Indian higher education is in pigeonholes; it needs to move away from traditional STEM format
Chandrika Tandon is a multifaceted Indian-origin success story in the US. A former partner at McKinsey & Company, she chairs Tandon Capital Associates. Tandon, whose musical skills led to a Grammy nomination, is also involved in higher education in the US. She talks to Rajesh Chandramouli about the changes India’s higher education needs:

How would you assess the Indian students coming to the US universities?

I see a lot of Indian students come into the top universities in the US. I am the vice chairman of the board in multiple schools where Indian students come in and do a Masters programme. I look at the assessment in two/three levels. When the students come in, they come in incredibly bright. They are off the charts in terms of broad intelligence. They are very confident. We must give them worldly polish, better communication skills, better soft skills, areas which the schools here (in India) don’t do a very good job. We define academic success in a fairly narrow way. We should add several courses on life skills and soft skills.
We still are focusing on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) skills for engineering streams which is a 20-30 year old way of looking at education. Today, you must learn new things including bio engineering, signal processing, health etc. You can’t stop at mechanical engineering, but must know mechatronics. Whole new fields are emerging, yet institutions are still living in pigeonholes and pockets.

How is the landscape changing?
The most exciting work that is getting done is at the confluence or intersection of two fields. Twenty years ago cross-disciplinary was a bad word. Now, the most exciting and groundbreaking work is being done at the intersection. It’s not just academic research. Inventions and innovations are happening in this space now.

STEM, the way we know it as taught in IITs, ain’t happening anymore. There is a big mismatch between what companies want now and what we are producing. The silos don’t let you see what is happening.

Should we marry arts to STEM and make it STEAM?

The elements of critical thinking that arts education brings in to the way we study, STEM doesn’t do. What is the goal of STEM? The highest mission of STEM is to really help solve the problems of the world. To harness technology to solve global problems.

Today we have students who have no clue about the problems of the world. They just know how to use their protractors without knowing the problems of the world. They don’t have a historical context for the problems of the world. If you ask any first year or second year student: What are the great problems of the world? They will say let me think about it. We must provide a social context. History has solved some problems in a great way. That’s why you need liberal arts curriculum to be brought in. While we teach our children the very very tough parts of STEM, we have to give them a vision, a bigger vision. Arts lets you do that.

What do you see missing among authorities in higher education?

There was a meeting in London a few days back where representatives from Peking University and the Royal Academy of London participated along with us (US representatives). I asked where is India? We are just not there. China is a major player in the science and technology thought process. We need to be present in these international fora.

India’s researchers in many of these areas are brilliant, but aren’t good at research accreditation. We in India need a super strong body of research accreditation at the highest international standards, which can then both be branded and publicised. It is an imperative and India does not have one now. With our research papers, our patents, our licensing, our branded knowledge base, we should be every place at the top of these discussions. Sadly we aren’t players in that. Peer reviewed research in top journals is a very specific process and happens in a particular way. Indians still work on individual level collaborations, when we should be owning this space. We have bodies in India which are not in the same league as China. I feel it’s an incredible opportunity to put everything under one body and give it the powers to collaborate. The first ten steps are hard and long, but the next ten takes just minutes. The second part is a lot of industries are transforming. For example the music and movie industries. The pace of change here makes most industries archaic.

Source : https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/the-interviews-blog/indian-higher-education-is-in-pigeonholes-it-needs-to-move-away-from-traditional-stem-format/

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