We have reached a juncture where we are forced to take stock of the quality of engineering training in Kerala. As the state’s maiden engineering college, the College of Engineering, Trivandrum (CET), celebrates its 80th anniversary, the APJ Abdul Kalam Technological University’s first batch passed out with a disappointing strike rate of 36 percent. The miserable performance comes from a university that was established to coordinate the engineering education in the state.
The CET was set up a decade before Jawaharlal Nehru unveiled the first Indian institute of Technology (IIT) at Kharagpur. The CET has contributed pioneering engineers, researchers and social workers in its glorious eight decades. The state today boasts of about 175 engineering colleges in the public and private sectors but the statistics are not very encouraging. These institutions have clipped the wings of a generation’s ambitions.
As many as 25,470 seats in these engineering colleges are lying vacant as of 2018. Of these, 22,000 seats are in private colleges. In other words, there are no takers for half the seats.
A look at the fifth-semester results reveals that less than a quarter of students have passed the exams in 23 colleges.
Nobody can wash their hands of the sad state of affairs in the engineering colleges. The governments which gave the go-ahead to the institutions, the profit-hungry managements or even the students did not give any serious thought about the quality of education. Several colleges started operations with nominal lab facilities without providing key infrastructure. The managements saved money on staff salaries by appointing freshly passed-out students as guest lecturers.
All these have led to a situation in which jobless engineering graduates flock to Public Service Commission test coaching centres to find a way to repay their education loans. Only a small fraction of engineers are assured of campus placements. Most of the engineers who end up with small firms take home a paycheck that is comparable to workers in the unorganised sector, studies have shown. The university is groping in the dark without any creative interventions.
We have to make our engineering training more creative if we were to save our future generations at least. The world is talking about artificial intelligence, big data and electric vehicles. If we were to be a part of this technological revolution, we have to seek drastic remedies to heal our education sector. We have to chuck out outdated machinery and curriculum.
We have to bring the students out of class rooms and nudge them to partner in industrial sectors and social projects. Our children should get hands-on training in dealing with the basic problems of the common man, be it waste management or e-governance. The curriculum has to reflect the changing patterns. Kerala has to emulate the Chinese way of encouraging research after engineering education. We have to rein in engineering colleges which have sprouted from old movie halls and factories.
A lack of urgent intervention will only mean that we will continue to allow the most creative years of our youth to go waste. I hope that change can happen in this academic year itself.
Let us avoid the embarrassing situation when a fresh electrical engineer’s parents wonder aloud why their qualified child does not know half as much as that of the humble electrician wiring their home. Most often, the engineer would cover up his lack of expertise with a simple shrug and a lame excuse that it was not his job. It is not easy to admit that four years of training was for nothing.
(K S Sabarinathan MLA is an alumnus of the CET’s 2005 batch.)