The Council in charge of higher technical education in India has realigned entry criteria for engineering programmes to bring them in line with the best practices in the West. This will allow many more students to follow programmes that they were, thus far, not eligible for.
Ayushman Singhal, a student at a prestigious private school in Gurgaon, always had a creative and enquiring mind. And he dreamt of pursuing his undergraduate programme in product design. But chemistry and biology had been his bugbears since middle school. And his teachers told him there was no way he could pursue product design in India without studying chemistry at the Plus 2 level.
So, his parents decided early on to send him to the US for higher studies. They enrolled him in the school’s IB programme (his school also offered students the option of pursuing CBSE, the most popular domestic board in India). His choice of subjects for his Plus 2 programme would be considered unusual to most Indians with his goals – physics, mathematics, French, psychology and design technology.
He is now studying product design at the undergraduate level at a prestigious US university. This would have been impossible in India without chemistry as a subject in high school.
India’s higher education system has traditionally been straitjacketed by stringent subject choices that gave students little room to deviate from the one-size-fits-all formula and provided even lesser space for creativity – one possible reason why India produces great engineers but not enough real innovators.
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But there is hope for Indian students who don’t have the means or the inclination to go abroad to study at the undergraduate level. The All Indian Council for Technical Education (AICTE) announced recently that it proposes to make physics, chemistry and mathematics (PCM) optional at the Plus 2 level for students wishing to pursue engineering.
In doing so, the Council is belatedly aligning India’s hopelessly outdated higher education system with the trends that have long become the norm in the US, the UK and most other Western countries.
This flexibility will allow many more deserving students to pursue programmes of their choice. For example, another student who wishes to remain anonymous took economics, mathematics, dance and music as his undergraduate subjects at a US university and is now pursing an MS in computer science at an Ivy League university.
If the AICTE can resist pressure from the entrenched vested interests in the Indian education system, such students will have the option of remaining in India to pursue their dream courses.
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Under the newly announced norms, students wishing to enter the four-year Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech) or Bachelor of Engineering (BE) programme must have cleared any three of the following 14 subjects with at least 45 per cent marks: Computer science, electronics, information technology, biology, informatics practices, biotechnology, technical vocational subject, engineering graphics, business studies, entrepreneurship as well as the traditional physics, chemistry mathematics (PCM).
This has been met by howls of protests from some quarters who are alleging that AICTE is diluting the standards of Indian technical education. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
AICTE Chairman Anil Sahasrabudhe told The Print, a leading Indian news website: “It (PCM) is not needed is not correct. All these are in the list of subjects students can take in class XI, XII. If a student has already taken PCM then he will study normal engineering curriculum whereas if has studied any non-PCMB subject, he can study that in the college as a bridge course.”
The Council further clarified in a statement: “It is also imperative to mention that it is an option given by the Council which is not binding on the States or Universities and for various entrance exams such as JEE, CET etc. They may continue to hold the entrance exams in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics as is being done now and gradually decide to conduct exams in other subjects later after discussing and taking decisions in the University Senates/ Academic Councils and State Level Committees.”
The idea, obviously, is not to wreak havoc in the education system but to gradually reform it and bring it in line with the standards prevailing in the most advanced countries as well as peer nations.
However, “this option can be implemented in its letter and spirit”, once the National Education Policy (NEP), the Modi government’s far-reaching reforms of the Indian education system, is implemented fully, the AICTE said.
Given India’s ambitions of emerging as one of the major knowledge centres of the world, it is imperative that AICTE stays the course on this major initiative it has undertaken.