Dr Muhmmad Amin Malik
Throughout history, the institutions of higher education have played a fundamental role in societal transformation and nation-building. To enhance literacy and inculcate moral values and ethics, the school education is one of the most important destinations at the primary and the secondary level.
No doubt the role of higher education is to develop faculties, promote intellectual and spiritual growth but in today’s global environment, it is seen neither a charity nor a social service but a focal point of knowledge, innovation and its application.
It is perceived as a precious asset for survival and advancement of human race in a borderless knowledge society.
The population explosion, the environment problems, the food security, energy crises, health and other issues are threatening our very existence.
One of the biggest and grave issues is the unemployment problems of our qualified youth and higher education is seen as a beacon of hope to reduce this unemployment.
Today when we talk of quality higher education, the skill based education becomes its inherent part as it is directly related to the employment prospects of our youth.
The higher educational institutions in the recent past have come under increasing pressure to show their societal relevance to promote economic growth, reduce unemployment problems and solve other issues.
A few months back, a load carrier delivered some material at my residence and I found its driver acquaintance, living in the neighboring colony. He was a final year student of Bemina College a few years back and his father often used to come to me for some guidance to find a job for him.
When he got down from the load carrier, I enquired of him, have you settled with this job now? He acknowledged and said that: “I have purchased this load carrier and now delivering sand, cement and other items to the people. Doing graduation was a blunder, as I lost 4 years in the college for nothing. Though I am presently pursuing MA through IGNOU, I have no hopes of getting any job anywhere, he concluded.”
This is not the one off incident. There are so many graduates doing menial and labor jobs in the market. We have seen that candidates with PhDs, post-graduation/graduation are applying for class-IV posts as they are forced to work as nursing orderlies, office orderlies, ward boys, lab attendants, sweepers etc.
It is a fact that parents in general are not enthusiastic to send their wards to academic college because they know there is no good future after graduation or even after post-graduation.
Most students try for some professional courses after 12th class and simultaneously obtain admissions in academic colleges.
It is only after they fail for two or more years that they finally settle down to at least get an academic degree. This is the one most important reason that students are least bothered about college education.
Our Colleges and Universities are offering traditional courses which in the emerging economic scenario have lost relevance.
Many academics and administrators opine that instead of producing mushroom growth of Academic Colleges we should have created Engineering Colleges to create some skilled and professional human resource.
They argue that converting Academic Colleges into Engineering Colleges can drive innovation and develop a technical workforce that may solve our unemployment problems.
Many others believe that subjects like Political Science, History, Urdu, Arabic etc have the lowest employment rates, should be winded up and made correspondence courses and the same be replaced by subjects like Statistic, Electronics, Economics and some emerging subjects from Science/Engineering which have job utility.
But if we look at India’s crisis of engineering education one feels a lot of discouragement. The substandard engineering education in India is now widely known. Except IITs and other prestigious institutions, most Engineering Colleges are unable to provide education to the students that would fetch them suitable jobs.
Today India is one of the largest producers of engineers in the world, yet the quality of engineers is so poor that only 7-8 percent of engineering graduates are employable.
According to the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), nearly 200 'substandard' Engineering Colleges have applied for closure but they want to shut down around 800 engineering colleges. And, we are well aware of our premier institutions, which are in existence for nearly centuries.
We have a broken education system. Most of our teaching–learning process is purely academic with minimal stress on practicals. The practice of rote memorization where students usually mug-up some usually asked exam-questions, puke out in the paper, score marks and forget.
Examination marks are somehow more important than learning for a purpose. The string of examinations and its scare has taken the main motive of learning away from the students.
Speaking like a parrot carries more weight than knowing the basic facts and concepts. The institutions have become factories of mass manufacturing to get graduate/master/doctorate degrees if not directly than through correspondence and then lay a claim for jobs.
This has created a class of professionals who are intellectually less qualified than what their degrees depict. This type of learning can neither provide skills nor jobs. The question now arises, when the system is not innovative at all, what will be the future of lakhs of students in large number of our academic colleges?
The central government in its 12th 5-year plan (2012-2017) had made ambitious plans to ensure quality higher education in every nook and corner of the country but so for it remains a distant pipe dream.
The lack of quality education is becoming an existential threat to our social cohesion, environment and employment as it exacerbates many other problems that become a source of trouble for others. If we want to see a better life we really have to come out from obscurity.
The time has now come to shift the focus on quality education and emphasize more on real learning rather than encouraging fake learning. We need to change our education from this book-worm approach to more practical oriented method.
The outdated content/syllabus being taught in our Colleges and Universities is to be revised and upgraded. We need to devise a dynamic curriculum which focuses on practical knowledge and original innovation as per latest industry standards and in tune with the needs of our market.
We need to create our own workshops, laboratories within the college campus and not outsource the programs/trainings, that is what a University or a College stands for.
There is a large pool of talented boys and girls in our institutions and they must be provided avenues to showcase their talent and to make it grow further.
The Cluster University Srinagar during the last few months created a lot of skill enhanced courses and the Vice Chancellor himself seems to be quite adamant to see that these courses are implemented earnestly.
But huge influx of funds is needed for creating the infrastructure, laboratories and other facilities. A lot of hard work with a change of mindset is really needed, to make a difference.