Don’t tread a wrong course
Most of the computer institutes hound an inquirer and do their best to convince him to do a course with them. A kind of symbiotic relationship develops. A fresh student gets to click on the mouse and the institute rakes in the moolah. What is actually provided in the curriculum is mostly of little relevance, says Peeyush Agnihotri.
LET'S be clear on this. Java Beans has nothing to do with the vegetable they grow on the Indonesian island off the Pacific. M-com doesn’t mean a master’s degree in commerce just as Corba is not the slithery reptilia misspelt. And Apple is much more than the "forbidden fruit" that brought misery to man.
Life has changed and so has the lexicon of the computer-savvy man on the street. Nearly 10 years ago the mere mention of Bluetooth would have made a hypochondriac scurry to the nearest dentist and the acronym IT itself stood for income tax rather than the then-less-known information technology.
The growth of IT in
India spurted just like an adolescent’s physique. IT-inspired mass
immigration recast the country’s economy and made immigration
agencies and computer institutes, most of which are just a 10" x
12" room phenomenon, gloat the most about e-successes abroad.
Meet Mohit. This athletic-looking boy did a two-year course from one of the top-of-the-line computer institutes of Chandigarh. Today he has changed jobs three times. Not one was remotely linked with computers. Now he plans to go abroad in a bid to get a break in the IT world.
Something has gone wrong somewhere. Probably "sheep trot" by students, powered by a plethora of non-relevant courses introduced by IT institutes, brought the situation to such a pass. A lot of them are working in low-rung managerial capacity and many who have flown abroad with an IT degree and rosy dreams are doing odd jobs there.
There are many Mohits around who go in for a computer course, try to latch on to a respectable job in India and after a dismal performance here try to seek satisfaction overseas.
"There are two basic reasons for a student to join an IT course. One is peer pressure and the other actual career enhancement. A certain level of competence is needed to make a mark in this field. What would happen if a student inclined towards humanities is made to cram quantum physics? It’s as simple as that. A student should first of all go in for a low-end course, have a feel of the subject, assess himself or herself and then proceed towards something more focussed," says Dr B.S. Gill, Director, Microuniv. He agrees that the IT-growth has actually been on a plateau for the past some time. "This was bound to happen," he says.
More of courses and less of trained faculty. The mobile-commerce course for WAP and XML, etc., that has till now found very few takers, is lacks good teachers, as most computer-training shops themselves feel. Faculties are chosen from what was a student batch till yesterday.
"This is a grave problem and needs to be redressed. With just bookish knowledge minus the experience what they can teach is anyone’s guess," says Bikram Dasgupta, CEO, Globsyn Technologies.
Most of the computer institutes hound a query (anyone who makes an inquiry is called that) and do their best to convince him to do a course with them. A kind of symbiotic relationship is stuck. A fresh-from-chalk-smelling-classroom student gets clicking on the mouse and the institute rakes in the moolah. What is actually provided in the curriculum is mostly of little relevance.
"The need of the hour is to identify two or three main courses. With a diffused approach most courses are doomed," says Naveen Kundu, marketing manager, C-DAC, a government-run computer institute.
Capt (retd) Amarjit Singh Bhattal from Gill Educational Services opines that computer teaching and instruction in India lacks the practical aspect. "Computer training in India lacks in one aspect that is working on live projects. By working on live projects students learns more and can get direct feedback from the end-user about the project developed," he says.
"I also feel that in most of the training centres courses are more theory. Students who are not exposed to live projects find it hard to get placement. Dot.com companies absorbed a lot of manpower in the USA. Now with the dot.com bubble finally going bust, most of those who left India are returning. Those who had gained experience and expertise in other IT fields were retained," is how B. K. Jain, Regional Computer Centre Additional Director, views the present scenario. He contends that most of the computer courses being offered in India are based primarily on the Windows operating systems whereas the scene is different outside India.
"We specialise in teaching a student on live projects. The implementation part is the actual part. One cannot know the errors or mistakes unless the project is made functional. Implementing it requires HTML and Java skills at the first step, database management and programming skills as the second and third step, respectively. JSP (Java Server Page) projects are in great demand and we charge Rs 15,000 for 60 hours from students working on them," says Preeti Sapru, a marketing manager with a Sector 34-based institute.
Then there are companies who get projects from abroad. They make students work on them and charge fees from them on the pretext of training them on live projects falsely labelled "dummy projects." Viable models are then sold off to clients abroad.
Despite all odds, a lot many prefer to take IT courses abroad because their ultimate aim is to emigrate. By what means they do it is of little or no consequence. "We never promise emigration to a student who goes overseas to pursue a computer course. Still most of them go with emigration as their main goal," says Liz Batra from Canam.
With a saturation point having been reached in the USA, owing largely due to the slowdown, Australia is now coming up as a preferred destination for those who wish to emigrate as skilled professionals (see box). Those who go as skilled professionals with IT degrees and experience may get up to Aus $40 per hour. "This is primarily because this country is depending upon international manpower in the field of IT," according to Kanchanpreet Kaur from IDP Education Australia.
"Adjusting initially is not easy. After studying hard the student has to do chores like washing, cleaning, and cooking all by himself or herself. They spend Rs 2.5 lakh for six months’ studies. Needless to say that most of them drop out," says Lt Col H I S Virk, CEO (India), Austech. "However, for those who manage to hang on, the fruits of labour are sweet," he adds.
E-com is on a rough patch. Probably, e-commerce was an idea that came much ahead of its time. A lot of issues like e-security and online payments have to be addressed and the much talked about "touch and feel concept" in transaction remains missing. However, a few believe that a second generation of e-com will come and stay.
Barely six months ago, every IT institute worth its cursor was offering courses in e-commerce. Today, after most of the B2C transactions having failed miserably, institutes are avoiding this course like a plague. Prof Subhash C. Vaidya, a former Dean, Faculty of Management and Commerce, Panjab University, feels agitated. "Even this day gullible parents are being taken for a ride.
Designing a Web site is one thing but doing it as a business model for Web-based environment is different. Commerce is a discipline and IT is a tool. E-commerce means application of the tool in that discipline. Commerce people are better suited to teach e-commerce. All they need is to empower themselves with the "e" tool," he says.
Vaidya feels that the private institutes created e-commerce hype and the smart ones jumped in to make money. "What these shops teach is Web designing, hosting and maintenance. E-commerce is not about page hits. It is about conversion of hits into customers," he adds.
"Microsoft launched a $-800 million campaign world-wide to promote C # (pronounced C sharp). This relegated Java to the background. Many of those who had gone abroad on the basis of Java were the ones who suffered the most," Gill contends.
Howerver, Amit Bakshi, Head of Softspec, says: "I do not agree with this. The C # programming tool’s developer version is scheduled for release in the third quarter this year. Currently only the beta version is available. There is no Microsoft certified training available as yet nor is it expected in the next quarter, according to information on the MS site. Meanwhile, Java is progressing nicely into the next generation of computing. Motorola’s new i85s phone using the Java language is being offered in the market. Java’s new Micro edition J2ME piggybacks on a phone or personal organiser’s base software. Java is graphics-friendly, takes up very little space and already runs on operating systems owned by the likes of Palm and Microsoft. C# course curriculum doesn’t exist and we are monitoring the situation closely." It is too early to predict anything.
"The domestic sector is hot in the area of networking. Hardly 25 to 30 per cent of the country has been networked and despite all the hype, just 40 km of Chandigarh has been networked. This is one area that would not go out of business and I believe that students who go in for courses on networking will gain," Gill predicts.
As Log in… Tribune found out, various institutes are charging different rates for the same course (see table on how various institutes are offering the MCSE course at different costs). The cost offered by NIIT-CAT was the highest. When confronted with the question on why was their course being offered for Rs 36,900, the highest in Chandigarh, Amrita Bedi from the centre says: "This is the rate prescribed by Microsoft." When asked what did she meant by this, she said their institute doesn’t haggle on the rates.
Instructor-led learning is passé. The focus is now also shifting to online learning recently. This is so because it is less expensive and has year-round access. Besides, a student can track her progress and measure learning effectiveness. As against the instructor-centric computer education, e-learning uses the power of the network (Internet or Intranet) for self-paced instruction on the computer anytime anywhere. It focuses on the needs of the learner rather than the trainer or institute.
"The aim now is instant learning rather than distant learning," A.K. Saijhpal, co-ordinator, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, says about the Bachelor in Information Technology and Advanced Diploma in Information Technology courses that are provided online by the university. CDs are provided for each semester.
However, e-learning has not been much of a success yet. Less than one per cent of the US population takes up an online course, according to IDC, a market research company. Closer home, Nasscom says only 11.3 per cent of the eight million users use the Net as an educational tool in India.
In the current scenario, students, computer institutes and emigration agencies —they all need each other. Graduates know what unemployment means. Computer institutes, commercial establishment as they are, have their own axe to grind… and emigration agencies are just reiterating that dollar is far superior to the rupee! More so, if it is earned the IT way.