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Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology as important and necessary as ever


This is a rejoinder to the article titled “Engineering Without Science & Mathematics: A Disaster for India‘ authored by Prof. P B Sharma published on 01 May 2021 and is being published verbatim at the request of Lt Col Kailash Bansal, Director (Media & Margdarshak), All India Council For Technical Education, New Delhi, who has provided the contents on 03 May 2021 to bring clarity to the matter as also to enable our stakeholders to make an informed decision.

AICTE is a regulatory body in technical education and covers all affiliated technical colleges and deemed-to-be–universities and not universities (state, public and private) and central universities, IITs, NITs, IISERs, etc. The recent news items and articles mentioning Mathematics & Physics not necessary for engineering education is totally misplaced and erroneous assumption.  The subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics were mandatory for admissions in engineering till 2003 and in 2003 Chemistry was made optional with Biotechnology, Biology and Computer Science as alternatives, and more subjects were added from time to time. In fact, when such liberal attitude was taken, which was progressive, unfortunately learning of additional course of pre-requisite chemistry was not made mandatory. Hence, a Working Group under the chairmanship of Prof. K.K. Aggarwal was constituted on 14-05-2019 to relook at the entry level subject criteria and include subjects other than Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics for the entrance exams to UG courses of Engineering and Technology, in view of the new subjects emerging at the intersection with pharmaceutical, medical, agriculture and life sciences.  The scope of the Committee was further extended on 25-03-2021 with following additional terms of reference:

  • To specify what are the subjects mandatorily required for different categories of Engineering studies and suggest mandatory subjects in XII level for different groups of Under Graduate Engineering & Technology domain.

OR

  • The level of the preparation necessary in the mandatory subjects either through testing in entrance exam, if these are not formally taken in the board exam but done through MOOC etc.

OR

  •  To complete these courses before starting engineering degree courses.

This year there are 14 options provided in Approval Process Handbook (APH). Now out of 14 subjects at class XI, XII, if a student has not done a certain subject which is essential for the study of a specific discipline of engineering, then student shall be required to take that such pre-requisite additional course(s) either on MOOC before joining the degree program or at least in the very first year of engineering before proceeding to learn advanced courses in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology which are part of Model AICTE curriculum for different engineering courses. All engineering courses follow thereafter. Hence there is neither dilution nor escape from doing enough Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology before graduating and emphasis is on outcomes rather than inputs. AICTE has only opened opportunities, created a flexible model where a young bright student because of less awareness or subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics being not available in small towns and remote areas should not be left out in the truest sense of national ethos of access and equity. All such students shall have to go through entrance as decided by JEE, CET of respective states and do these subjects in the very first year, even if it amounts to an extra year of study. The limited flexibility of chemistry being optional from 2003 is not the only one isolated case followed for years.

Class X plus three-year diploma students were being admitted directly in the second year with lot of gaps in Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry (their level being that of Class X Mathematics and Science with very little additional P, C, M during Diploma) vis-à-vis those Class XI, XII science stream students with full 2 years (4 semesters equivalent of PCM) and additional 2 semesters of Mathematics, Physics and one semester of chemistry (in the first year of engineering) for over 3 decades.  These supernumerary seats were even increased from 10% to 20%, filling of vacant seats of first year permitted and several special direct second year divisions for direct second year entry for Diploma students provided. Unfortunately, even bridge courses were not prescribed then. Many such passionate Diploma students not only completed degree in 3 years, some even topped the university and did well in industry too thorough sheer hard work. Thus, this flexibility alone helped them to choose an option of engineering degree. Another model followed by IITs for a long-time is the concept of preparatory course for those disadvantaged sections of society who cannot make the grade for admission entrance cut off marks, go through one full year in an IIT and study P, C, M before entering formal first year of engineering in the following year. Hence there could be several innovative approaches adopted by colleges and universities for fully preparing the students to understand concepts, fundamentals and rigour of Mathematics and Physics before embarking on engineering subjects. This is liberal, empowering and enabling framework than rigid and restrictive one. Mathematics and Physics for that matter any subject of science develops our reasoning capability, helps us to cultivate analytical thinking, quickens our mind, and can be applied in day-to-day life.  This is undisputed. In the last 4 years of 5+3+3+4 enough mandatory Mathematics and Science subjects will take care of these abilities. But effective and efficient application oriented teaching of Mathematics is important which unfortunately many a times keeps students away from Mathematics. AICTE has taken initiative for training teachers. The provision of multiple choices in the NEP has been rightly interpreted providing access and equity.

This exercise and openness will become all the more important when under NEP, 10+2 system will be changed to 5+3+3+4 system of school education and in the last phase of 4 years, there is no distinction as arts, commerce and science stream and hence in that liberal framework someone who could not decide right combination of subjects at a young age of class VIII, should the doors be closed for engineering but permit him/her to study these additional subjects and gear up for engineering!!! We also have multiple exit and entry, transfer of credits, academic bank of credits, in the NEP. Thus a learner, a student should have enough avenues to study what he/she wants to study by learning all that is necessary for the award of a degree.

AICTE has not undermined importance of Mathematics, Physics and even Chemistry and Biology. The Bridge programmes shall be as many and as much as necessary so as to create sufficient mathematics or sciences background.

How did Lateral entry diploma students with only 10th class Mathematics/Science successfully did entire engineering for over three decades even without bridge courses!!!

Ancient India made several important contributions through scholars like Aryabhata, Brahmgupta, Bhaskaracharya and Varanmihira. The decimal number system and the concept of zero was a gift to the world by Indian mathematicians. Trigonometry and modern definitions of sine and cosine were advanced in India. Mathematical marvels line ‘Jantar Mantar’ located in Jaipur, Ujjain, Mathura and Varanasi and the Konark Temple are our heritage. The intermix of astronomy and mathematics is certainly amazing. Hence we have introduced mandatory noncredit course in Indian Knowledge system for inspiring young engineers.

Further, nowhere has AICTE mentioned entrance exam should not be in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry. Every state has to decide in which subjects they wish to have entrance exam depending on which branch of engineering admission is sought. Same with the JEE. AICTE is not interfering in the autonomy of universities and they are free to decide. In fact, new concept for admissions should be to test aptitude rather than subject knowledge which anyways would be delivered during the curriculum and desired outcomes achieved and tested through accreditation.

Member Secretary, All India Council for Technical Education, New Delhi

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are provided by Lt Col Kailash Bansal, Director (Media & Margdarshak), All India Council For Technical Education, New Delhi, by email on 03 May 2021TheRise.co.in neither endorses nor is responsible for them.

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2 thoughts on “Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology as important and necessary as ever

  • 4 May 2021 at 2:02 pm
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    Well AICTE may do what it considers fit in the name of flexibility and liberal attitude. The example of lateral entry to engineering degree for diploma holders does not justify the free for any one attitude as is being proposed. The diploma holders study 3 years of rigorous engineering with a lot of practice and hence are well aware of science base of engineering as well as its applications in design and practice. No issues with their lateral entry.

    But at a time when there is tremendous pressure on Engineering Education to improve its Employability and Quality of its graduates, any effort to dilute the intake standards will be fatal to already diminishing craze for Engineering Education by the bright minds of school leavers.

    In my opinion it was the time to radically reform the curriculum, make it rigerous in respect of its Relevance to new engineering technologies, align it to Industry Readiness and create agility of its learning outcome to remain relevant to future needs of advanced science and technology intensive industry environment.

    Uncontrolled expansion and unregulated freedom are not akin to the clarion calls of quality and relevance of education today and not even tomorrow.

    Let this be clearly understood that Autonomy is Freedom to Excel only if exercised with care and responsibility and surely is not the Freedom to degrade the standards of intake or outcome under consideration of flexibility and liberalism.

    Reply
  • 4 May 2021 at 3:26 pm
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    Time to fix primary responsibility for pitiable state of engineering education. Why there is no taker?

    Reply

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