Vinay Jha Pillai
Higher Education in Electronics and Communication Engineering
Higher education is ready for a major revolution. For those who wonder about future of education, this proclamation will come as no surprise. It is so typical of us to think and talk about the changes to come, and we have become an expert at it. Our familiarity with upcoming change, however, may have numbed us to what it will really mean. Technology has made great and deep impact on us. Technology has changed the way we order life. It has moved us toward a different kind of economy and modified ways of living. We are in the midst of changing from an energy-based to a knowledge-based economy which will alter the rules of international economic competition, thrusting universities into roles they have not traditionally played. Two of the greatest challenges our institutions face are those of harnessing the power of digital technology and responding to the information revolution. Addition to it, our institutions are looking forward to the needs of industries to frame their curriculum. To a great extend, institutions are exploiting the available resources and technology with constant updation. The opportunities and challenges technology presents are far greater than at any previous time in higher education's 750-year history.
There is still debate about exactly where higher education's history began. Irrespective of whether it was in Paris, Oxford, or Bologna, historians agree that it began at the start of the 13th century. It has not changed much since. Fundamentally, higher education is still a process of imparting knowledge by means of lectures to those who want to acquire it. This essay describes the forces accelerating change in Higher education with respect to Electronics and Communication Engineering, raises difficult questions that will help us determine what a transformed learning environment could be, and offers some thoughts on why it is important for higher education to take the lead in realizing that vision.
WHAT IS ELECTRONICS AND COMMUNICATION ENGINEERING?
The word “electronics” is a combination of two words, “electron” and “technology”, electron being derived from the Greek word “elecktron” which means amber. The word was first referred to describe amber's attractive properties by William Gilbert in his 1600 text De Magnete. In physics, an electron refers to a particle of charge quantified in terms of Coulombs. The word “electric” was first used by Francis Bacon to describe materials like amber that attracted other objects. The first usage of the English word electricity is ascribed to Sir Thomas Browne in his 1646 work, Pseudodoxia Epidemica. Scientists like Einstein, Feynman, and Maxwell used the word “electron” more frequently to elaborate on their findings of quantum physics and electromagnetic theory.
Accepting electronics as a circuit science is now generally referred to as a subject that deals with the flow of electricity or current and its behavior when it passes through a conducting material or a semiconductor to precise. Various electrical phenomenon like voltage, current, power, watts, amperes are used to quantify various metrics in the circuit science engineering domain. Electronics is not confined to circuit science and semi conductor theory as such but a general intuition with the word “electronics” gets linked with the notion of flow of charge carriers in a conducting material. Cambers Twentieth Century Dictionary (1972) defines electronics as "The science and technology of the conduction of electricity in a vacuum, a gas, or a semiconductor, and devices based thereon". Electronics is hence an age old concept which gradually evolved and is now a significant part of human existence.
Electronics and Communication engineering today is centered around reliable communication networks and data transactions at high speeds. The internet has become the backbone of almost all existing communication networks. Electronics and Communication is a vast field in itself.
Communication, signals and systems, control systems, power electronics, computer networks, image processing all integrate to form a part of electronics as a whole. Initially, Electronics and Engineering was a small domain of Science. Science has been ever evolving reflecting the human mind and education has always been an integral part of learning and evolving. Education system has been such that it has tried to practice the human mind to think, learn, unlearn, relearn and innovate. Alvin Toffler said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” To keep this motivation going, education system has slowly structured itself in the technical side to aid learning.
In the ancient period, science was taught to students through practical understanding with nature. For example, when a stone is dropped in water, it creates ripples and with time, these ripples settle down to become still water. This is a good example to illustrate stability of a system in a very basic sense. The example coated is associated with nature rather than a laboratory with equipments to illustrate simple science. Not to negate the current methods to make one understand, but to state that as time as passed, sophistication is reflected in every aspect of life and in some way or the other, has caused more damage than good!
IMPACT OF MARKET AND TECHNOLOGY
Technology has advanced magnanimously and the pressure is now on the students to know everything and anything that is up in the market as a consumer electronic device. Students who take up engineering, especially electronics and communication engineering are often unaware of the course structure and what are its further implications in their career front. Previously, students were not as confused as to what stream leads to what kind of a job and where to they fit themselves well. But current education systems simply creates pressure in the minds of the students and parents as to how to choose a stream in engineering and what is the job opportunities related to it.
A lot of introspection is required to intricately design a course structure for technical education. A decade back, one could conveniently say that there was significant distinction between a hardware oriented technical course and a software oriented technical course. But now things have changed and the fast moving modern world only demands of an inter-disciplinary course which can fetch employment in many different industries. Every subject is interlinked to every other subject and this inter- disciplinary aspect of making a course well suited for multiple industries of hardware or software or hardware-software co-design has played a significant role in making a structure of a particular technical course.
Once the student has chosen the field of interest of electronics and communication, he/she is less motivated to do the basic understanding of the subjects like signals and systems, basic communication theory, electronic circuits to name a few. The reason for lack of motivation is them being prejudice that those subjects are made to kill their confidence and only make them slog to pass an examination of 100 marks in which they got to score a 40 to pass through. Laboratories concerned to subjects are also taken as a burden rather than enthusiasm to learn and understand the basic concepts taught in class. As time has passed, education in the technical side has simply degraded and not many quality engineers are produced to contribute towards a better country technically.
Students today face the pressure of keeping themselves updated with the latest versions of software and hardware as a part of peer pressure. The basic understanding being novice to them are simply getting lost in the rat race to know every trendy technical advancement and trying to be the so called “techie tech”. Lot of research goes in to make those high speed gadgets but as Moore’s law has predicted that the no. of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months is simply a pressure point to technical education.
Technical education in our country has always been talked relative to the IITs , IISc and NITs where the quality of education imparted are supposedly far more better than the same being taught in a regular engineering college. It is also seen that these institutes have actually progressed in technical learning and imparting knowledge and also growing in terms of research and innovation. Statistically, a student who has completed a degree in electronics and communication from the top technical institutes holds a better opportunity in the market than a student who has passed out of any other engineering college in the country. The point of reflection is how these institutes are working towards a better higher education than the others. By simple observations, one can make out that these institutes take up huge projects from various research organizations funded well enough, and faculties and students work hand in hand to complete those complex tasks with deadlines. They also employ internet based learning, lectures given on the internet, e-learning, collaborating with other foreign universities to explore other perspectives of the same concepts. So with these institutes as a reference, one can say the country is growing in terms of technical education. There are other universities and institutes who are trying to establish themselves with quality learning, excellence and service.
The challenge to educators is to preserve the essence of traditional education while changing with the times. Our highest obligation to society and to ourselves is to work within the context of change to ensure that it follows a trajectory of maximum benefit to society.