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'STEM, as we know, is not happening any more'

"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 higher education institutions in India are still living in pigeonholes and pockets," says Chandrika Tandon in an interview to Times of India.

Tandon should know. A former partner at McKinsey & Company, she is also involved in higher education in the United States. In the interview with Times of India, Chandrika Tandon stressed the importance of total overhaul in the Indian education sector.

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HER ASSESSMENT OF INDIAN STUDENTS IN US

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. STEM, the way we know it as taught in IITs, is not 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.

ON TWEAKING STEM

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 a 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.

HIGHER EDUCATION IN INDIA

There was a meeting in London a few days ago 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.

ON INDIAN RESEARCHERS

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 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 that 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 power 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.

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