New challenges facing knowledge acquisition practices in higher technical education

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Kanpur:

Challenges to impart quality education call for change in the system, which includes teaching-learning process. Hence, the need for change in knowledge acquisition practices in higher technical education as well.  India’s technical education is looked after by the statutory body called the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Since long, this regulator of technical education has been prescribing minimum norms and standards to be adhered by the technical education providers. It is seen that amongst the different norms relating to the technical Institutions, the norms prescribed in respect to the qualification of teachers and the teacher-student ratio significantly affects the quality of teaching-learning processes. Let us delve into the implications of the current situation of reduced teacher-student ratio from 1:15 to 1:20 and increasing emphasis on online education. At present, the undergraduate courses offered by the approved technical Institutions of the country have the capacity of over 1.57 million in different programmes such as engineering and technology, pharmacy, management, architecture, town planning, hotel management and catering, applied arts and crafts. This is indicative of the fact that every year somewhat lesser than this number will be getting added to the technically trained manpower of the country with high aspirations due to the degrees held by them and should prove worthy of their qualification to the prospective employers. In view of the approvals accorded by the technical education regulator of the country, it may be presumed that there exists definite need of such number of technical manpower, else the regulator should not have allowed them to continue. Quite frequently, the employability of the graduating engineers and technologists has been stated to be poor as per different employers. Hence, it seems that there is a compelling need for improving the core as well as soft skill capability of the students passing out from technical Institutions of the country and the whole gamut of technical education converges upon taking measures for quality upgradation. This much needed qualitative improvement can only be realised through improvising teaching-learning processes whose components are teachers, learners or students and conducive learning environment. By the change in teacher-student ratio to 1:20, the reduction in the number of teachers will, in turn, lead to lessening of opportunities for student-teacher interaction as well as the quality of interaction will become inferior. For example, for given student strength of 300, the number of teachers required will be reduced from 20 to 15 in the new norms. This change may be happily adapted by the technical education providers due to reasons of insufficiency of teachers with them, favourable change in the accreditation parameters due to change in norms, reduced financial liabilities leading of easing out of any unforeseen crisis etc. But there is an imperative challenge of meeting the likelihood of quality deterioration due to reduced no of teachers, reduced personalised attention to students, increased teaching load, increase in class batch size and lesser time for teachers to engage in research, development and collaborative activities. It will also lead to converting the majority of Institutions into teaching institutions with minimal research outcome, whereas the efforts should be made to enable the research and development in every institution for sustaining the global competitiveness through their students and teachers. The second issue relates to the increased reliance upon the online mode of education, which can be seen as a consequence of ensuing digital revolution. There has been the presence of National Programme on Technology Enhanced Learning, an initiative by seven Indian Institutes of Technology for creating course contents in engineering and science since 1999 and number of good courses are available online. NPTEL courses have been used by learners from every level for supplementing their knowledge since quite long and it has even yielded positive impact in strengthening quality of technical education. Recent move for completing good no of credits using online learning is quite tempting. Undoubtedly the online mode of education has ability to offer much more than a traditional classroom without any time and place constraint while being repetitive without any qualitative change. But this should also be viewed in the light of the more time requirement in online courses, need of effective time management, learning in isolation, procrastination of doubt resolving sessions, inculcation of complacency due to freedom and more work load. The challenges of online education can be taken care by restricting it to be used as a supplementary tool for qualitative improvement instead of being used to substitute the existing pedagogy. Though there are pros and cons for everything and due to failure of existing system to deliver requisite quality, it is inevitable to restructure the 19th-century institutions into 21st-century institutions. So, let us see the implications of reduced teacher-student ratio and inclusion of online education for the purpose of award of degrees in due course of time. The apprehensions and ground realities, however, need to be taken care by the regulating bodies as the deterioration in education quality may incur significant damage to the current set of learners in technical education and eventually the substandard technical manpower. (Dr Onkar Singh is the founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, UP. Currently, he is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (UP). Professor Singh has rich experience of higher education system as a teacher, researcher, academic administrator and through his association with the governing bodies of large number of premier institutions and statutory regulatory bodies of the country.)

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