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Shaping Technical Education to Meet the Challenges Beyond 2020

Written By Guest Author
Technical Education is getting globalized as agreement and accords such as the Sydney accord, the Dublin accord, Washington Accord take place and prescribe the requisite attributes or standards for achieving equivalence between various Engineering programs across institutions worldwide.

These accords are an international accreditation agreement for professional engineering academic degrees between the bodies responsible for accreditation in the signatory countries. It provides for mutual recognition of accredited engineering programmes, thus paving the way for engineers of one country to seek professional employment in other signatory countries.

So how do we look at Technical Education now?

Technical Education is not merely a set of skills or knowledge acquired in a classroom setting with the purpose of fulfilling the requirements of the Industry or for driving economic growth of the country or for creating socio-economic equality. The technical education necessitates a foundational change in its mission, curriculum and pedagogy.

Theoretical Framework of technical Education

Technical education by itself was not of focal interest to educationists who were more interested in framing policies related to general education. As the global economy has evolved and the nature of the market place has changed, it has become an accepted fact that the top employment opportunities shall be those that require technical education, vocational education. The requirement is for technical programs to respond to the change in mission by preparing students with the following skills,

  1. High level academic skills
  2. Technical skills demanded in the new global economy with the emphasis on adaptability
  3. Skills required for harmonious and concerted human interactions at the global work place.

The academic and other skills required at the workplace are today linked to the multi-disciplinary requirement of work tasks, the quantum of technology and information in the workplace, the increasingly close interactions required for achievement of work tasks. Whether the present technical education system meets these requirements has to be deliberated upon.

Technical education has remained oriented towards a competency-led curriculum arising out of the perceived needs of Industry and delivered through a pedagogy based on pre-determined performance objectives such as condition, task standard. Teacher directed/dominated learning, evaluation based on fixed criteria are the characteristics of today’s technical education.

The learning theory that is emerging now is based on the theoretical framework of Constructivism. At the heart of this theory is the concept of self-directed learning or internalized construction of knowledge based on experiences. The basic tenets of this approach are,

  1. Knowledge is the result of active cognition of the individual
  2. Cognition is an adaptive process.
  3. Cognition is not an attempt to render an accurate representation of external reality but an internal process that grows out of one’s experiences.
  4. Knowledge is also the result of social, cultural and language based interactions

The very framework of the technical education system needs to be relooked.

Challenges for the Indian Technical Education system

If one were to take a look at the story of degree level engineering institutions in the country, in 1950 there were about fifty (50) institutions with a student intake of 3700; in 1990, just before the advent of the liberalization era, there were 337 institutions with students intake of 66,000. With the advent of liberalization the pace of engineering education accelerated to match the demands of rapid industrialization and today we have more than 3400 Engineering Institutions with a student intake of about sixteen lakh thirty five thousand (16,35,00) students. The number of institutions granting Master’s degree stands at more than 2100 today with intake of about 63,400 students. Hardly 4% of the undergraduate students are incentivized to join up for higher degree courses. This sits very poorly in comparison to the developed countries.

The Indian Technical education system is also facing the shortage of faculty. Considering the undergraduate intake of 16, 35,000 plus students and a student’s /teacher ratio of 15:1, the shortage is a staggering 75000 or more.

One characteristic of the Indian technical education is that the private or self-financing institutions account for almost 90% of the students’ intake. This means that government spending/support to technical education sector is severely lacking. Sponsorship from the Industry, PSUs under Public Private Model would have eased the situation.

Another weakness of the technical education system is the lack of research work in Institutions, or the poor quality of research. Breakthrough technologies or innovation is practically non-existent. Innovation/Incubation centers, government sponsorship for research and industry outreach is minimal.

The research profiles of the academia and industry are not aligned hence the sponsorship too is not encouraging. Academic research is scientific, publication oriented, long term, analytical, hampered with infrastructural resources constraints; Most of the industry research expectations are short term, profit oriented, related to real world- this chasm does not permit a fruitful association,

Looking ahead, the reforms in the Indian education system need to look at the following;

  1. Reforms in the curriculum to make academic education more relevant to the real world. A central mechanism to enforce the reviews is a must
  2. Today’s engineering tasks are those that require solutions across the disciplines. The academia should gear itself to this requirement
  3. A mechanism to link education and research should be provided to encourage innovation and promote an environment for research
  4. Rigorous process of regulation to ensure the minimum quality expectations and to align with global needs
  5. Introduce more technology into technical education to aid internalization of knowledge
  6. Encourage a global perspective by visiting professors, active exchange of students, funding for academic seminars etc.
  7. Providing greater autonomy to Institutions for them to reinvent themselves to meet the Industry expectations
  8. Allow FDI in education, allow foreign Universities to set up Indian centers especially in post graduates/doctoral programs

Looking ahead 2020

Amidst all the changes that need to happen in terms of policy change and education programmer delivery in India, international labor markets are changing. In 2012, there were so many jobs that were not created in 2006. Especially as new technologies such as 3D printing and driverless cars change how we do business. In response to this we need to create people who have generalized skills that can be applied anywhere. There is a need for skills with both breadth and depth.

It is estimated that the world will have a shortage of 47M working people by 2020 while India alone will have a surplus of 59M people. India’s demographic surplus will be key in meeting the labor needs both within the country and beyond, but only if Workers have the right education and training.

In India, employment growth in service sector jobs has been huge. While total employment only grew by 13.4% between 2000 and 2010, the employment of professionals grew by 125.7%. Despite positive employment growth and higher University enrollment, there is a paradox of high graduate unemployment. In India graduate unemployment in 2014 was 33% as against 8.5% of total unemployment in the country.

One of the reasons for high graduate unemployment comes from a shortage of graduates with specialized skills. The largest job growth will come from sectors such as construction, automotive, retail and healthcare according to the NSDC (National Skill Development Council). By 2022, in the construction and automotive Industries alone, there will be close to 10 crore new jobs created. However students want jobs in different industries altogether.

The dynamic economies require high level talents that are also innovative, risk taking, adaptable and responsive to changing environments. To make technical education more relevant to labor market needs, there is a need to develop not only the right job skills but train students to become lifelong learners.

This article is based on a speech delivered by Rajeev Kumar, Global Head - Campus Hiring & Talent Acquisition Marketing for Wipro at the 44th ISTE National Annual Convention 2014

Topics: HR Trends

Originally published December 27 2018,updated November 18 2019

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