In many engineering colleges, the focus does not seem to be on academics. The teachers are pressured to let students pass.
The standards of engineering education in India have fallen. Even in admissions, the effort is to dilute to rigour as evident in the demand from college managements in some States to lower the qualifications required to sign up for an engineering course.
All these have conspired to make the engineering degree similar to any other degree. The vacant seats in many colleges are self-explanatory.
The faculty members complain that the students they get are of low standard, poor in mathematics, critical thinking, knowledge and understanding. Because of the lower admission standards in many States, most students are not genuinely interested in academics.
But the most depressing fact is that the teachers are forced to help these students graduate. Even 15 years ago, students of such calibre would have been made to drop out midway, but now they even wangle out good grades.
Students have become easy-going in the class and want to learn without effort. “You are paid to teach me, and if I do not learn, it is your fault,” they seem to tell the teachers. They groan and complain especially before the junior faculty members.
“You can’t expect us to submit the assignments in a week since we have got other classes. We should be given full marks if we write the equation correctly. Will you be going to reduce marks for assignments? I know the things but I can’t write or solve the problems?” So go the excuses and gripes.
Those new to the job may yield to pressure, but seasoned teachers stand their ground and the students complain that they are treated unfairly.
Most students require remedial classes to pass a subject. The students and their parents oppose such classes as attending them lowers their self-esteem. But they readily go for additional tuitions elsewhere, paying high fees. Tuitions for engineering studies were unheard of some years ago.
The teachers fear failing students because they do not get the support of their colleagues, superiors and the management. Students even threaten the faculty with dire consequences.
Teachers nowadays give excellent recommendations to their students irrespective of their character, conduct and academic performance. This is to help the college come up in the ranking of institutions based on placements. The colleges bring out expensive promotional materials to attract students, but not with the slightest suggestion that the study may be demanding or difficult. Only the air-conditioned classrooms and hostels, canteens and recreational facilities are advertised.
Standard questionnaires are circulated among the students to evaluate the faculty. If a teacher is strict, he or she will get a low score. The questionnaires are not properly prepared and the value and validity of the evaluation method have never been scientifically established. And if any student fails, it is considered a failure of the faculty members. The teachers hence dare not fail anyone.
The colleges employ administrators who ask progress reports, answers to questionnaires and reports in duplicate and triplicate, stealing the academic time of the teachers. Such bureaucracy makes things worse.
In many colleges, academics thus take a back seat. In a professional institution, the students should have a minimum percentage of attendance. But if some students fail to get that, then it becomes the job of the faculty to somehow provide them attendance.
New curricula, courses, computers and multimedia technologies have been introduced and the classrooms made electronic, all with the aim of improving the educational standards. But lack of parental guidance, the institutions inability to cope with disciplinary issues, the rising tide of divorce among parents, easy availability of drugs and student organisations with narrow interests and other pressure groups are making the teaching and learning process difficult. Teaching and learning should be independent activities to help the country improve its educational standards.
School of Engineering,
Cochin University of Science and Technology.