Imagine, for a moment, you hired a civil, mechanical or construction engineer to work on a large scale infrastructure project.
Now imagine you asked him the following problem: “Rajeev has a bag full of 20 bananas and no other fruit. He reaches in and draws a piece of fruit from the bag. What is the probability that he will draw a banana?”
Most likely, you would expect your new recruit to be able to answer correctly.
In India, however, that may not be the case. In a recent study by Aspiring Minds, an Indian-based research organisation that assesses various aspects of education, training and employment throughout that country, roughly 30 per cent of graduating engineering students last year were unable to solve that problem.
The problem is not limited to probability equations. Overall, the study found that one-third of last year’s graduates were unable to perform simple mathematic functions such as counting and arranging, and that graduates had a weak understanding of basic mathematical concepts such as decimals, powers, operations, ratios and fractions as well as a lack of ability to apply such concepts to real-world problems.
Given the importance of basic maths in engineering work, this is obviously a significant problem.
Some of the study’s broader findings, too, are worrying. Just 2.68 per cent of last year’s graduates were deemed ready and suitably prepared for deployment in engineering jobs upon graduation. Outside of the top few colleges, the quality of education drops off precipitously, with employability rates at less than one in 100 throughout the bottom 45 percentile of campuses across the country.
Consequences for India and the World
The study focused specifically on the IT sector, but it is highly likely that the common themes which came through in some of its findings would apply to the country’s graduating engineers across the spectrum of engineering-related disciplines.
That has ramifications for India and around the world.
For India, it may indicate that despite the country’s desperate need to maintain and improve infrastructure, its education system may not be producing graduating engineers who are adequately qualified to work on required projects. This has obvious flow-on implications for the country’s ability to grow its economy and lift millions out of poverty.
For the world, it highlights broader problems associated with the global shortage of suitably qualified engineers. Up and coming engineers throughout the developing world are an integral part of the solution to the global skills shortage in many areas of the profession. For this to happen, however, these graduates must have the necessary basic skills to be up to the task.
In the case of India – potentially an enormous supplier to the world of fluent English speaking graduates – this study raises serious questions about whether or not this is happening.
Engineers from developing nations are in high demand across many parts of the world, but first, they need basic skills in maths – something which a significant portion in India are apparently not getting through their education.