Friday, 2 December, 2022
HomeOpinionStudying engineering without physics and maths is like a building without foundation

Studying engineering without physics and maths is like a building without foundation

AICTE making maths, physics optional for engineering sounds ‘flexible’ only on paper. Its bridge courses won’t fix the problem.

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There has been a plethora of arguments put forward by those wanting to make mathematics and physics optional to study engineering, the chief reason being that it offers choice and flexibility to students. This may sound reasonable, but the trade-offs are huge and ominous. Engineering is a combination of applied mathematics, applied physics, applied chemistry, as well as the application of social, liberal, and other sciences. Any applied terminology needs a sound base. Removing the first two — mathematics and physics — which constitute the core, at the qualifying level itself is like building an edifice without a foundation.

An engineer is a professional who invents, designs, analyses, and builds complex systems, gadgets, and tests materials to fulfil functional objectives while recognising limitations imposed by practicality, regulation, safety, and cost. This is irrespective of his specialisation. There is a foundation on which all this is built. Can we dismantle it in the name of “choice and flexibility”? Or be attacked as stereotypes who are not willing to change? In fact, all the options, besides the core, that are being proposed are the ones engineers pursue later in their career based on their interest. The difference, however, is that they do so after acquiring a good degree that is strong on fundamentals. Innovations need strong fundamentals. Ideation to product development can happen, provided the right mix exists. What does choice mean when one does not even understand its dynamics?

Also read: 44% engineering students want to be taught in mother tongue, Tamil tops list: AICTE survey


Break silos, but within reason

The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is committed to breaking rigid silos between different streams and allowing students to pick subjects based on their liking, inclination, and aptitude — a welcome step. However, this only acquires real meaning when a student has a sound foundation and matured wisdom to understand the difference between ‘essential’ and ‘add ons’. The NEP also lays great emphasis on learning physics and mathematics even at pre-primary levels. If the issue is about breaking the silos, it can be achieved more effectively through building stronger, more collaborative relationships between departments and learning through project-mode. India’s earliest universities, be it Nalanda or Takshashila of ancient times, or Banaras Hindu University (BHU) and University of Madras in more recent times, had varied departments such as liberal arts, social sciences, physical sciences, engineering, medicine, fine arts, and many others, on the same campus. Students and faculty collaborated across disciplines to produce inter and multi-disciplinary research. In the name of breaking silos, we cannot weaken the very core of engineering education.

The other argument put forward is that this is also being followed elsewhere. University of California (UC) Berkley, US may offer an engineering program to non-engineering graduates, and the University of Sussex, UK may offer a similar programme to its students. For a start, there is a mountain of difference between the regular engineering undergraduate and postgraduate degrees of UC Berkley, or even University of Sussex, compared to the degrees that they offer to students from other backgrounds. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Columbia, University of Michigan, Penn State, or Cornell University have a history that span more than 100 years of producing robust engineering graduates. Their experimentation with other disciplines is highly measured and rigorous. Even then, the numbers of those who opt for such programs are at best very small. It is another matter that most of them seek new programs as a matter of interest and business opportunity, rather than to claim equivalence to their more endowed compatriots. In contrast, the changed AICTE position applies to all of its 4,000-odd institutes and a million students to boot.

Can such profound changes, that affect masses, be made in such a ham-handed manner without consultation? Are these comparisons to foreign universities offering flexible programmes then not odious? A better comparison would be contrasting Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in India to a UC Berkley. Do we have an example of an IIT in India doing what UC Berkley does? Taking it one step further, can medical education also be opened up to students without biology in the spirit of this new found flexibility? Can a student study French literature without knowing the French language? The difference between core and electives is completely lost in the maze.

Also read: Modi govt’s HEC can’t just be UGC with new label. Engineering still needs its own regulator


The bigger picture

If AICTE is focusing on outcomes rather than inputs, it is very welcome to do so. However, outcomes are a cumulative effect of a series of actions that include inputs. Certainly, physics and mathematics in schools and colleges cannot be mere inputs. Unfortunately, that they are treated so, is a commentary on India’s education system. If it is now sought to be institutionalised through regulations, it is even worse.

The new provisions spell out a strategy of bridge courses to tide over the issue. Thankfully, there is a tacit acknowledgment that mathematics and physics are indeed necessary to study engineering. But can full-fledged core courses, which are the very essence of engineering, be looked at as ‘bridging gaps’? A bridge helps us cross an obstacle, whether that be a river, ocean, swamp, canyon, or highway. Time will tell what exactly the AICTE bridge will actually bridge, for who can fathom what the gap will actually be?. If this logic is extended, as it will be, some engineering branches will completely dispense with mathematics, citing they’re not needed in practice.

A massive number of engineering institutes in the country — almost 4,000 of them catering to almost a million students — are all regulated by a single regulator, unlike in developed countries. The writ of AICTE runs large in them. A regulation that changed the teacher-student ratio from 1:15 to 1:20 a couple of years ago saw many teachers losing their jobs overnight. Its impact on quality will only be felt in times to come, for an adequate number of teachers has an important bearing on quality outcomes. Whereas IITs boast of a teacher-student ratio of even 1:5 in some disciplines, the rest of the system must make do with far larger ratios. The irony is that the system is seeking to facilitate this. Be that as it may, how does one assume that the institutions and universities would only admit students having physics and mathematics? Is the onus now on the students to make good what they lack? As we have previously seen with university students resorting to strikes and sit-ins for watered-down passing rules, this time round, we could see them resorting to even more strikes, sit-ins and watering down, citing the new provisions. Have we not seen several students fail in mathematics and applied physics papers in various semesters, even when they had a reasonably sound base at the qualifying level? What would happen when that base is sought to be made optional? Two things. Either bring down the passing standards so they clear them easily, or completely remove them from various semesters within engineering. How can the outcomes improve in a system that is designed to fail?

Notwithstanding the deafening silence of academics and scientists on the issue, one hopes that AICTE will do the required course correction. To keep India’s robust engineering education edifice from falling over, one not only needs the ‘acrow’ props along with timber needles like “choice and flexibility” to support its load-bearing walls, but more importantly continue strengthening the foundation — of which mathematics and physics are the core pillars.

Dr. SS Mantha is the former Chairman AICTE and Ashok Thakur, Former Secretary Education, MHRD, Government of India. Views are personal.

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  1. With the world wide drive to encourage more women into science and to level an uneven playingfield for women I this arena I’m saddened to see the opening stock photo in this article is of 3 female students. This may home your readers into the idea it is female students who may be without a good foundation in maths and physics, unable to manage the demands. I hope this was an unconscious editorial choice but one that should be reflected on and considered in the context of your portrayl of female students and future scientists.

  2. India need technicians with good skills rather than engineers. Highly skilled technicians can replace engineers in India.
    It’s cost effective too.

  3. Mechanical engineering student: I don’t want to study basic physics and maths Bcoz I don’t like the subjects.
    AICTE: OK go ahead
    4 years later in technical interview
    INTERVIEWER : OK find the moment on this road which is simply supported and has 4 point loads at each of the 4 equidistant points.
    THAT STUDENT: um mm the formula is um mm actually I don’t understand integration but I know Macaulay’ s method will be used.
    THAT STUDENT: Yup anything without physics and maths in it.
    INTERVIEWER 🙁 Mechanzi Mode) What did you eat in breakfast?
    THAT STUDENT: Dosa and Sa..(interrupted)
    INTERVIEWER: and Shit yes shit you ate shit now ur spiting it.
    THAT STUDENT: OMG I am like so appalled by your rude behave..(interrupted)
    INTERVIEWER: SAGE MODE disses the kid
    THAT STUDENT: Faints

    News Channel
    Student faints after dissed by interviewer for not being able to answer BASIC questions.
    TLM restored

    • Interesting!!! Look likes you believe and have taken for granted that a student will move to second year without studying PCM in the first year of Engineering.

  4. A student doing engineering in bioinformatics, biochemistry and many other subjects just need to know basic Mathematics and primary knowledge of physics.

  5. Salary for assistance, associate,PhD professor should be seventh Pay for AICTE approved private engineering institutions.

    Without giving proper salary to gurus ,100% quality education is not possible.

    None of teachers put effort to impart knowledge to Students.

    I request NEP look into salary standard of private Engineering colleges.

    Kindly close engineering colleges who not ready to pay seventh pay to his teachers.

    IN INDIA the NAAC and NBA are like management horns , accreditation is given with money deal.

    The vision of NAAC and NBA is to provide quality education to Engineering Students by giving very low salary to teachers.

  6. Salary for assistance, associate,PhD professor should be seventh Pay for AICTE approved private engineering institutions.

    Without giving proper salary to gurus ,100% quality education is not possible.

    None of teachers put effort to impart knowledge to Students.

    I request NEP look into salary standard of private Engineering colleges.

    Kindly close engineering colleges who not ready to pay seventh pay to his teachers.

    IN INDIA the NAAC and NBA are like management horns , accreditation is given with money deal.

    The vision of NAAC and NBA is to provide quality education to Engineering Students by giving very salary to teachers.

  7. I have never heard such stupidity. Engineering without maths and physics is just setting up the world to fall to pieces. If this idea doesn’t die then the public will die to accommodate the idiots pushing this agenda.

  8. This reform was necessary in view of the changing times and NEP. Compulsory maths at 12th. Class level for engineering level was causing problem to thousands of students ! Particularly to boys who opt for biology studies with only intention to study medicine and drop maths so that they are not unduly burdened in their preparations. When some of the boys don’t get a seat in medicine course , the option of engineering is closed for them ! NEP envisages real universities, bringing all the disciplines under one umbrella, a liberal and flexible credit selection for award of degrees ! The students would always have choice to do additional required credits in maths if they desire to study core engineering requiring high level maths !

  9. In a world of open learning , this is a good approach. These students learned maths and science till 10th . Critics assume that entire maths and physics topics are learned during intermediate education. To learn engineering and practice it we need maths and science knowledge but it is not necessary to learn prior to joining engineering course. Students can learn those things when required..old concept of learn all topics then start engineering looks irrelevant during this time..if a person is serious to learn and practice engineering he can learn any time and practice successfully.

  10. A.i.c.t.e should focus on chief subjects that are essential to strengthen or extend one’s ability meanwhile focus on essential subjects, e.g. physics, maths,biology, chemistry, computer science, programming language, social should.

    Good command over these subjects from a very early age can be very fruitful in enhancing their comprehension ability, hence they will be becoming intelligent brain in future.

  11. Interesting to see all notes.

    Now a days even many students passing out from premier instituted are not up to mark.

    Similar to other countries like USA, Canada there should be an exam after graduation conducted by professional bodies to grant Professional engineer licence like PE or P. Eng for practice.

    Atleast clearing GATE should be made mandatory before degree is awarded of B. Tech.

  12. If Mathematics and Physics is going to be optional for Engineering, why not allow arts students to enter engineering colleges? The Sanskrit scholars will be more appropriate, as our ancestors had put our enginnering skills in sanskrit. To think engineering without mathematics and physics is similar to medical College entry without biology as pre graduate level.

  13. What’s engineering without mathematics and physics?
    Oh forgot, we’re in the prehistoric age of Hindutva.

  14. The problem that needs to be addressed is at the exit level, not the entry level. The criteria are pretty much flexible at MTech and Ph.D. levels as compared to BTech. But the job recruitment in the eminent institutes or core sectors is still tied to the branch of BTech inspite of evolving multidisciplinary world and years of research experience in the field. So, while anyone can learn what they want, they are not being considered for jobs in the traditional engineering branches.

  15. Math, Physics & Chemistry can be taught in the Engg college. In fact, in the first year, they gave a course in all the 3 subjects. Our entrance exams test the candidates in a very stressful way.

    What us to be tested in the entrance is whetgrr the candidate has the necessary ability to study Engg. And that definitely need not be the core subjects Math, Phy & Chem.

    • Physics and espically maths is continuing of math’s u study in 11,12. U won’t be taught differentiation and integration but u need to apply it in 1 year math’s……even second year. Physics taught in 11th is essential for mechanical. And physics in 12 is needed for electrical….what’s the use of u don’t know basics because u won’t be told full basics. U der VTU we don’t have basics on diodes and electronics

  16. There are some comments about AI and software engineering not requiring maths or physics. AI runs on ML algorithms written based on class 11 and 12 maths. Many software problems are coded using physics as base knowledge where interaction with real machines happens. A by-product of learning maths and physics is enhancement in analytical and logical thinking capabilities which are the backbone of engineering. Any student can learn and pass engineering but can he think and solve problems is the crux. No wonder so many are unemployable as they have reduced it to getting marks. And diluting this further will increase unemployment. Only beneficiaries are engineering colleges which can fill seats by throwing all doors open.

  17. AICTE is not forcing engineering colleges to accept students without math & physics. It is also not forcing them to mandatorily teach a bridge course. What is the fuss then? Which engineering college would accept these students then?

  18. Warning bells for maths and physics teachers in engineering colleges.
    Already chemistry has been ignored in engineering syllabi.
    This is the net effect of AICTE decision. Doesn’t matter for students.

  19. The Engineering Education we have had so far has catered to the needs of an Industrial Age. We have passed through Knowledge Age which is giving way to AI Age now. From an era when teachers and books were the only source of knowledge to students, we are into the times when AI is aiding learners in adaptive and personalized learning, utilizing sources of knowledge that are completely democratized. Education is evolving from learner proving the retention of knowledge in the head to get a degree, to demonstrate capability of using head, heart and hands, for doing something innovative or meeting an unmet need. In short, it is curtains on teacher-centric education; learner-centric education with focus on experiential learning is the way forward and it makes lot of sense to let student be in the command of learning (learner autonomy) with teachers beside- reincarnated as their mentors/ counselors/ pathfinders/ navigators.

    As far as Physics & Mathematics, for Engineering Education is concerned, there is enough of it, as redolent from the Model Curricula suggested by AICTE and motivated students (adult learners as they are) can always bridge the gaps though the resources available. Let the career they aspire for/ recruiters/ institutions (in case of learners seeking higher studies) be the guidepost in what a learner needs to have in terms of Abilities, Knowledge and Skills; and let the smart, hyper-connected learners be offered flexibility to choose from options available. There are evidences in the form of Diploma students completing their Degree course successfully, even with comparably weak foundation in these two subjects. That a student must study Physics and Mathematics- only in the classroom, only from a qualified teacher, only from an approved institution- is a thing of past. Instead of worrying about theory (available online), institutions must focus of experiential learning and prepare them as lifelong learners.

    • Mathematics is a box with multiple tools and various models of problem-solving. It is a very useful resource to find rational and relevant solutions for various problems, of mathematical, physical, biological, astronomy, engineering, etc… The results obtained have always been of quality. Thus, one has always required mathematical models to study, understand, analyze and predict the outcome of an Engineering action or a natural phenomenon.

  20. Dear Sir

    Presently, the entry to pursue higher education in Engineering & Technology is based on traditional subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics which actually imposes a barrier to achieve the intended objective of multi-disciplinary outlook. However, in the 21st century, the traditional boundaries between different branches of Engineering & Technology are being re-drawn with an emergence of new sub-domains such as Bio-Technology, Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence etc. These sub-domains may as well also require inputs from allied subjects such as biology, statistics, programming language, vocational streams etc and thus cannot be entirely dependent on strictly Mathematics, Physics & Chemistry (or any one or two) alone.

    As a matter of fact Chemistry was ‘withdrawn’ long ago (if i recall correctly in year 2010 !!). It was definitely NOT removed from curriculum study during my engineering study.

    The broad basing of entry level qualifications is akin to opening the front doors for accepting the students who were erstwhile progressing as lateral entries or getting the equivalence status through allied domains. The pragmatism in allowing the ‘zero’ to take the leap of faith is based on reasoned approach of inherent aptitude of the students taking the subject. It is anticipated that the opening up the window of opportunity for the development of the domain (& minds) by broadening the entry level qualifications will provide fillip to the inter-disciplinary approach to academics in a holistic manner.

    Suffice to say, a stagnancy in education is a sign for its devaluation as much as it facilitates the progression. The National Education Policy 2020 provides a spark for this change with its abundant inclusivity proposals. The will to break the status quo should thus be welcomed rather than debunked through the trepidations & forebodings of unseen fear.

    With National Education Policy focussing strongly on the outcome based education, we cannot allow scholastic aptitude of our students to be restrained on account of hesitation & apprehensiveness. If such were the case, the theory of conservatism would have prohibited growth in the first place itself. On the contrary, the motivation to rediscover the lost wisdom is another factor that has prompted Ministry of Education to take initiatives of Indian Knowledge System that aims to promote interdisciplinary research based on rich heritage & traditional knowledge of our Country. Would it then mean that the re-discovery of scientific principles ensnared in our Veda & Puranas is regressive or will it be that our scientific pursuit will be emboldened by the addition of ancient wisdom. If the disagreement arises on account of former, then it is indeed a misconception that rejects our contribution of ‘zero’ to the world. But if the disagreement is on account of latter, then it is ironical that the change is being feared- when indeed that’s what is being espoused for!

    It may well be recalled that the traditional Indian system was based on skills with hands on experiential learning. And it has been a matter of great achievement that there have been many a Diploma student who have bitten the silver bullet to rise and excel. To have shunned them and disallowed their progression would have not only killed the meritocracy at its infancy but would have also dealt a severe blow to our National prospects. A similar case exists at premier institutes such as IITs which functions on high entry barrier with merit being at the soul of its brand. However, the system has well founded mechanism to develop the merit for considerably disadvantaged students. As a matter of fact, some students who are weak in subjects of Mathematics/ Physics/ Chemistry but may have qualified the minimum threshold cut-off are coached in these relevant subjects via a one-year preparatory course. This in no way be-littles their ability to shine with greater rebound. Of-course, those who do not have the desired aptitude find the natural exit.

    It is therefore important to develop the latent capabilities of the student to pursue study in domain of engineering & technology rather than firewall it with ‘deny all – allow some’ policy.

  21. It’s said that the country is already pushing out “useless” engineers. Only less than 20% are employable. Instead of strengthening the field of engineering education, people in charge are going in which direction?
    The basic problem is also in delivering proper stuff at the school level. Why imparting proper mathematics education is scary?
    Lots of talks but no solution?

  22. Why boys are being systematically ignored in every field of life. These days I do not see picture of boys in academy related news and many such other things. Encouraging girls should not mean totally ignoring boys

  23. We have lots of Scientists, Engineers, Generals, Admirals, and Science graduates , but it came from the brain of a leader who is having a mere Masters in Political Science our country got the real wisdom. To attack Pakistan UNDER THE COVER OF RAIN CLOUDS

    Wisdom wins , science remains silent and useless

  24. The aim of education is not employment rather to build your mind to make you eligible for employment.

  25. This proposal is not just ridiculous and preposterous, but mischievous too. It speaks for the quality of people manning the AICTE. Physics and math are the soul of engg. Physical phenomena dealing with static and dynamic forces are best understood with a grounding in physics and math gives one the tools to test hypotheses, simulate performance of designs etc. This is a step to ruin the future technical resource of India. It could be with malafide intent to facilitate the infinite number of tech institutes and colleges who want to churn out quantity without any quality. Beware of such moves, they should be nipped in the bud.

  26. nowadays school-going children are writing programmes, making games, they have common sense and analytical ability, so where is the question of maths and physics, even degree world is moving ahead with changed environments, how long we hang on to old school habits and thoughts

  27. There are maths and physics courses in first year of engineering. I am not sure of other streams, but at least Computer Science and Engineering has 4 mathematics courses in first 4 semesters and I am sure there are additional physics equivalent courses in Core Engineering streams such as Mechanical and Civil Engineering. These courses are not any less in quality and depth compared to what we study in XI and XII standards. Infact, they are better. I welcome the decision to waive off maths and physics requirements for Engineering

  28. I wish they had brought this rule 50 years ago. Then Shekhar Gupta could have become an engineer and we would have been spared his unintelligent and stupid journalism.

    • The current engineers are also not able to design things and manufacture things. They all studied maths and physics!

      So what is wrong with many of our engineers. Too much theory? Or lack of skills due to lack of opportunities to applying learnt knowledge? Or lack of government support for entrepreneurship?

      We can build roads, dams, railways, tall buildings but we struggle to design communication equipment, computers, electronic equipment, recording equipment, medical and optical equipment, aircraft, helicopters, ships,boats and even guns. In consumer electronics and household white goods it is clearly visible when you visit shops that there is an unbridgeable gap between us and foreign makers.

      So I don’t think good knowledge of maths and physics can make great engineers!

  29. Indian Engineers are in world wide demand because they learnt what is needed in English, are available at low cost and are willing to travel. You remove Math and Physics from Engineering and if States like TN and UP start peddling Desi language education, that demand will abruptly die. Low cost with desired know-how is value. Low cost wages alone with no know-how is coolie labor you find in Gulf. Hope better sense prevails in India.

    • Actually English and some specific skill is more important for an engineer to find a job abroad, Not maths and physics!

  30. Conceptually, any student should be to join any course like engineering or medicine etc as per choice and interest but passing the exams during the course must be made really tough. That will ensure that the standard is not diluted. We are wasting lot of time and energy on entrance exams, preparations, reservations etc. Just allow anyone to join say 1st year of engineering or medicine course and the student cannot proceed until he or she passes each semester with minimum 65% marks. 80% of the students will drop out in first 6 month without any headache to anyone. Student will realize what he or she can do or cannot do- simple.

  31. I have a software engineering degree and work as web developer. I don’t need much knowledge of math and physics to carry out my job. And I most certainly do not need leftist social science, history or arts. It’s useless to try to teach everything to everyone. Most of the things that we learn but never use, we will forget them anyway.

  32. Sir,
    Maybe a new stream like BEM (Bachelor of Engineering Management) introduced for such candidates, especially for the construction industry. In this industry, the Engineers, Managers do not design but see that construction happens as per the approved design drawings within the schedule and with the prescribed quality parameters. In a four year degree, the requisite knowledge & managerial skills could be imparted and they would be more useful than frustrated young Engineer joined this industry out of no option.

  33. You mean like building castles in the air?

    in jest only:

    Then again, in the information age does one really need to be an architect to design a building? Is there no app for it yet? With a good 3d printer, order the raw materials, online, (the App will take care of it; Alexa can keep the list and verify delivery) produce the materials – bricks, doors and whatever – put it all together as described in the manual. Else you can refer YouTube for a detailed visual demonstration.

    Tailpiece: Engineering? Who needs education, eh?

    • Focus on outcomes, not on inputs. Outcomes may not all depend just on education but other factors like opportunity, role models, business savvy etc.

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