What are some of the challenges plaguing India's education system? At the Education Innovation Conference, experts outlined how the same can be overcome.
By HT Brand Studio | Published: Mar 29, 2019
According to a recent NASSCOM report, 40% of India's workforce will have to undergo reskilling in the next five years to stay relevant to the industry needs. The World Economic Forum has projected that an Artificially Intelligent machine will sit in the board of all major companies by 2025.
Does that mean that automation will take away jobs? Experts say no. The nature of jobs will change and automation will give an added edge to businesses. But people with the right skill sets will still be required.
"About 30-40% of fast-growing occupations will need complex cognitive skills. People management skills will be outweighed by this. The challenge now is how to build skills and competencies for our students to make them relevant in this changed environment," said Alok B Lall, Partner Technology Lead, Partner Ecosystem, Microsoft India, while speaking at the Education Innovation Conference in New Delhi on March 29. The event was co-organized by Hindustan Times and Microsoft.
He added that technology is the future-all companies are slowly turning digital and moving towards intelligent technology. Therefore, to be successful, students need to think about technology. "The influence of technology is becoming paramount, and all industries are moving towards it. New areas like virtual reality, augmented reality, and artificial intelligence are coming in. But how to bring that into studies needs to be seen," he said.
The experts highlighted that the curricula in higher education institutes are often outdated.
Lack of technological knowhow
Fresh graduates, however, lack cognitive and communication skills, Lall said.
"Their technological knowhow is also not up to the mark. We need to ramp them up before they fire all cylinders and are ready to deliver," he emphasized.
The educators at the summit also felt that the focus on soft skills was not always necessary.
"You need to choose the package. While making a shoe, if you choose good leather and don't polish the shoe, it still performs well. But if you make the show with foam and polish it well and make it shine, it will break apart fast. Education has to give that strong base while soft skills are the polish on top," said Subrat Kar, Associate Dean, IIT-Delhi.
Keeping pace with the rapid developments at the industry level, educational institutions are making their curriculums hybrid. "Industry 4.0 is here. Institutes like ours are treating this as Education 4.0, because only then can Industry 4.0 come about," said Dr. Lovi Raj Gupta, Executive Dean, Faculty of Technology and Sciences, Lovely Professional University.
Dr. JD Agarwal, Chairman, Board of Governors and Distinguished Professor of Finance, Indian Institute of Finance, Greater Noida, held a different view.
"In my 50 years of teaching, I have realized that students who spent more time outside the classroom excel in life. And, out of all the outdoor spaces, the library is the most important one. Children need to be given the time to think and go over what they learn in the classroom."
Skilling of teachers is also important
Another important aspect is to make sure that teachers are up to date with the latest trends and that the education imparted to students is relevant. And, this is where the educationists felt that the industry had a role to play.
"In India, we do BA (Engineering) and not B Tech (Engineering). This transition can only be made with the involvement of the industry. The industry can bring value to the classroom by working with the academicia and showing the way in terms of technologies," Gupta said.
The difference in aptitude and interest levels of students is also an obstacle. "Barely 20% of students are really interested in learning. Can't technology be used to bring about some level of interest?" questioned Dr. Avadhesh Kumar Gupta, Professor and Dean, IMS Ghaziabad.
The educationists further highlighted that outdated curricula pose a challenge.
"The process of curriculum revision takes at least five to six years. Seeing the pace at which industry is changing, all curricula will become outdated," said Dr. Sunil Kumar Pandey, Director (IT), Institute of Technology and Science, Mohan Nagar, Ghaziabad.
A report shows that nearly 60% of the AI patents filed globally are from China and the United States of America, whereas India's contribution is less than 1%. Realising that we are being left far behind in this race, the government is trying to intervene.
For instance, it has recently decided to introduce AI and cloud computing in school curriculums. The government has also proposed a national AI center.
Helping higher education institutes shine
Companies such as Microsoft are also doing their bit in making new-age technologies a part of mainstream education.
Under the 'Intelligent Cloud Hub' program, the tech giant will set up AI infrastructure and IOT hubs on selected higher education campuses across India. It will also offer AI development tools and Azure AI services such as Microsoft Cognitive Sciences and Bot Services.
Both faculty and students will attend workshops where they will be trained in cloud computing, data sciences, AI, and IoT. They will also have access to the latest content and curriculum in these fields.
Further, institutes will be offered AI-based recommendations for potential areas of research.
"We are significantly invested in both curriculum and content. We are helping institutes build labs so that students can get hands-on experience with technologies. We are also providing students with access to cloud after they have exhausted their assigned lab hours. Additionally, Microsoft faculty development programs are being implemented at institutions so that teachers are also trained in the latest industry needs,"" said Bhaskar Joshi, Enterprise Channel Manager, Microsoft India.
As Omjivan Gupta, Director Education Sales, Microsoft India, said at the event: "If the right tools are given to students, they will excel regardless of whether they are from Tier 1 or Tier 2 institutes."