Recently I met a 3rd year student of a private engineering college in Greater Noida. To avoid problems for me and the college, let’s call the College Best Standard Institute of Technology (BS-IT). Here is the profile of the student I met (let’s call him Sam), so that you can decide for yourself if this is a representative sample of students going to normal private engineering colleges in the hope of good education and degree:
Class XII – No name school in a no name place with average marks because he was preparing for IIT-JEE in Kota for 2 years
Class X – Top notch school in an industrial township, average marks
Decent performance in school level Maths and Science Olympiads (the ones that start from Grade 2-3), very good at logical and memory-related skills
Middle-class family, father a PSU employee
Of course, family had enough money to pay ‘what it takes’ to get into BS-IT, but then families do sacrifice a lot for a marquee degree like ‘engineering’.
Sam flunked 30% courses in 1st year, did well in programming and data structures, scored very well in English/communication course, and flunked 100% of courses in his 4th semester (courses like microprocessors, theory of automata and formal languages, Database Management System, etc.)! He needs to clear at least 40% of those courses by giving exams in next 3 weeks if he is to be allowed to join 3rd year. I met him because his father wanted me to give him some advice!
When I talked to him, here are some more tidbits of information that emerged:
- His Data Structures teacher (in which he got good marks) was asked to teach Theory of Automata because there is no one available to teach and Sam didn’t understand a thing (having gone through this course in my college days, I can understand what a mess even an average teacher can produce in a course as vague and complicated as Theory of Automata).
- An outside company was teaching Java at the beginning of the year, which Sam liked a lot and was excited about. As soon as exam time came (after Holi), the company was asked to wrap up and students were asked to focus on exams. Students paid for that course (which was abandoned mid-way), it might start next year, or not.
- Teacher’s reasoning for unavailability of good teachers for courses – “..It doesn’t matter, because what you learn in college anyway is going to be useless when you take a job since they will train you on things you need to know. See, we learned COBOL and Fortran, but are teaching you different languages”!
- While Sam prepares and gives exam, 3rd year classes are going on, so even if he clears them and rejoins 3rd year, he would have missed many classes which brightens the chance of him flunking again, and the vicious cycle will continue
- There are courses like Microprocessors and Theory of Automata where 90% of the batch flunks.
I was too depressed and frustrated to give useful advice, but I did encourage him to consider the option of dropping a year (which is extremely hard and bold decision for a 19-yr old given social pressures), clear the papers, and most importantly, focus on subjects he likes (C/C++ and Java Programming, Data structures) and figure out way to continue becoming better at them. I am not sure what he will do, but I hope he doesn’t lose faith in education system and become one of those good-for-nothing engineering grad looking for a job in 2015.
To be clear, I am sure there are lots of things I could blame on Sam. I am sure he took his first year very easy and had lots of fun! I am also sure he didn’t pay much attention in the classes where he flunked and didn’t realize he would fail. Goal of this writing is not to exonerate him of all his sins, goal is to point out that he is also victim of a system, and that system needs to take more responsibility than it did in this case.
I was angry and depressed by the state of affairs at BS-IT. I don’t see any reason why a responsible technical university or AICTE should allow such a state to persist. And I can assure you (based on other conversations I had with people here) that this is not unique situation for BS-IT, a large number of colleges are exactly like this. Specifically, here are the problem areas I see:
- Lack of reliable data about college performance – I asked Sam and his dad about how they decided on this college, and it was all voodoo magic, with no data. Today, there is no reliable information available to judge the quality of education a college provides. This is squarely AICTE and other technical education board’s irresponsibility – they already have lots of data about colleges which they can publish, and they can ask for more data. For example, simple information like pass % of students in each batch in each course in each year should show some trends that students can do something about.
- Lack of counseling during admissions – Even though all admission process is now called counseling, there is very little counseling available. Students have no way of knowing how they will fare in the courses offered in 2nd and 3rd years for example, and whether they should go for CS, or IT, or CE, or various other computer-related courses on offer by a college. Someone who can’t master theoretical courses of CS should instead go for IT, but there is no one to guide them (and there is no information available anyway).
- Lack of responsibility of college towards student development – Undergraduate is the most important phase of life and study that someone goes through – it shapes you as a person and instills habits that make or break your long term career. When the college becomes focused on clearing exams, earning from tuition and misc. fees, treating placement and jobs as end goals, students suffer irreparably and most of the students don’t even realize what is happening. IT Services companies train students again because they know they are given worthless education, not because they desire to do so. Using this as an excuse to not teach well is a cardinal sin, but most colleges and their faculty do it blatantly.
- Lack of responsibility of college towards education: Lack of faculty and infrastructure (A CS lab and ready access to it) kills student’s aspirations, interests and learnability. Given the fact that students are on their own (no parental supervision on a daily basis for most students), college is supposed to be the guardian of their education; and when that fails, most students suffer big time. In spite of lack of faculty, most colleges don’t explore technology-supported ways of augmenting their education and their faculty shortage (there is so much high-quality and free content available out there). This just shows that they don’t feel responsible for the quality of education they are imparting to the students.
So, what can we do about it? Here are a few things we can do:
- Help dig out data about college performance – I have filed an RTI today to get some data about colleges from UP Technical University, you can do the same for your area. Good thing is many of the private colleges have affiliation from govt. technical universities, so RTI should be (theoretically at least!) able to get lots of exam-related data since exam is conducted by universities.
- Create a portal to share reliable data about colleges – Something like Glassdoor for colleges, current and past students (or their acquaintances) can share their real comments about the college which can help future students. If you are interested in building such a portal, do get in touch with me!
- Reach out to local college and counsel some students, or teach – All such connections will help students to get to know the real world more, and reduce their reliance on college to know everything about life after college.
- Encourage engineering aspirants to do more research before taking admissions
I think we need do something about this malaise of mediocre colleges all around us who sell engineering dreams to unsuspecting students and their parents. Do share your thoughts on what you can do and what help you need for it. Let’s be the change we want.
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