Yesterday I spoke at an
engineering college festival. The creativity and enthusiasm of students was
heartening. In the afternoon they had planned a workshop on use of a popular
software tool for heat exchanger design. My task was to prime them for this
workshop. During the Q&A session at the end of my talk, I sensed a
significant lack of grasp of fundamentals among students. Later while having
lunch with some of the faculty, I learned that the popular software tool has
now been appropriated into the syllabus; the intention being to enhance the
employability of students. This revelation was quite disconcerting.
Universities are where students
seek knowledge. They gather knowledge and hone it by interaction with teachers
and other students. Universities also build character, but that is not the
subject of this blogpost. When teachers and students are already struggling to
complete the traditional chemical engineering curriculum, any new initiative to
impart skills on software application has to be at the expense of time allotted
for fundamental studies.
In engineering, unlike trades,
skill cannot be a substitute for knowledge. Teachers also probably find it
easier to impart skills rather than knowledge. This is an adverse fall-out of
the burgeoning coaching class industry. It is also a collateral damage of the
IT explosion, which is more skill than knowledge based. An obsession with tool
numbs the mind and makes it less open to new ideas. Chemical engineering, which
is more science based than other engineering disciplines, can ill afford such a
mindset in its practitioners.
Do skills, like mastery of a
specific software tool, increase the employability of engineers? The answer is
an unequivocal no. Skills are best learned on the job and industry is more than
willing to invest time and effort towards this. Skills are also job specific
and there is no one shoe that fits all. Once engineers enter industry, they
will have very little time and inclination to revisit the underlying principles
of their practice. Universities are the best place for engineers to acquire
knowledge and this is a tradition worth preserving.
Labels: Chemical Engineering, Engineering Education, Knowledge, Skills