The AICTE building. Photo: AICTE.
New Delhi: Two senior scientists working with the government have responded to the All India Council for Technical Education’s (AICTE) decision to make physics, chemistry and mathematics optional in high school for admission to engineering colleges, Indian Express reported on March 19.
The Centre’s principal scientific advisor, K. VijayRaghavan, told the newspaper that “rigour and depth in mathematics and physics comes easier early on” and that “it would be wiser to study these subjects in high school before seeking admission to B.E. and B.Tech programmes.”
V.K. Saraswat, a member of the NITI Aayog and former director of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, called the decision “retrograde” and a “step in the wrong direction”.
These words of caution came after AICTE issued a set of revisions last week for universities to admit students to their engineering programmes.
The technical education regulator provided a list of 14 subjects that included business studies and engineering graphics for students to choose from to be eligible for an engineering degree in the country.
Students would need to pass in any three subjects from the list with a minimum of 45% marks in the class 12 board examinations to qualify for undergraduate study of engineering.
AICTE chairman Anil Sahasrabudhe told The Tribune “The revised regulation is in line with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 vision that students should be offered more flexibility in their choice of subjects, especially in secondary school.”
NEP 2020 stipulates that there shouldn’t be any hard separations between the arts, sciences, commerce and vocational education, according to Outlook.
M.P. Poonia, vice-chairman of AICTE, told Outlook, “This [revision] will enable a student with a commerce background, for example, to pursue engineering if he wants.”
AICTE’s 2021 approval process handbook states that universities should offer suitable bridge courses in mathematics, physics, engineering and drawing to students coming from diverse backgrounds.
“Physics, chemistry and mathematics will continue to be important subjects for streams like mechanical engineering,” Sahasrabudhe told NDTV. “For textile engineering, agriculture and biotechnology, students will have an option of not studying the three subjects compulsorily in class 12. They can make up for them through bridge courses later.”
Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon Ltd., told Indian Express, “Without a background in maths you can still pursue biotechnology, but you will end up limiting your opportunities. I didn’t have mathematics as a subject, but I am working in this area.”
The New Indian Express reported that making physics and mathematics optional for engineering aspirants is not binding on states or universities.
“Universities can still mandate students to pass these courses in order to be admitted into engineering courses,” Sahasrabudhe told New Indian Express.
He further said that there won’t be any major changes in the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for the IITs at least for a couple of years, according to the report.
The Hindu reported Sahasrabudhe saying at an event that global standard tests similar to the SAT and the GRE may be used to evaluate candidates opting for various programmes in India, including professional and liberal arts courses.
Kishore Kumar, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus in Delhi who coaches students for the JEE and National Eligibility cum Entrance Test examinations, told The Print, “Internationally reputed colleges like MIT and Stanford do not have mandatory subjects or courses that high school students need to go through.”
Dheeraj Sanghi, director of Punjab engineering college, also told The Print, “It will be challenging for technical colleges to select students for admissions since not all students will then come with a standard set of courses. Until the admission process is not impacted negatively, the change holds no threat to the education system.”