The Future of Engineering Education: A Sneak Peek into the New Century

By : |September 26, 2018 0

Asheesh Gupta, Pro Vice Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur

From building pyramids in the 27th century BCE to designing modern day smart cities, engineering has had a long and cherished history. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, raw science was the engine of innovation and progress. Today, cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are on the verge of taking over cognitive processes while maintaining synchronization with always-connected networks and exchanges of information to shape the world of the future.

Asheesh Gupta, Pro Vice Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur

Asheesh Gupta, Pro Vice Chancellor, JK Lakshmipat University, Jaipur

Engineering and Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence applications are eliminating man-made errors and are empowering the expression of knowledge and creativity with unparalleled precision. The search for a skilled employee has been merged with the concept of A.I. as recruiters search for the holy grail of biological cognition merging with artificial intelligence and creating a world of error-free information.

The British car behemoth, Jaguar, in its hiring process inculcates a VR-STEP game just to give its potential employees hands-on experience in the world of A.I. Britain’s armed forces have imbibed training with A.I and Virtual Reality for future commandos to prepare for warzone situations. Today, robots are running nursing homes in cosmopolitan Tokyo and cars are being self-driven by Tesla in China while automated thermostats based on behavioural algorithms that adjust to your body’s temperature needs are being voice-controlled by Alexa.

With technology aping almost all skills required in every dimension of life, it would appear as if humans will eventually be replaced by machines. However, the realm of abstract thought, creativity and free will is still beyond the power of AI.

Industry Relevance and Engineering Education

In a country of multiplying millions, half of the population is under 25 years while 67% is under 35 years of age, and by the year 2027 India will have the largest workforce in the world with over a billion people lying in the 15-64 year age-group.

More than 3.5 thousand engineering colleges in the country beget 1.5 million engineers, specially trained to serve different mechanisms of the invention. Unfortunately, not more than 33% of them are able to gain employment, albeit, with abysmal payment. To quote reports, “lack of skills required by the industry”, have been playing the antagonist between hiring processes and engineers.

India’s education system has been riding the wrong horse for quite some time now. With rapid industrialization in the last few decades, technology has replaced conventional work culture in the office. Multitudes of engineering institutions and outgoing intellectual minds have been committing to memory, printed knowledge, without apprehending the shift industry has been taking in last few years. An employer will prefer a blackbox with coded intelligence to the one who has all the knowledge to create that box but lacks 360 practical skills.

Jobs have become need and speciality based, in a company, today, out of 100 employees, 50 are assigned skill based designations like coders, web developers, system administrators, cybersecurity professionals and ethical hackers. The demand for employees to upskill to cutting-edge technologies is growing day by day. The incompetence of the existing educational paradigm with the fast growing skill based job industry is resulting in unemployment for engineers.

Expression is as Important as Skill

One of the limitations most skilled engineers in the world face is the inability to enunciate their ideas with clarity and unambiguity, thus, making a great idea almost impossible to employ. This is where the scope and relevance of a coalition between engineering education and A.I, i.e. nurturing expression and creativity in aspiring engineers with an artificial mentor.

With this super powerful technology breathing on our shoulders, the current paradigm of education seems to turn redundant in the coming days. In defense of the human brain against the A.I., educational institutions must bring a quick makeover to prevent humans from becoming irrelevant in the new age of automation.

Technological developments are expanding at such a pace that engineers cannot limit their knowledge to just one part of the orb; learning must shift from the centre and move toward multidisciplinarianism. Thus, the future workplace would respond to the demands of flexibility and versatility and will welcome progressive thinkers (allowed to make few errors) to the industry.

Knowledge providers have to step out of textbooks and in-depth practical experience should be imparted to students through a combination of rigorous industry interface and longer internships, organized not just by academies of learning but also by live businesses. A balanced faculty including lectures, facilitators and professionals from the industry will provide a window to students to take a sneak peek into the future of engineering, where their knowledge will taste experience.

Educational institutes have to become a confluence of experience, ideation, mentoring and experimentation. It should not merely teach students to practice their technical skills. New age classrooms have to accommodate artificial intelligence, robotics and design thinking in the curricula that goes beyond basics and digs deeper. Through experiential learning, aspirants have to recognize the diversity of any workplace and learn to be a part of it with conviction.

Transforming Creativity into Reality

While the mind should shift from conventional to multidimensional education, some innate characteristics of the human brain should be nurtured at every institution. Empathy can be attributed only with the human brain and this is a triumph of nature over the synthetic brain. Education systems should start infusing technical training with an understanding of socio-cultural backdrops. Globalized society does not require a technical skill-set without cultural and economic comprehension.

An analytical mind must be prompted to troubleshoot any situation with tact and diplomacy, and these qualities are often neglected or treated as ‘good-to-have crash courses’ in most engineering institutes within the country. The importance of communication and critical thinking is recognized and acknowledged as a critical asset in professional spaces. Hence, the development of a student should include not only technical skills but also understand their personalities and individual career needs and aspirations. They need to prepare for the future with armour hard to penetrate.

On the question of self-aware machines posing a grave threat to the employment of the labor force, a select few, of the country’s most progressive institutions such as JKLU have successfully integrated a multidisciplinary, project-based learning model in their curriculum to strengthen creativity, problem-solving, perspective building and behavioural skills. After all, the goal of all education is to transform the students of today into visionaries of tomorrow who can meet and overcome any given challenge of the future.

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