Enabling Progression in Technical Education with the National Education Policy, By Lt Col Kailash Bansal, AICTE


White light is made of seven basic colours. But there are more shades in between which give equal vibrancy to the light. It neither means the colours are all complete nor does it mean that there are no new colours to be found.

Presently, the entry to pursue higher education in Engineering & Technology is based on traditional subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics which actually imposes a barrier to achieve the intended objective of a multi-disciplinary outlook.

However, in the 21st century, the traditional boundaries between different branches of Engineering & Technology are being re-drawn with an emergence of new sub-domains such as Bio-Technology, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence etc. These sub-domains may as well also require inputs from allied subjects such as biology, statistics, programming language, vocational streams etc, and thus cannot be entirely dependent on strictly Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry (or anyone or two) alone.

From the academic year 2021, AICTE has now brought about changes in the Approval Process that facilitates entry through a wider array of choice of subjects for students to pursue courses in Engineering and Technology. These are Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Computer Science, Electronics, Information Technology, Biology, Informatics Practices, Biotechnology, Technical Vocational Subjects, Agriculture, Engineering Graphics, Business Studies, Entrepreneurship (any of the THREE).

The broad base of entry-level qualifications is akin to opening the front doors for accepting the students who were erstwhile progressing as lateral entries or getting the equivalence status through allied domains. The pragmatism in allowing the ‘zero’ to take the leap of faith is based on a reasoned approach of the inherent aptitude of the students taking the subject. It is anticipated that opening up the window of opportunity for the development of the domain by broadening the entry-level qualifications will provide a fillip to the interdisciplinary approach to academics in a holistic manner. It is sufficient to say, stagnancy in education is a sign of its devaluation as much as it facilitates the progression.

The National Education Policy 2020 provides a spark for this change with its abundant inclusivity proposals. This will to break the status quo should thus be welcomed rather than debunked through the trepidations and forebodings of unseen fear. Let us consider the science of medicine from a broader perspective. The basic titrations and tests that we all observe in pathology labs are devised on reagents. Interestingly, all elements of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and even Biology are intricately involved. To say the least, a treating physician may have academically pursued Biology & Chemistry with greater depths but having the other two subjects on the sidelines.

On the contrary, the cutting edge domain of modern diagnostics (such as Tomography) much depends on the marvels of image processing which draws its strength from Physics & Mathematics. This only goes on to prove that ‘infinity does not exist either. Rather the education is a continuum in between where the aptitude to excel and produce/achieve an outcome is the desired end state.

With National Education Policy focussing strongly on outcome-based education, we cannot allow the scholastic aptitude of our students to be restrained on account of hesitation & apprehensiveness. If such were the case, the theory of conservatism would have prohibited growth in the first place itself.

On the contrary, the motivation to rediscover the lost wisdom is another factor that has prompted the Ministry of Education to take initiatives of the Indian Knowledge System that aims to promote interdisciplinary research based on the rich heritage & traditional knowledge of our Country. Would it then mean that the re-discovery of scientific principles ensnared in our Veda & Puranas is regressive or will it be that our scientific pursuit will be emboldened by the addition of ancient wisdom?

If the disagreement arises on account of the former, then it is indeed a misconception that rejects our contribution of ‘zero’ to the world. But if the disagreement is on account of the latter, then it is ironic that the change is being feared- when indeed that’s what is being espoused for! 3 It may well be recalled that the traditional Indian system was based on skills with hands-on experiential learning.

And it has been a matter of great achievement that there have been many a Diploma student who has bitten the silver bullet to rise and excel. To have shunned them and disallowed their progression would have not only killed the meritocracy at its infancy but would have also dealt a severe blow to our National prospects.

A similar case exists at premier institutes such as IITs which functions on a high entry barrier with merit being at the soul of its brand. However, the system has a well-founded mechanism to develop merit for considerably disadvantaged students. As a matter of fact, some students who are weak in subjects of Mathematics/Physics/Chemistry but may have qualified the minimum threshold cut-off are coached in these relevant subjects via a one-year preparatory course. This in no way belittles their ability to shine with a greater rebound.

Of course, those who do not have the desired aptitude find the natural exit. It is therefore important to develop the latent capabilities of the student to pursue study in the domain of engineering & technology rather than firewall it with a ‘deny all – allow some’ policy. The changes enunciated by AICTE in the Approval Process Handbook aims to achieve greater inclusivity through the more pragmatic approach of aptitude & skills.

The natural ability of a student should find means to prosper for which AICTE has already introduced reforms; such as specifying model curriculum which advocates four Mathematics courses, two Physics courses & a course each in Chemistry and Biology. Another step in that direction is the adoption of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) for e-learning and its acceptance into the overall credit system to obtain a formal degree. To overcome the language barrier, AICTE has also taken the initiative of translating courses available on the SWAYAM platform into eight Indian Regional languages. The study of Environmental Sciences, Indian Constitution, Universal Human Value etc as part of the induction programme is another step to prepare the student to traverse the academic journey.

At this crucial juncture of the nation’s growth, the progression of technical education should not be merely seen as a choice of entry-level subject. From the academic year 2021 onwards, there are 14 ENTRY LEVEL options provided in the Approval Process Handbook (APH) that actually provides flexibility to many 4 bright students from small towns/ remote area who were perhaps disadvantaged on account of poorer curricula delivery (on subjects of Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology) in their class XI/ XII. Such student shall be necessarily required to take that the pre-requisite additional course(s) – either on MOOCs (e-learning) before joining the degree program or at least in the very first year of engineering before progressing further.

It merits clarification that there is neither dilution nor escape from doing enough Mathematics/Physics/Chemistry/Biology as contingent for the chosen domain of study by a student and these subjects shall continue to form the basis of academic progression before graduating.

AICTE has always laid emphasis on the attainment of outcomes rather than inputs and the policy changes as introduced enables the furtherance of the National Education Policy 2020 in the truest sense of access and equity.
The author, Lt Col Kailash Bansal, is an Indian Army officer and is Director (Media & Margdarhsan Cell) AICTE