Industry meets Academia via BITES

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Enhancing the quality of education and helping build quality manpower for IT industries, Board of IT Education Standards (BITES),  in association with Karnataka technical education institutions, has bridged the industry-academia gap through innovative skill development programmes in IT. In conversation with Rachita Jha, Dr R Natarajan, Chairman, BITES shares his views on the emerging trends of technology in education sector. Excerpts:

What are your views on the adoption of IT platforms in Indian education and the content delivery?

India has witnessed massive initiatives in the last few decades both in public and private sector to employ IT platforms for enabling and enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of student learning. The National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), a project funded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), was first conceived in 1999.  The main objective of NPTEL program is to enhance the quality of engineering education in the country by developing curriculum-based video and web courses. This is being carried out by seven IITs and IISc Bangalore as a collaborative project.

In the first phase of the project, supplementary content for 129 web courses in engineering/science and humanities have been developed. Each course contains materials that can be covered in depth in 40 or more lecture hours. In addition, 110 courses have been developed in video format, with each course comprising approximately 40 or more one-hour lectures.

In the next phase other premier institutions are also likely to participate in content creation. Also there are several initiatives in the private sector to develop content and offer modular courses employing IT tools, at the school as well as the college levels.

What are the key activity areas outlined by BITES in its vision of fostering successful high quality industry-relevant IT education?

We have developed vision and mission statements for Board of IT Education Standards (BITES) through a workshop involving the participation of industry professionals and academic experts constituting our stakeholders. We aim to serve as a catalyst for nurturing excellence in our IT educational institutions, ensuring employability of our graduates, promoting quality of work of our faculty, strengthening interactions and networking among stakeholders, and enhancing global competitiveness of our IT industry. We have also obtained ISO 9000-2008 certification in order to streamline our activities.

 Nine Key Activity Areas:

  • Advice on policy
  • Competitions and awards
  • Curriculum development
  • Databases
  • Faculty development
  • Industry-institute interaction
  • Institutional development
  • IT education standards and
  • Leadership development

What are the most successful technology platforms in Karnataka that are changing the paradigm of quality education?

Karnataka is an active participant in the TEQIP (Technical Education Quality Improvement Program), a World Bank-assisted national project for quality enhancement in technical education in India. Some proactive institutes, including Visvesvaraya Technological University, which affiliate almost all the technical institutions in the state, have several schemes for faculty development and quality improvement. Several major IT industries in Karnataka like WIPRO Mission 10X Program, Infosys Campus-Connect Program, TCS Sangam Program, also have active industry-institute networking programs. The Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) too has several initiatives for institutional development and employability enhancement, such as Employability Bridge. Technical institutions utilise the NPTEL and EDUSAT programs, both to overcome the faculty shortages and for supplementing classroom learning.

What are the major challenges that BITES faced in its success?

In our mission to offer quality technical skills, one of the key challenges that we face each day is of availability of scarce resources of faculty expertise and experience. The paucity of faculty is further challenged by their strict academic commitments and their time for taking up skill development programmes. It is very difficult to conduct faculty development programs for teachers during the academic session.

What is the importance of faculty training in IT education programmes and how do you train them in this?

Faculty members are the key to effective and efficient student learning. Their role has, however, undergone a significant change in recent years, as a result of several factors, including the diversity of learning opportunities available to the 21st century learners, the unique characteristics of Gen X learners, the proliferation of IT tools and platforms. The faculty member of today is more a coach or mentor rather than a dispenser of knowledge. The teacher is no longer the sage on the stage, but a guide on the side.

Distance Education will play an important role in making ‘education for all’ a reality. How do you perceive IT as a catalyst for faster realisation of the dream?

From an e-Learning 2.0 perspective, conventional e-learning systems were based on instructional packets that were delivered to students using Internet technologies. The role of the student comprised learning from the readings and preparing assignments evaluated by the teachers whereas, the new e-learning places increased emphasis on social learning and use of social software such as blogs, wikis, podcasts and virtual worlds. This phenomenon has also been referred to as Long Tail Learning. 

How can we have more private-industry partnerships in vocational education? What is its current scene in Karnataka?

Vocational Education can play a significant role in at least two ways: as a formal qualification conferred by ITIs, or as employability-enhancement programs, which may be conducted by stand-alone finishing schools or provided by the employers as induction or in-service programs. There are a few private Finishing Schools in Karnataka. There are also private agencies offering programs for development of soft skills, which seem to be the major area of employability deficit.

What will be the role and importance of standards-setting in technological education in the coming years? BITES’ mantra to success.

The MHRD has been pro-active in establishing appropriate regulatory agencies in higher and technical education. Many reforms, now in the offing, would be passed into law through bills pending in the Parliament. In distance education, the regulatory responsibility rests with the Distance Education Council, comprising IGNOU, UGC and AICTE.

BITES bring together major players in higher and technical education, with particular reference to IT, including industry, academia and government. Key reasons for our success have been collaboration, engagement, and motivation, with the stakeholders. It is also important to have the leaders from these sectors on the board to engage in constructive dialogue and together work towards a common goal.

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