On a sunny Sunday afternoon, Yorkshire Dales in northern England looked no less than a heaven. That country side provided me with a break from the hectic university academic schedule. My guide to the countryside was, a maverick called Richard Wilkes, a friend of mine and a co worker at my part time work place. A brilliant graduate of physics from Edinburgh University, he had opted to be contented with the clerical job. My zeal for traveling to a faraway place for a postgraduate degree program and having left a promising career with an international hotel chain in the Middle East puzzled him. If I would ever try to motivate him to pursue higher studies and to strive for a better job like me, he would just smile and say "You Indians have only one thing in mind-"career" and you people take it too seriously!,". The excellent social security system of European countries has led to a deeper sense of satisfaction among its citizens. He would frequently explain to me the significance of western education and its distinctiveness from the rest of the world. He told me that western education instills the "unlimited confidence" in people. He would advise me also to ensure to take this trait back with me after completing my studies.
Perhaps, his idea of "unlimited confidence" means the same stuff that our graduates lack in and due to which they do not get the decent jobs they deserve. The recent surveys in India have made it clear what such graduates lack in. It is the lack of these set of skills, that devours careers of most promising graduates, and forces them to apply for class four Government jobs. After all, why would thousands of unemployed graduates and postgraduates apply for such jobs? The corporate sector in India has very high standards of recruitment. The selection process involves several rounds screening to ensure only such graduates are selected that do not show signs of hesitation, or lack in confidence, grooming or technical knowledge. The recent survey published by Times of India (August 12, 2018) reported that the placement figures in most of AICTE approved courses less than 50% except Management courses 56% and Hotel Management 77%. At times, it surprising to see how even some of the best candidates are rejected for small reasons from the interview process (wrong colored dress, few grammatical mistakes during the interview) etc. There was an instance where I intervened on behalf of a brilliant student who was rejected because of a few grammatical mistakes. Subsequently, she received several appreciation letters from the same organization during the internship. The struggles of such candidates are commendable and worth mentioning- a girl from rural Punjab who wanted to get educated in spite of hostile attitude of her parents for her education and she somehow managed to enroll for a degree program. She studied hard, achieved good grades and improved her communication skills as much as possible, and barely managed to get an internship in a good organization. This is the story of thousands of candidates who are struggling to pave the way for their future but end up being brushed aside for small reasons.
The foundation of our education system and our curriculum precisely needs to be based on the actual requirements of the recruitment process. Be it positive attitude, communication skills, creative thinking, work ethic, teamwork, networking, decision making, problem-solving, critical thinking, and conflict resolution or a host of other skills- these skills do matter. However, do we have a system of evaluating our students in these areas? Most of such activities do find mention in personality development classes but students do not take such classes seriously unfortunately as such courses are not assigned any credit weightages and no examinations are conducted for such courses.
The education system abroad has beautifully woven these concepts as teaching pedagogies rather than soft skill concepts. In almost all subjects, projects based on teamwork, critical thinking and many other ideas are required for assessment. Several Indian students abroad find it challenging to adjust to such an innovative system of education. I remember an incident of frustration in a mechanical engineering topper from a leading Government University in India, who was supposed to write a creative assignment for his M.Tech program. The assignment involved developing a marketing strategy for an American car company in Moscow. His frustration and anguish ended when several other students helped him out to complete the assignment.
Our students possess all kind of abilities and competencies. However, the lack of exposure to innovative evaluation system frustrates them when they go abroad for higher studies. They find it challenging to accept that instead of traditional methods of learning, like the ones used in India, they have to shift altogether to different evaluation criteria involving working on different projects for which they are supposed to choose their team mates, follow deadlines, manage conflicts and execute the project as per schedule. The faculty members act as facilitators for the students for the projects. We have a system here in India whereby we start teaching basics of the course and subsequently move on to ideas that are more complex followed by the examinations a few times during a year. The regulatory authorities in India also emphasize good academic grades in evaluation criteria due to which educational institutions also ensure rigorous teaching and traditional examination regime. The pressure on students to perform in exams forces them to cram up the concepts without having a more in-depth understanding. Such students don't apply the academic concepts for some meaningful activity which result in shallow understanding.
However, Indian academic Institutions also have innovated over the years and have managed to find the perfect balance between tradition and modernity. The implementation of measures like CBCS( Choice based credit system) where in students have a choice to choose from the prescribed courses, which are referred as the core, elective or minor or soft skill courses and they can learn at their own pace,and the entire assessment is graded-based on a credit system. Introduction of MOOC( massive open online courses) initiated by the name of SWAYAM,Government of India aims to achieve the three cardinal principles of Education Policy viz., access, equity and quality. Such initiative makes the best teaching learning resources accessible to all, including the most disadvantaged.
Similarly, many other academic institutions are innovating by MOU's with top universities of the world and offer dual degree programs to students. Other initiatives like student exchange programs, faculty exchange programs also trigger better learning among students. However, at the same time, many efforts need to be put by Government too to publicize leading academic institutions of India abroad to attract foreign students in our academic Institutions as well so that our students learn among students from several countries and become aware of the global culture. Policy makers can think of better ways of imparting the unlimited confidence in our students!