Addressing the STEM image problem needs to be a national priority :
After the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, on the 6th and 9th August 1945, the USA was the world’s undisputed technology leader until 4th October 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the Sputnik. This Sputnik moment was the stimulus for a whole new set of initiatives to promote Science education in the USA. The mission yielded handsome rewards, when on July 20th 1969, Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon in a giant leap for mankind.
Our stimulus for revamping our STEM education efforts is driven by a number of factors: our Bharata Ratna Scientist Professor CNR Rao unequivocally said that 90% of our Universities have outdated curricula, we are just entering the 4th Industrial Age, and several reports, such as the one by PwC project that India would be the 3rd largest economy ( by PPP) by 2050.
Our hope is based on our success in the IT field, which can be attributed to the timely creation of the IITs in the 1960s which was well timed to reap the benefits of the 3rd Industrial Age.
For the year 2020, which is just about 20 months away, we should set up our goal of setting ourselves up for the fourth Industrial Age. This means a massive access to AI knowledge and tools. Andrew Ng has famously said that ‘ AI is the new electricity’, and India could be the powerhouse. But it is a highly challenging goal. We need to drive Innovation, awakening the Innovator within all of us; promote citizen Science and foster lifelong learning as opposed to finite certification through diplomas and degrees. Our mission 2020 should be to ensure that every learner passing class 10 or class 10+2 would have a knowledge of ‘Computational Thinking’ and an appreciation of its applicability in different domains. Every learner in the first 2 years of tertiary education in any stream would have an Understanding of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning; how it works and how can it be used. Every University graduate would be able to ‘ Make Sense of Artificial Intelligence’ and know of its applications and understand its implications. Everyone from Kindergarten to an octogenarian would transform to a lifelong learner.
While this should be a national priority, it is not driven solely by the Government. Ideally the movement should be ‘agnostic’ to the Government of the day, and driven by enlightened, informed and committed citizens.
Professor MM Pant
Former Pro Vice-Chancellor
Indira Gandhi National Open University
Founder LMP Education Trust
Promoting Public Understanding of Emerging Technologies