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Articles
Challenges for Technical Education - Right Choices
Directly Speaking  

 “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” -Albert Einstein

It is nearly 8 months since I have been appointed as Director of Pradnya Niketan Education Society.   While my role and title may have many layers, I must reiterate that my role is essentially a complementary function that enhances the organizational goals from different location.

Historically and in today’s corporate world, women are employed by leading institutions to bring emotional truth to established principles.  It is a collaborative step forward in this direction. I am deeply honored and privileged to serve my team. 

This note is meant for students, teachers, administrators who are our primary stake holders. Since they affect and influence each other, I have not compartmentalized the content under different categories.

I have also, placed on record, the Board’s vision and commitment to all our stakeholders – students, leaders, all NKOCEM team members, parents, our real customers whom we serve  ( companies who will hire our graduates) and lastly, and most importantly our society. 

Taking stock of the scenario:

Revolutionary shifts in the operational structures of our world seem to call for new definitions of who we are as educators and what we are here for, our real purpose and goal in education. While we are here to shape the “engineers and managers” of tomorrow, our customary mind set about how we do it may undermine our ability to change the way do things here. 

Most of you must be familiar with this experiment on monkeys - “We’ve always done it this way; the downside of tradition”.

Scientists place five monkeys in a cage; suspended from the roof of the cage is a large bunch of ripe bananas. Inside the cage are many boxes. After several minutes of staring at the bananas, the monkeys begin to stack the boxes in order to reach them. Each time any of the monkeys tries to stack the boxes, the researchers spray all of the monkeys with a high-pressure hose. This continues until all monkeys stop trying to reach the bananas. Once all five monkeys have been thoroughly conditioned, Phase Two begins: The scientists replace one original monkey with a newcomer. Upon seeing the bananas, the sixth monkey begins to stack boxes and is immediately attacked by the remaining "trained" monkeys. No water is sprayed, but the remaining monkeys still won't let the newcomer try for the bananas. Once the newcomer is trained, the scientists replace another monkey. Again, the newcomer is attacked each time it tries to reach the bananas. Even the sixth monkey takes part in the attack, even though it has never been sprayed. This continues until all five original monkeys have been replaced. No replacement monkeys have ever been sprayed to keep them away from the bananas. Yet, even with five monkeys who have never been punished for stacking boxes now in the cage, none of them will try for the bananas. 

Why? 

Because that's the way it's always been done around here (Baldwin, 2003, 2-6).

Perhaps higher education (this seems to be a universal phenomenon in Education sector) faculty have become stalwart defenders of the status quo of pedagogy because that’s the way we’ve always done it (i.e., according to tradition). 

Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful piece of art; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. We could apply this visionary concept to education and the way we shape our students’ minds. 

We stand on a precipice, stepping into a new era, time of enormous, rapid changes and uncertainty characterized by the emergence of interconnected global economy. Walls are crumbling among markets, organizations and nations. People, information, labor, and capital move freely as never before. Global media, international travel and communications have shortened distance, linking us instantly to one another from Prague to Shanghai, Lima to London.  

This borderless economy is changing faster than our ability to manage and adapt. For educational institutions to thrive, it has to soak in the changes, absorb it and respond to it by bringing necessary changes in the way we educate our students. Simply put, we are not yet ready with the mental software- the operating systems – to fully grasp what our new world wants. We’re using old minds to grapple with new demands. 

Educational institutions used to live, or die, primarily by churning “good results”, rank holders, gold medalists and high achievers. But, now, the rules of the games are changed. 

There have been three key developments in the Indian Labour market in recent years.

First the country’s high economic growth created new jobs in the IT and IT enabled services, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology and engineering design sectors. In addition, several new economy sectors such as finance, insurance, organized retail; aviation, hospitality, animation, media, real estate and infrastructure opened up a wide variety of Job opportunities, not all necessarily requiring  very high end  qualification but highly skilled and adaptable workers.

Secondly many Indians are new hired for jobs overseas and a wide range of jobs are offshore to India. At the same time, Indian companies are also hiring foreign nationals. Thus, there is a global labour market.  

Finally, due to technical changes, most jobs in both manufacturing and services sector are new clustered at the low productivity end, while some are at the high productivity end, with the middle hollowing out. Thus, a majority of the work force is engaged in jobs requiring basic or intermediate skills.

Challenge Scenario:

Presently there are so many Engineering Colleges, Polytechnic Colleges in India. The multifold increase in intake and increase in number of institutions has already caused significant pressure on the quality of educations of engineering, technology and management education.  

All these should have augmented the pace of industrial development. Instead, the institutes are producing persons who fall much short of desired expectations of the industries. On other side, the industries are on a look out for persons who are technically equipped, possess managerial skills, are creative, and can easily adapt to the changing market situations. The companies who will eventually employ our students have a different wish list. Increasingly, a well rounded personality of employee (read student) is the new corporate resource. Businesses fight to attract, retain, develop and motivate the best and the brightest, seeking new ways to measure and enhance the value of human capital. Students’ knowledge, skills, experience and attitudes are seen as the new mantra for such seekers. 

Balancing the needs of stakeholders, choosing between following the “age old “practices in pedagogy and developing new ways of instructional programs, addressing both short term and long term goals of our learners ( passing the exam and being an employable, highly skilled employee who will adapt easily when the market changes) are things educators never bothered about before , but can’t afford to ignore any more.

Today, higher education institution, specially, technical and management education is bombarded with a syllabus outline that is highly out dated, embedded in Western models of management theories, has a huge disconnect with real life technology, ever expanding modules of courses to be included along with the curriculum and dealing with the huge baggage of student deficit in aptitude domain. 

Our students also come with additional challenges in the area of fluency in English Language, which in some ways affect their self confidence and impede self expressions. It has been the case that high achieving students (in the traditional sense of paper pencil exams) have failed to “hook” jobs as they face road blocks in the form of Aptitude tests, Group discussions and personal interviews. Some even face the daunting disconnect between the theory they have learnt and the applications they are expected to bring with, when they enter the employment scenario. 

Following questions are very pertinent for us to understand what ails our system. 

  • What component of learning that we must keep as it is?
  • What component of learning must fundamentally change?
  • How can we quickly “ fix” the problem of student enrolment and engagement in the learning? 
  • Is there a “ good” induction program that will kindle fire for learning?
  • Should we use the “ carrot and stick” or should we thrust the responsibility of learning to our students, thus the consequences when they don’t?
  • Do we know how to create and sustain interest in our classrooms?
When students enter “college”, they experience a high level of freedom and a false sense of independence. This is intense after 12 years of highly spoon fed, monitored and “repressed” education process they have gone through. We all witness, what I call “pressure cooker” syndrome in the first year, when they enter college. They come to hang out and enjoy this new found freedom. There is nothing wrong with this attitude. But what our students often forget is, the fact that freedom always come with the package of responsibility. To add to this woe, is the easy entry and access some have, by sheer virtue of their socio-economic background and the privileges they come with. This almost creates a sense of entitlement for them, so they tend to take things for granted. The accountability (for their learning process) thus becomes secondary in this process.  

Lack of student engagement and accountability frustrates the faculty, who feel powerless and disempowered. This forms a vicious cycle and the system loses out on the “quality learning “process.

The underlying philosophies of the architects of higher education, whether at the graduate or undergraduate levels, determine the types of experiences that students will encounter in the classroom. These experiences may mean the difference between students who will be temporally motivated by point-in-time external events, and those who develop and/or expand dynamic internal systems of self-sufficiency. Students who use self-regulation set better learning goals, implement more effective learning strategies, and exert more effort and persistence. Motivation can be a precursor to self-regulated learning. 

 The foundation of higher education must assume that the adult learner has primary responsibility for their own motivation. This is not to suggest that the external environment cannot be facilitative, only that it does not encourage responsibility. Those familiar with the Pygmalion and Hawthorne effects may conclude that when adults are treated like adults, they often behave like responsible adults; when treated like children, they often behave as such (Draper, 2006).

India does not have a problem of supply of graduates; the problem lies in the uneven quality of graduate and skill mismatch. We thus spend huge amount on producing a large number of unemployable youth who hold university degrees. They are not educated unemployed, but unemployable graduates !  Any employer will tell you how frustrating it is to get the right people for available jobs. Construction companies do not get adequately trained masons, carpenters, blacksmiths, electricians, etc. Offices cannot get good stenographers, computer operators, accountants, etc. Factories and workshops cannot get mechanics and technicians. These graduates do not possess employable skills even if they are considered educated.

Benjamin Barber, an eminent Sociologist, once said, “I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures……I divide the world into learners and nonlearners’. The phenomenon of lack of motivation in millennial students has even been given a name, “the ambition gap” (Association for Career and Technical Education, 2006).

How true, when students don’t want to learn and find the education process very boring……

  • How can we break this cycle? 

  • How do we do, think differently so that we make a difference to their learning process? 

  • What are the innovations and best practices we can bring to classroom space so that our students truly benefit from this learning process?  

  • How do we connect worlds of all stake holders and fulfill their expectations and aspirations? 

The opportunity scenario: 

Embracing  the knowledge explosion, while training our students to choose the right and relevant ones.  We do it by cultivating scientific temperament and environment to revitalize the science base of modern engineering education; creating a culture of research and innovation at all levels including the undergraduate institutions; 

Welcoming the Technology Revolution, that will find solutions, for making human relationships and communications more authentic. We need to create technology savvy campuses but people friendly atmosphere ; use Information Communication Technology (ICT) to enhance teaching effectiveness as also to create a knowledge centric learning environment; 

Celebrating change and acknowledging that the only constant factor in our educational world is continuous change – in knowledge, content, skills component, attitudes and much more.  We got to provide an optimal mix of knowledge, skills and competencies by innovating existing curriculum which is presently rigid and is heavily oriented towards core specialties and compartmentalization.

Accepting the reality that globalization process is Irreversible, so we might as well bring the best of it to our world 

Creating highly competitive market where only the “fittest” and highly skilled will survive. This is true for both faculty competency and student capabilities.  

Predicting swiftly changing business cultures and environment and modifying our responses to it.  We are familiar with The Parable of the Frog, the story of change

Path ahead:

PNES as an organization is deeply committed to and concerned about our Capital Voice, Customer Voice, People Voice and Technology Voice. 

I have strongly held this belief that the Board that is enrolled into our world of beliefs is an asset. They affect us with their decisions. If these are in line with what the organization needs, then our journey is smooth. 

This symbiotic relationship is crucial for the present and more so for future when they will continue the legacy and ensure some choices and practices in education are continued. We have a team of professionals who trust us. They know that we are responsible with their investment – of money, trust and relationship. 

Reputation: 

PNES and its member institutions (both The Orchid School in Pune and NKOCEM in Solapur) have made a significant mark in the educational landscape.   We are acknowledged for giving meaningful education, transparency, high on relationship quotient…where continuous exploration to give high quality technical and management education is our priority.  It is easy to reach the top, but it is harder to stay on top. We need to continually innovate, inspire and engage with our learners.  

People grow: 

As for attracting and keeping good talent, we are doing a good job.   This is a positive trend from HR point of view.  This is a place where freedom is valued, self growth guaranteed and innovation in teaching is an accepted professional component. Employee satisfaction seems at a fairly high level. We will continue to work and improve our human capital quality.

Technology voice: 

NKOCEM can boast of latest technological systems implemented – be it a sound net working system, 24 x7 high speed, dedicated internet, all security measures, on-line admissions enquiry, state of art computer labs, new website which is a window to our world, fire wall, restrictions that ensure our data is safe and virus free…..We will continue to incorporate technology that is appropriate and relevant to teaching process, management systems and other processes in administration.         

Our future: 

I hope and dream that we are known for our ethos, commitment to our learners and best work place for our employees. 

We move from doing things differently to doing things effectively in terms of innovation, pedagogy, achievement etc. 

While it is important to bring fantastic results, our real bench mark lies in making every student successful, healthy, responsible human being. Helping each student identify and maximize his / her potential must be our goal. This means going beyond the traditional hierarchy of subjects and giving due importance to personal aspects of learning as well. Guiding them to identify their career path and grooming them for their chosen path is essential element of education. 

It is important to keep our systems of governance – where it is not a top down management but a truly participative, democratic decision making processes that govern us – be it the programme, policies or procedures. We will continue to fine tune them, make it process centric, arrive at some non-negotiable rules that are universal and not people oriented, hear people’s voices and incorporate suggestions that come from the team. 

We will build a “High –Touch” service and “High –Tech” culture.