Jobs: Arming Knowledge: The Employability Battle India Must Prepare For
By focusing on the issue of higher education, apart from a small set of institutions, the educational process has failed to create employable resources. Over the past five years or so, studies by established organizations have shown that a large number of Indian graduates are unemployable. According to one report, this applied to nearly 80% of graduating engineers.
The reasons for the low employability of Indian graduates have little to do with a lack of depth in their chosen subject. Indian education has always struggled to bridge the gap between academic learning and the application of that learning. As a result, many companies devote a large portion of their training programs to training their graduating recruits in areas for which their training should have prepared them.
Global research and employment trends have shown that employability today has as much to do with communication, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking as it does with technical and functional knowledge of the field. Most Indian universities do not prepare students for this reality.
The pandemic has been a wake-up call for the world in more ways than one. Suddenly, virologists and bioscientists worked with statisticians, mathematicians, computer scientists and community health specialists to build models to predict the course of an endemic disease. The current uncertain state of the global economy is another example of an issue requiring interdisciplinary thinking combining several traditional topics.
And therein lies the global reality of the 21st century – studying math or economics or coding or history in itself has limited merit today, and no student can afford to approach the world with blinkers on, having focused and excelled in one area but oblivious to everything else.
As stated in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, “assessment of educational approaches in undergraduate education that integrate the humanities and the arts with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has consistently shown positive learning outcomes including increased creativity and innovation, critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication skills, learning more depth and mastery of study programs in all areas, increased social and moral awareness, etc.
Importantly, this approach to education ensures that students not only learn in the classroom, but also from each other. This transforms the environment into a continuous learning environment. This is the main goal of the NEP – to develop the ability to think beyond the boundaries of your discipline and explore its interdependence with other disciplines, while acquiring higher order cognitive and critical thinking skills.
At IIT Kanpur and Yale University, we both personally witnessed the power of interdisciplinarity as undergraduate students over 30 years ago. Even though one of us (Pramath) majored in metallurgical engineering, just one course in computer programming taught as part of the core foundation courses instilled a lifelong romance with the digital world leading to a PhD in robotics , a field that bears little resemblance to my area of specialization, and ultimately led to the creation of an edtech company decades later.
Indeed, years after graduating, IITians rave about the humanities and social sciences (HSS) electives they could choose during their BTech degree course.
For the other of us (Ashish), a liberal Ivy League upbringing meant an enduring love for books and reading beyond the double major in economics and math, and an ultimate move into philanthropy. and social impact at a relatively early stage in life, even at the expense of a flourishing investment career. Indeed, we are both keenly aware that we have been privileged to experience interdisciplinarity, the balance between breadth and depth, and the flexibility of choosing electives, that it is an engineering or liberal arts major, thanks to some of the best institutions in India and abroad.
NEP 2020 now aims to democratize this privilege and make it accessible to all students who aspire to it. The Four-Year Undergraduate Program (FYUP) is a good example of a potentially game-changing initiative for students. The program offers a structure in which students are exposed to different disciplines for three semesters before delving into their chosen discipline, and recommends that the fourth year be used for research.
The NEP further allows students to enter and exit FYUP in different years, as well as freely transfer credits, giving students greater flexibility and allowing them to manage their own educational journey. Implementing FYUP is challenging for our institutions, but transformational for our students. A sufficient number of Indian tertiary institutions are already following the model and producing students who are widely accepted in both academia and industry.
As pioneers of interdisciplinary education in India, we have seen its many benefits accrue to our students. We hope other institutions will also benefit.