Humanities, social sciences essential in tech institutions

Gearing up: IIT Madras students work with M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation on seawater studies. | Photo Credit: VELANKANNI RAJ B
D. Balasubramanian 18 September 2021 20:28 IST
Updated: 18 September 2021 20:40 IST

Studying the humanities offers a way to understand the complexity of society

The introduction of the humanities and social sciences have added value to technological institutions such as the five (originally started) IITs at Kanpur, Kharagpur, Mumbai, Chennai, and Delhi. This is an outstanding example of what can be done if faculty members with expertise in the humanities are added and encouraged to offer courses there. They add values to the entire institution and through them to the nation itself. Study of the humanities and social sciences not only adds values but is a way of understanding the complexity of society, its culture and developing a historical perspective. It makes the students take on a more socially conscious attitude, which lasts through their career as technologists.

An outstanding example is the recruitment of the late Professor Usha Kumar as a full-time faculty member at IIT Kanpur (IITK) and offering of courses in the humanities, and encouraging students and the faculty to take these courses and take semester-long projects. Many did so and found these useful later in their profession as well. Such semester projects left a deep impression on these young minds and paved the way to the path they took in their future careers. This has come to be known as the Usha Kumar Model. Exemplifying this model, IITK set up a high school in its campus to help its employees, but also admits students from the Kanpur city. In addition, IITK is currently offering relief services to the city’s poor people.

The alumni, current faculty and students at IIT Delhi (IITD) work closely with the local eye hospitals and eye specialists. One of its earlier alumni initiated “Project Prakash”, which offers free eye care facilities (cataract surgery, spectacles and drugs for the needy ) in Delhi and its neighbourhood. Project Prakash is an ongoing project, and several current students of IITD take part in it. Also, on a different note, it was from an alumnus of IITD that the project called SPICMACAY or the Society for the Appreciation of Classical Music, Arts and Culture Among Youth got initiated, which has now spread across the country, offering annual events. SPICMACAY has made students and the general public aware of and appreciate the musical heritage that we in India can be proud of.


Study of Sanskrit

Likewise, at IIT Bombay (IITB) in Mumbai, the recruitment of professors in the humanities (ancient mathematics, languages and other themes) has triggered some students to discover ‘the wonder that was India’. Some students went on to learn and study Sanskrit. To their delight and pride, they realised why Sanskrit is called the perfect language that humans have created in the world, and how many ‘modern’ languages are derived from their parent, Sanskrit. Some other students who did not think highly of ‘pandits’ who publish yearly calendars in a variety of Indian languages, with data on eclipses, periodic extra months, and draw horoscopes for people who wish to have them. This practice that has been going on for centuries, using traditional methods of calculations. Some students at IITB decided to test this accuracy by using their laptop computers and appropriate programming software. Guess what? They found the results to coincide with what the pandits have been doing all these years! Also, thanks to the values they had learnt as students at IITB, several of its graduates now do not look down upon the illiterate and poor customers, but run their profit-making companies, each with a humane and human touch.

Similarly, at IIT Madras (IITM), based in Chennai, one of its alumni decided to start his own public health initiative at a town near Pune, which offers its services to the local population. Faculty members and students at IITM have been working regularly with the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) in seawater studies and on forestations. IITM biology group interacts closely with the local medical centres and doctors. They also work with the KRM university and interact with the Cancer Centre of the KRM University nearby, working with cancer specialists. Further, they collaborate in research with the Diabetes Foundation Madras, working with its diabetologists.

The oldest of all the IITs, the one at Kharagpur (IITKGP) has been offering its technology to the local medical personnel and doctors, since its very beginning. It has recently also come out with technological devices and products.

Black fungus

At the newest of them all located in Hyderabad, IIT Hyderabad (IITH), interaction with the LV Prasad Eye Institute has led to the production of corneal tissue of the eye and a hydrogel that can be used to replace the human corneal tissue. It is now marketed to a company in Bengaluru. Most recently, its scientists have devised an oral liquid solution that can treat patients suffering from black fungus that has recently affected a large number of people during the pandemic. The scientists are now ready to transfer their technology to suitable pharma partners for large-scale production. Also, at IITH, the introduction of a ‘Design Centre’ has led to some remarkable results from performing artists and designers. The students at this centre are delighted in listening to, learning and practising music and performing arts. In addition, IITH also has been supporting Hyderabad’s SPICMACAY group, by offering funding support and its auditorium when needed.

The government is keen on establishing a dozen more IITs in the coming years. Establishing the humanities and social sciences divisions in each of them is thus clearly needed in order that they too contribute to the welfare of the nation.

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