Higher education has become a waste of money

By - 5 March 2020

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5 March 2020

The gap between jobs, needs and knowledge, and the absence of role models, could be turning India’s demographic dividend into a nightmare.

Should there be a National Curriculum? And if yes, what should be its guiding principles? Given our heroic times, we may perhaps demand that it should be “in the spirit of the Constitution, respect the idea of India and serve its people without discrimination”.

It turns out that we already have a national curriculum. It is a fixed set of topics prescribed in all subjects — from physics to geography, and engineering to planning. And it is taught in English at our elite MHRD institutions. It has not been designed by politicians but by our elite professors and bureaucrats: It is what they believe the nation really needs to know. It is imposed on ordinary students and parents through competitive exams and on colleges and universities through various central regulatory agencies, most egregiously, through the UGC-NET, an objective-type multiple-choice (!) exam that decides who is fit to be a college teacher. Much of this does not apply to elite MHRD institutions. For the rest of us, what is taught and who can teach it, has already been decided. What remains for us is to see how it serves our people.

We already know that the national engineering curriculum fails miserably in meeting regional needs. Engineering for Himachal Pradesh needs to be different from that in Maharashtra or Kerala. And it must address the needs of core industries, local enterprises, the provisioning of basic amenities such as water and energy. None of this is in our national curricula or practised at the IITs. Moreover, there is no mechanism for engineering colleges to work with their communities.

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