Why modern-day engineers need holistic education – Times of India


With the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) announcing that studying Mathematics and Physics in class XII is no longer mandatory to pursue BE and BTech courses, there seems to be a renewed focus on flexibility of engineering courses. Though the AICTE announcement may have been drawn from the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 which stresses at interdisciplinary and holistic education with flexibility of subjects, a revamp of the engineering curriculum has for long been the point of discussion among academics and industry heads. The aim is to create innovative and job-ready students who are in sync with real-world problems.

Liberalised approach

At the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi for instance, students undergo what director V Ramgopal Rao terms as Immersion programmes where they connect with the villagers and farmers to work for mutual benefit. “Since engineering is all about finding sustainable solutions, being confined to straitjacketed modes of learning will not help the students.”

The Institute’s multidisciplinary approach is evident in its School of Public Policy to enable engineers to work closely with policy experts and holistically solve a problem. A Department of Design has also been set up where students are admitted without a Math, Physics and Chemistry background. “We are creating an environment where design students can work in synergy with engineers and design products of the future that are aesthetically pleasing and functionally superior,” Rao says.

Technical institutes, according to him, should sensitise their students towards larger socio-economic, human and environmental concerns. In keeping with this view, IIT Delhi has strengthened the Humanities and Social sciences department with more faculty and new master’s programmes, while also introducing courses in Economics to help budding engineers with entrepreneurial skills.

While focussing on technical knowledge along with more liberalised approach, technical institutes must train its faculty/teachers as per the need, says Animesh Biswas, director, National Institute of Technology (NIT) Rourkela.

Diversity in engineering curriculum has already been started at NIT Rourkela as it has minor degrees/subjects, giving students the option to choose subjects of other departments including the science subjects. “Our curriculum is designed in such a way that a student can also take professional elective courses from other departments including NPTEL/Swayam courses for which credits are accepted,” Biswas adds.

While stressing at the need for engineers along with good knowledge of economics, health, human resources, management, literature, psychology, leadership, etc, he informs that the institute has 20 departments where one or a few of such courses are already running. “What we need is more collaboration, support and a flexible curriculum for solving real-life problems.”

Fusing technical education with social sciences

“Research and case studies have shown that graduates from engineering colleges have good technical skills but fare poorly when it came to 21st century skills such as communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration. The new modules of the education policy were drafted to bridge this gap and give students the necessary skills to increase their chances of employability,” says Shekhar Bhattacharjee, founder – Dalham Learning.

Some of the greatest success stories in engineering, according to him, are from non-STEM fields. “For the longest time in the country, the rigid modules in engineering kept students from trying to understand the ‘why’ of engineering; they were only taught the ‘how’ of engineering which has resulted in creating human bots who just focussed on completing a given task.”

Indian engineering students may make good employees, but they seldom make good leaders, Bhattacharjee says. Non-STEM graduates however have the subjects that deep dive into human development. “A perfect integration of technical education and the social sciences can be achieved if we allow students to pick and choose subjects that suit their interests and acumen,” he adds.

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