If you are an engineer or an aspiring engineer, or you simply want to know how worn out the road to engineering is here in Nepal, you should listen to what I am about to say. I am going to tell you a story about an engineer, this might turn out to be a rant, maybe an emotional one.
This is about an engineer who was never forced to become one, it was his own career of choice. This is about his experience, a story about the road to becoming an engineer, about a kid.
He was a curious kid. He had this desire to know about things. About machines, about technology, about everything. Why and how were his two favourite questions. Whenever his grandpa used to take his tools out to repair something in the house he was always there, beside him, handing him tools, watching closely, he loved it. He was fascinated by how doors worked, how water from the tank reached his sink, how brakes on his bike worked, and he loved opening things up, sometimes with his old man and sometimes alone. He made rainbows by dipping a mirror into a bowl of water, he made parachutes for his action figures, magnets, magnets were his absolute favorite. Aren’t magnets amazing? Ever wondered? He did a lot.
In school, he loved math, because there was problem-solving. He loved science because it taught him things like how clouds made rain, and that was amazing. How could he not love science, it answered almost all of his dumb questions.
A child’s mind is incomparably curious. Every day is an experiment. Maybe he didn’t know what it was like to be an engineer then, but he sure had the hunger. Capability? Maybe? Maybe not? But the desire to know, I am sure as hell he had it. He had an engineer inside him. And that continued. He persevered enough to be admitted into a fine institution to continue his never-ending curious journey. Hungry, confused, and curious ‘to be engineer’ kid reached university. He thought he made it. This was ‘the Dream’. But who knew the antagonist in the story would be his university itself. While he looked forward to nurturing and sculpting the engineer inside him, his university killed the engineer.
This is not about a single college, a single professor, or a single incident. As a matter of fact, it is about the system. Sounds dramatic, but a murderous system. The system is not built to reinforce creative, analytical, critical, and/or rational mindsets. The engineer inside a student does not die but is pinned down, suffocated, and murdered in the system. Bear with me and I will try my best to make you understand what is happening? How the curious kid inside an engineering student dies? and what can be done about it?
A brief structure of the University: 4 years. 8 semesters. 50+ subjects, exams, viva, tutorials, useful, useless, important, not everything, a package. One semester has six months and 6 subjects (on average) to study. The first month no one cares, the student, the faculty, no one. Now you have 5 months. If you take into account all the internal exams, viva, lab, backlogs, holidays, and the finals ( which last for an entire month), we have got three months to study. Now when the system attacks you with all there is in the syllabus to be covered in so little time, with maxed out effort and incapable faculty, you are bound to look for options.
And the option is of course last-minute preparation. Who cares about learning, when you have solutions to all the probable questions that can come in your exams, in a pocket-size book that costs hardly Rs. 300. No one wants to learn the fundamentals. No one wants to think. Page by page, hour by hour you turn it up and churn up all the answers and store them in your head, all you have to do is vomit it out on the paper during exams.
That is how you pass, that is how you move ‘forward’ in the University.
In my personal experience and many engineers can attest to this, some of the most important characteristics/skills required to become a capable engineer on the field are problem-solving attitude, creativity, teamwork, command, quick on the feet thinking, and ethics.
The university has no structure to reinforce any of those skills. The credibility of the whole university syllabus for developing these skills into a student is non-existent. As cliché as it sounds, the whole system is flawed. Six month’s learning is judged in one single semester examination (at least 80%). There are internal exams, assignments, attendance, and vivas that are marked. Yes, they are. But here’s the truth, assignments are copied, internal exams are a formality, and attendance is forced.
Now here’s the point. The students are all willing to take these shortcuts in assignments, exams and attendance because they feel there is nothing to learn. It’s just a game of how many marks do you score and not of how much you actually learn. Students are not to blame for this, it is the course, the whole structure. The university has romanticized failing for god’s sake. Yes, people fail and it has to be normalized for there is a ‘try again’ option. But to romanticize failing is dangerous. ‘Back Lagnu’ has become so normal that we don’t even care, and we put no effort into changing it.
Projects. Yes, projects. Projects are so underappreciated it blows my mind. There’s one major project in the last year and even those are copied by most of the students. Because the learning system has made them so thick-headed that they do not see how significant project works are and what skills do they reinforce into them. They are discouraged to take up new ideas for projects and everyone selects the same old boring projects every year. This is a major issue. Do not get me started about the research part. Underfunded and no one cares.
Everyone comes into the college with an enthusiasm to conquer the world and when the system engulfs them, the only thing they think during the ‘university life’ is to get the hell out of there as quickly as they can, with minimum damage and with a degree (of course). Thank god he had friends there. They helped each other survive.
I feel so terrible thinking about how he spent his time during his University days. He was made to. There was zero creative space. It was just a process of coming in, getting a degree, and getting out. Well the degree helps him, for sure, but here’s the thing, he had more inside him, they were individually and as a team more than what they thought of themselves in that system. We lost an engineer in him, and too many others along with him. The worst thing is there is very little hope to make real, significant changes that tips towards bringing out the real engineers in students.