Mast Kalandar

bandar's colander of random jamun aur aam

Sun, 19 Jan 2003

What are IITs good for

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To be proud of no doubt. But you know I am a cribbo ... Some remarks.

"IIT may be the most important university you've never heard of."

At this and other point in the article, the author clearly confuses all the IIT's as being one place. They aren't. For example IIT Guwahati which was founded recently clearly has problems getting students and/or faculty. And of course IIT Kanpur is the best! ;-)

The IITs don't offer well-rounded education, Stahl reports, "But in science and technology, IIT undergraduates leave their American counterparts in the dust."

This was patently false about IIT (esp. K) graduates due to the number of humanities and general science courses (but see below). Of course, if what they mean by well-rounded is having a baseball/basketball/(american)football team got by buying players with scholarships, then IIT's don't have that. Reading between the lines---they are trying to say that these IITans are good enough to be our scientists and technologists but not the leaders of our companies or communities.

captures the ambience of the relatively modest school.

Relatively modest!? Relative to whom? We are not talking about gems being picked out of the mud here. The IIT's are among the best equipped for undergraduate study in the world, not just in India. As research labs many of the IIT labs are relatively modest perhaps.

Unfortunately, under guidance from current leadership in commerce, industry and government, the biggest strength of the IIT system---a broad science and "liberal arts" base for engineering training---is being undermined in various ways. It started with the introduction of the 4-year programme. Since then they have more than doubled the intake of students making the teacher-student ratio absurd. They have also replaced many humanities courses by "management" courses. They would also like to replace the science courses with more "useful" ones (one former director suggested that Newtonian physics as in Phy 101 is outdated and should be replaced with Laser physics). As a consequence, the course has become more and more a certification programme rather than an educational one. Perhaps this suits everyone:

  1. The students are happy as they get their "chaapa" more quickly and land jobs/schols (the former are now more in demand than the latter!).

  2. The government is happy since they have "democratised" the IIT by taking in more students.

  3. The MNC's are happy to get smart technicians.

But we should be unhappy that such a bright collection of youngsters is being denied a proper education and being robbed of the chance that some among them will be leaders of not just science and technology but much more. Those IITans who have reached such positions today should do their best to ensure that students get what they deserve---an education. (Which may not be what they ask for---a certificate).

Those who can, do; those who can't, simulate.


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