Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Polytechnic Saga - Part 3: Challenges of discipline & ethics amongst Polytechnic students

One of the shocking realisations that I had during my trips to Polytechnics was the overwhelming presence of discipline and ethical issues amongst Polytechnic students. Most polytechnics were grappling with a high level of student indiscipline and unruly behaviour. More than the academic and operational challenges, the student discipline issues pose the biggest challenge to the faculty, management and the institutions.

Sample some of the issues that I noticed during my visits. One of the colleges in Tamil Nadu had this notice on their notice board:

"This student has been dismissed from the institution since he was found in a fully drunken state in the classroom on ..........".

On further speaking to the Principals, this seems to be a major issue across many Polytechnics. The Principals and faculty attribute this to the family background. Most of these students take up drinking seeing their father. In most cases these students come from families where the father happens to be a habitual drinker.

The second major issue noted amongst Polytechnic students is the unruly nature of many students. Sometimes such unruly behaviour also results in violence. Cases of one student beating up the other seem to be common amongst several Polytechnics in the country. In some colleges, I came across teams of Police personnel investigating a violent incidence involving either individual or groups of students. Such behaviour is most often attributed to broken families of the students. In many cases the father might be a violent person, thanks to his drinking habits and the student learns from his behaviour.

Whatever be the issue, the challenge of discipline and violent behaviour can not be addressed without the active involvement of the parents of such students. However Polytechnics do not seem to address this issue other than just by admonition or punishment. In one of the colleges that I visited, one of the students who had hit another student was being admonished by a group of 5 people without even listening to the student's feelings. This admonition session went on for nearly 3 hours. If colleges believe that they can change students for the better with such measures, they are badly mistaken.

Surprisingly, none of the Polytechnics that I visited had a Psychological Counsellor! Knowing well that these students come from challenging family backgrounds, the colleges must be focusing on offering counselling services to these students. All the student needs is somebody who will listen to them patiently, support them through their difficult times and provide them the much needed direction.

It is not sufficient that these colleges provide only technical education. They must also rise to these challenges and ensure that their students pass out as technicians with a strong value system. Ultimately, a value driven work force can make a world of difference to not just the individuals but to the nation and its development too!

Monday, April 2, 2012

The untapped resource pool for software companies: The Polytechnic Education Saga!

Part 2: The class differentiators within Polytechnics / The untapped resource pool for software companies

It is a common knowledge that there are huge class differentiators across the Indian education system. The class differentiators that I am referring to are the ones that are created by the student's examination scores. For example, it is a common belief in Tamil Nadu that a student has to secure a high percentage score in his 10th standard to join the Science stream in 11th standard. In engineering colleges, computer science stream has the highest cut-off and is the most sought-after. Hence only the top-scorers in 12th standard or the entrance examination gets to join computer science engineering. Similarly, the Polytechnics too have their own class divide.

While computer science is the much sought after branch in engineering colleges, it is also the least in demand across polytechnic colleges. Althought it is heart-warming to see that the mechanical and automobile branches are the most sought-after in polytechnic colleges, it is also disappointing to see the low interest and enrolment levels in the computer science branch. Most polytechnics across the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have seen declining interest in enrolling in the computer science branch - this despite a comparatively low fees vis-a-vis mechanical or automobile branches and a vibrant IT industry existing in both Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. However, a little more probing reveals much more and throws up a few interesting questions.

Traditionally, old economy sectors such as manufacturing, automobile and electrical have been ably supported by the talent pool that emerges out of polytechnic colleges. The demand for such talent continues to exist and polytechnics manage to groom their students ably to meet this demand. With immense placement opportunities across these sectors, it is no surprise that polytechnic students make a bee-line for a Diploma in these branches.

However, the new age sectors such as electronics, IT and computer science have been depending heavily on the engineering colleges for their talent requirements. While the electronics and the IT hardware sectors have started exploring the polytechnic talent pool, the software sector continues to be hesitant in recruiting polytechnic diploma holders. Since placement opportunities for polytechnic diploma holders in the software industry are very limited, students do not find it lucrative to pursue a Diploma in Computer Science. In the absence of placement opportunities, the only other option for such students is to pursue an engineering degree in computer science. However, the prohibitive costs of an engineering education (especially in the most sought after branch of computer science) forces polytechnic computer science diploma holders to drop out of the education system itself. These students end up doing data entry and DTP work in smaller towns and cities without much scope for a software career they dreamt of.

On the other hand, the reasons for software companies to be hesitant in recruiting polytechnic diploma holders are many. One of the prominent reasons is the limited exposure that a computer science polytechnic student has. For all practical purposes, what a polytechnic student covers is equivalent to just the first year of engineering. Although they may have a higher level of practical exposure in polytechnics, the limited breadth of exposure acts as a major deterrent. Secondly, polytechnic students' communication skills (particularly spoken and written English) or lack of it also acts as a major deterrent. Thirdly, the maturity level of polytechnic diploma students are perceived to be much lesser than engineering graduates and hence unsuitable in this knowledge based industry.

In response, many polytechnics have already started addressing these issues through continuous training programmes on both technical and soft skills areas.  The polytechnic diploma holders may lack the breadth of knowledge but are traditionally considered to possess a better hands-on knowledge of the domain. I am sure the IT industry can learn to utilise this hands-on knowledge for their benefit. With the IT industry constantly lamenting about the poor quality of engineering graduates, it might be the right time for software companies to seriously consider recruiting from the diploma talent pool.While being young can mean a higher level of immaturity,  it can also indicate a higher level of mould-ability, unlike engineering graduates who come with a heavy 'baggage' and are reluctant to 'unlearn' and 'learn'.

Employability of Engineering Graduates is still a huge issue bothering the Indian IT sector.
It is time that the software industry starts expanding its talent sources to include this young and untouched resource pool. A handful of companies have already started tapping it but the roles they offer are largely tech-support or customer service. It is only fair on the industry to start inducting the diploma holders into full-fledged coding and programming roles.A hands-on training programme as part of the induction process will ensure that these diploma holders are as good as the engineering graduates. Apart from looking at this resource pool from a business productivity perspective, companies must see the social perspective of such a move. Considering the poor economic background of many of the polytechnic diploma holders, such a move by software companies can have a strong positive impact on not just the life of the student but also the entire societal system surrounding him/her.

Will software companies start seeing sense in tapping this resource pool? Will there be a positive change in the lives of many polytechnic diploma holders who pursue their education with nothing but just a dream in their mind? 

Only time will tell!

Coming up next: Part 3: The difficult life of a diploma student

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Polytechnic Education Saga!

Over the last few days I have been travelling extensively to a lot of Polytechnic colleges across the country. I have been trying to introduce a radically different career opportunity for the Diploma Holders who wish to join the Indian IT industry. These visits are an eye-opener for me as many of my long-held beliefs about the state of Polytechnic education have been changed. This series of notes that I am posting here are entirely based on my true experiences. I have tried to raise a few questions and I do hope we see answers to these in years to come.

Part 1: The motivators

I have visited nearly 35 polytechnics in Tamil Nadu last week, a few of them are Government run and many of them private / self-financing. I had the opportunity to interact with several categories of people including the Principals, Head of the Departments, Placement Officers and students themselves. While it is heartening to see so many polytechnic colleges across the state, the reality that exists within takes different hues.

One of the fundamental questions for which I was looking for an answer was - "Why do students join Polytechnic colleges?". As an outsider, I have always thought that Polytechnics provide a lot of hands-on training to students thereby preparing them for a strong technical career in the engineering sector. They also take a student to the employment market much faster then any other course. I also believed that students who do their Polytechnic Diploma perform better when they join the undergraduate degree in engineering due to their increased exposure to practical training. Hence, my curiosity was to understand if these are the true motivators for students while they are enrolling in Polytechnic colleges.

Unfortunately, the motivation behind enrolling in Polytechnic colleges are nowhere near my beliefs. Broadly, there are two categories of students - the haves and the have-nots. The 'haves' come from middle or higher income families while the 'have-nots' come from lower middle, lower income or sometimes even from BPL families. The motivators for each of these categories are different.

For the 'haves', Polytechnics serve as an easier and cost-effective route to Engineering colleges while also addressing the issue of low scores in their 10th standard.
A Polytechnic is an easier way to join an Engineering College: A lot of students who do not want to be in the rat race for an engineering college seat after their 12th standard, opt for the Polytechnic route. The pressures are lesser since the competition is also much lesser. The possibility of lateral entry into 2nd year engineering is much higher since most private colleges admit based on the amount of donation one can give. The donations to be given to engineering colleges is much lower at the lateral entry level when compared to first year engineering seat admissions. Plus they save a year's engineering college fees which is sometimes 10 times as much as a Polytechnic College's fees. 
Lower score in 10th standard: Students who score less than 50% in their 10th standard do not usually get science stream in their 11th & 12th. Without science in 11th & 12th, they cannot apply for an engineering seat. Polytechnics are the next best option since admission to most private Polytechnics is not based on merit but largely based on the ability to pay a higher fees and donation.
For the 'have-nots', the need for quicker employability and inability to afford higher education are the key reasons to join a Polytechnic.
The need to start earning: A lot of students in this category come from needy families and there is tremendous pressure on them to start earning. Hence, they cannot afford to wait for 5 to 6 years (to complete a graduation) to become employable. Polytechnics make them employable in 3 years and hence are best suited for this category of students.
Low affordability of higher education (BE / B.Tech): An Engineering education is an expensive proposition. For those who cannot afford an Engineering education, Polytechnic is the next best option to prepare them for an employment.
While the original objectives of setting up Polytechnics would have been to prepare a skilled workforce for Indian industries, sadly only a handful of students join Polytechnic with an objective of learning those skills.

The reality: 
Unfortunately, Polytechnics in India are chosen by students out of compulsion, not out of passion; and this reflects on the poor quality of output from Polytechnic colleges. Until a Polytechnic course becomes a study of choice, it is left to the industry to train them and employ them.

Coming up next: Part 2 - The class differentiators within Polytechnics

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Essentials for career success in a digital age

The last decade has been a decade of unprecedented change; change that was never imagined; change that made us realise our limits of imagination. This move towards a digital era has some important lessons for each student, job seeker and working professional. Read more at: Skill Train India