Think of Skills as Lego, Stakeholders like Scrabble

In the DataQuest T-School 2021 DataQuest Higher Education Conference, experts shared what their lenses are showing as they look towards the future of education and spell out the post-pandemic reality there

What is the Future of Indian Tech Education? What challenges and possibilities lie ahead when we consider the realm of re-skilling India?

“It all begins with the re-skilling of campuses and teachers,” nailed moderator Sunil Rajguru, Editor, Dataquest underlining the importance of the first mile of this journey.

Time for Putting all The Pieces Together

In the opinion of Prof. Rajesh Khanna, President, NIIT University, the question can also translate into the essence behind any skill. “Like a Lego piece, you can synthesize skills to shape what one needs. Breaking a skill into smaller components which can be assembled as knowledge, focusing on knowledge-oriented schooling, combining asynchronous skills, looking at associated security issues, would also have to be discussed when we look at re-skilling.”

Prof. Khanna explained how the fundamentals of a subject can be broken into small components; and, then, whenever required these components of various subjects can be packaged well for a specific need after decomposition.

Something that can emerge as a strong instrument as we make sense of the disruption the world has gone through recently.

We can also look at what the pandemic has changed for this landscape. “The new skill-sets that have emerged, all of a sudden, show that necessity is the mother of all invention. We have all learnt so much. We should acknowledge the realignment of all stakeholders – from researchers to university admin to students – all stakeholders matter. When we think of a digital campus, and how people realigned towards new needs, we can immediately appreciate the role of various stakeholders.” pointed out Dr. Madhu Chitkara, Pro Chancellor, Chitkara University.

The reason we were able to be so agile is because of knowledge and learning. As Dr. Mani Madhukar, Program Manager, Global University Programs, IBM Research reflected, “There was a natural resistance to online learning before. But the way the entire system pivoted towards digital learning, was remarkable. We saw so many initiatives, hackathons, learning challenges – and we reached so many curious students in the space of emerging technologies.”

Also, digital transformation got the biggest and much-needed push in the pandemic, cited Valan Siva Subramanian, Manager, Systems Engineering- Fortinet. “From taking exams from home to tech-enabled monitoring, we adapted to the scenario a lot and in a beautiful way. People also avoided a lot of commute and saved a lot of time. There was an exponential increase in security certifications in the online space and for cyber-security. The world has adapted well to the future. We can hope to go to the next stage in a big way.”

Time for a New Glue

Dr. Chitkara reminded about some cornerstones that came up strongly during the pandemic – like a lot of students learnt coding – in hard skills, and also got better at listening and empathy – in soft skills.

The panel also discussed issues like collaboration between industry and academia and redundancy of skills that digital transformation could have brought in. 

Prof. Khanna opined that the Indian education system responded beautifully to this crisis. “Ten years from now, we will look back at it all, at all the constraints, with a lot of pride. There was proactive action and empathy from all sides – policy-makers, teachers and other ecosystem players. One part of education system is practice-oriented which solves the problem. The next part is futuristic and is oriented towards research. In the pandemic, we have seen a lot of improvement in coding and these practice-oriented areas. It has never been better. Fortunately, with digital transformation, this practice part has leapt towards AI, ML and cloud-based technologies.”

Is there something to be wary of then? We need to be careful of this feedback loop of earning a good salary and getting a plum corporate job, cautioned Prof. Khanna. This loop can stop people from working on fundamentals and the building block-work. The online mode and the disruption that have happened in the pandemic can also add to the danger of taking people away from fundamental research.

“We need to make students attracted to fundamental areas and research as well. And we need to be ready for some other crisis-form too. This time we were lucky because the solution was digitalisation. What if the next time we need some other solution? So more than ever, we need to make fundamental areas strong and attractive for people. We need to go back to Mathematics more than ever.”

Dr. Chitkara echoed these concerns. “There is a strong need for collaboration between institutes and industry. This should not be limited to hiring people. It should be around centres of excellence. The industry should come forward to provide more contemporary knowledge to faculty. We also need strengths in patent publications and innovation-led research.”

The big hint that these experts gave is clear- we have survived one crisis, and splendidly, when it comes to education. But what we do next would be the ultimate Lego piece that is still missing. Can we build it as we go forth?

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