India’s controversy-courting environment minister Jairam Ramesh rubbed many the wrong way when he trashed the faculty of the country’s leading technology schools — the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — for being sub-standard. His remark of last week has since been amended several times over, as is wont in a political circus, but the issue has led to some serious thinking on where the IITs are going — both quality wise and quantity wise.
A recent feature in Nature addressed similar issues facing science and technology education in India. According to statistics it quotes, India has around 90 million college-going youngsters. This number is expected to rise to an estimated 150 million by 2025. The country has 500 universities and 26,000 colleges, which can take in around two per cent of its eligible youth. The population is growing by 1.34% a year, more than twice the rate of growth in China — stark statistics.
Most of India’s science and technology graduates look for high-paying jobs in industry. Those who seek a PhD form a minority — about one per cent.
These are just a few grim realities of science education in India that the feature addresses.
It was followed by a correspondence from a couple of Indian researchers at Boston University, USA, who pointed out the state of education inequality among socially disadvantaged groups. They analysed data from the country’s top medical school, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and found that performance was poor among students admitted under a government scheme for socially disadvantaged groups.
I find it interesting that British science writer Angela Saini’s book Geek Nation, which attempts some serious analysis of the IIT system and India’s scientific temper, preceded this debate.
The problem of science education in India has been written widely, analysed vastly and solutions recommended generously. The implementation, sadly, is not as promising or visible.