The Indian subcontinent has never had a dearth of resources – be it of the natural kind or the kind that speaks and smiles. Yes, human resources! Around 14 lakh students graduate every year from our universities. Of this, approximately 1.5 lakh students graduate with a degree in an engineering domain. That’s a veritable crowd of engineers, right? That’s why we can relate to the concept and laugh when a stand-up comedian says, “I am from Chennai, so I am an engineer. An engineer who has never worked as one.” Sometimes, it feels like every second person you meet in one of our metro cities is an engineer. This should be enough for us to take the world by storm, right? However the sad fact is that only 20% of these engineering graduates get employed in their core domain. The lack of up-to-date skills is the elephant in the room. It’s been an endless game of catch up between our school and university curriculums and the skill requirements of the workplace. And our curriculums have always been a step behind in the game.
The Indian Govt has been trying to do its best to narrow this margin with its Outcome Based Education (OBE) policy. However, the question is will this be enough? Will OBE just become another elephant in the room? This is a question that only time, and the youth in India can answer.
The biggest problem our youth face is the accessibility to learning resources. Digitization has made the pace of change so fast that something that was new last year is outdated today. How do our schools and universities then keep up with this ever-changing goal post? The answer lies in the problem itself. We need to embrace the very phenomenon that has put us in trouble. We need to harness the freedom and accessibility that digitization allows.
Online learning has been around for some time now. The pandemic gave it a shot in the arm. The social distancing norms we had to live with the past year has broken down any reservations we might have had about online learning and collaboration. So we need to take this as a blessing in disguise and use this to our advantage. Students should not be limited to the curriculum that has been drawn up anymore. They should be encouraged to find mentors online and communicate with them. University curriculums should actually encourage students to access knowledge from other online sources. They should be graded on the basis of the amount of extracurricular information they garner. Hopefully this broader view of accessing knowledge is something that they will continue with in their future too. Continuous learning after all is the only way forward now.
Naysayers might say that this is a pipe dream. Not something that can be implemented in a country that struggles to provide basic infrastructure to its schools and colleges. But nothing is impossible. Take a look around. If you are on a bus or train, you’ll see that at least half of the passengers are engrossed in their smartphones. This is no surprise considering that the number of smartphone users in India is estimated to reach 760 million in 2021. That is 1 out 10 people in India! If we encourage our youth to use their smartphones to connect with the tons of free learning resources that are easily accessible, half the battle would be won. Did you know that there are free lectures and courses available from Ivy league institutes like MIT? There are also tons of videos and podcasts that are freely available on any subject under the sun. These are a godsend for those who don’t have the time or patience to go through a course or lecture. It’s just a matter of making this a universally acceptable way of acquiring knowledge. If given the right encouragement, the youth in this country already have the means to find and acquire the skills to make them employable. That 20% of employable engineers could easily become 100%. It’s just a case of shifting our mindset and finding a way to meet our future head-on!
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