India can provide better education system to other countries through blended learning: AICTE’s Chie- Edexlive

The All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) may well be dissolved along with bodies such as the University Grants Commission (UGC) next year to make way for the Higher Education Council of India (HECI), as proposed by the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. What does this mean for the functioning of the statutory body for technical education in the country? And what intention does AICTE have with its recently launched mission to convert all engineering institutions accredited by it into blended learning centers?

On the sidelines of the launch event of the workshop on blended learning for more than 10,000 heads of educational institutions, organized by AICTE and the provider of educational technology solutions, Tech Avant-Garde (TAG) , Edexlive caught up with Dr Buddha Chandrashekhar, who is appointed as AICTE’s Chief Coordinating Officer to find out if India has the infrastructure for such a push towards digital learning, the future of subjects basic engineering and an overview of the AICTE internship portal.

What plans does AICTE have to enable the digital infrastructure to ensure the implementation of blended learning?

The Ministry of Education has come up with a concept called National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) where we want to create the digital infrastructure of each institution. We identify the speeds and infrastructure they currently have and the server requirements they have, and what the current licensing structure is there. We collected all this information and understood that only 15% of our institutes have a digital infrastructure at the 3G level. We have decided to implement NDEAR through which we are helping to upgrade the digital infrastructure of each institute.

For example, from WiFi, we are moving them to WiFi-6 and LiFi (a wireless communication technology that uses light to transmit data between devices at high speed). The bit transfer rate will increase up to 10000%. We implement NDEAR through a public-private partnership (PPP). We have established an estimated cost of Rs 5,000 crores for the initiative, and so it is suitable for PPP. It will start from this end of the year. We identified the institutes and collected information on the existing infrastructures. And now we will act accordingly.

What is needed to ensure that the digital infrastructure supports blended learning?

It’s a step-by-step approach. On the one hand, the Indian government is implementing 4G and 4G-Volte. Internet connection speed has increased. But the type of content we’re talking about, which includes augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) for hybrid learning, requires 5G connection speeds. We are upgrading all colleges so that all students, on and off campus, can receive and download this content. And 5G will change the face of the country. It is a high-speed hyper-local connectivity service provider, and it will support content not only in simple text, image and video formats, but also in AR/VR/MVR-based formats , allowing for advanced holographic training. We expect more in the next 10 to 15 years. Over the next year, you will see improvements in digital infrastructure at institutes.

Will the blended learning project impact the college seat limit?

Blended learning is the best option for skill-based education and adult education. It has nothing to do with admission, as it is implemented at the course level. So you need to make sure you have shorter courses and execute them so that the hybrid model is implemented in the right way. That said, for full-time courses as well, a hybrid model can be implemented, but engineering subjects need some sort of physical presence. We can therefore make a 50-50 or 60-40 model (40% hybrid) because working in a team is important for engineering students.

Education is slowly moving from degree-based education to competency-based education. Google, for example, has now said that even if you don’t have a college degree, but are proficient in coding, you’re in it. The world is moving from an education-based job to a skill-based job. As the Ministry of Education, we need to focus on this change and ensure that skills-based, vocational and adult education is provided. In the countries of Africa and the Middle East, they need a better education system. So we can provide them with that. They can become part of our education system using this hybrid model. The Artificial Intelligence and Data Science courses at IIT Madras are a great example. Over 60,000 students have enrolled across the country and overseas. We must open this window for the whole world. Let them come and learn these skills so that we not only generate income, but become world leaders in education.

Much has been said about the Indian Council of Higher Education which is expected to replace bodies such as AICTE. What impact will this have on the targeted regulation of technical education in India?

The Higher Education Council will have no work-related impact on AICTE or UGC. It will be a higher authority which will be the sole interlocutor of the institutes as well as the various actors in education. AICTE will continue its functions, with HECI as an umbrella organization for better decision-making. In order to understand the requirements of students and institutes, you need an organization that knows both sides of the coin. HECI is a body, UGC and AICTE are like two eyes. This will help implement the Ministry of Education’s targeted approach.

The last few years have seen a paradigm shift from basic engineering subjects to computer science. How do we ensure that there is always an ecosystem for the advancement of core engineering courses in our colleges?

AICTE does not oblige anyone to reduce or increase the number of places in any field. It’s the institutes that do that. AICTE recognizes future technologies and tries to add these and usable streams into the courses. There is a huge demand for civil engineering, mechanical engineering, and other basic engineering branches. The institutes do not present this properly to students and parents, who feel that there are not enough opportunities in these courses. On the contrary, in Middle Eastern countries and Japan, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a halt to infrastructure projects. They are opening now, and in the next six months you will see over a billion basic engineering requirements in these countries. We need to ensure that we produce not only computer engineers, but also mechanical, civil and electronic engineers.

You have been closely involved in the preparatory work and development of the AICTE internship portal (launched in 2009), and this year it was also opened to non-technical students. Tell us about his impact on students over the past three years…

When I arrived, I realized there was a gap between academia and industry. The needs of industry are different from what academia produces. This is where I started to interact with stakeholders with the goal of bridging this gap. Once we did that, the industries started trusting us and the institutes started sending their students to the industries. The internship portal allowed students to work with the best public and private companies. Internships are offered in three models – offline, online and physical. We have students working for National Highway Development Authority of India, Women and Child Development Ministry, Ministry of Social Justice, Ministry of Urban and Housing Affairs, on Swachh Bharat Schemes, Water Management Systems , the AMRUT project and with multi- National enterprises (MNEs) such as Microsoft and Google. Along with this, they work with Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs), including the top eight MSMEs. If each of these industries hosts two interns, we can create 16 million job opportunities.

We have already given 25 lakh internship opportunities. The way we visualize this is that each student will do three internships by the time they graduate from college. The first time they interact with the industry, they will learn the fundamentals of its operation, organization structure, functions, operations, etc. The second time they will learn people management, process management, etc. The third time they will perform and perform crucial tasks. So, by the time they leave college, they are ready for the industry and they are ready to get better opportunities, so their pay scale will increase and their experience will also be enhanced. They not only leave college with a degree, but with industry experience and skills. We want to reduce the level of unemployment in the country, and therefore we are boosting internship opportunities and college employability.