools like W3 schools, e-books and accessing live video lectures of Harvard, MIT and IITs help students understand and develop an interest in the subject.
“But the bandwidth is not really that suitable for online learning everywhere and the experience not good for everyone,” says Mr. Jagadish.
“The classic books in certain subjects are not on web, and students should have a copy each of those at least,” says Ashok Jhujhunwala, professor, Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT-Madras. And, D. Parthiban, an engineering graduate says, “The useful updates are always carried in journals. Students should keep track of them. It is sometimes a waste to spend huge amounts, almost triple the cost of older editions, on the newer ones, especially if they are subject you will study only for a semester.”