Data and language skills need of the hour- The New Indian Express |

Some time ago, I had the occasion to interact with a group of college students in the Delhi-NCR. They were engaged in the pursuit of degrees in various disciplines. During the course of my discussions with them, I realised that very few of them had any interest or liking for the subjects in which they had chosen to specialise.

More worryingly, I discovered that these students were having difficulty meaningfully expressing themselves in English. I then encouraged them to converse in Hindi. This did not work too well, either. It became evident to me that these students had inadequate communication or analytical skills. 

I also realised—quite disappointingly—that most of these students were generally not aware of basic information or knowledge such as how many Nobel laureates had India produced or what exactly was meant by terms such as climate crisis. They were also not conversant with what are India’s major exports or imports, had not heard of the mRNA vaccines and could not tell me the difference between the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. 

I have been aware of such a situation for quite some time and this is typical of a large number of college students. In my humble opinion, this shall harm India’s growth story in the years to come unless our institutions of learning gear up in the right manner to tackle these shortcomings in our youth. 

Whatever other skills we may have in mind when we talk of skilling our youth, it is imperative that we impart communication and analytical skills along with the skills to handle basic tools associated with IT and data. I have often been confronted with arguments that put forward the view that IT and data are of little use and help to students of literature. Perhaps, such folk are unaware of the close connections between data and language through the medium of basic IT skills. 

For instance, one can identify the distinctive styles and works of different authors through the tools of data and IT. The art and science of encryption have origins in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. The works of Pingala and Panini can be more easily expressed and explained to students through the use of IT. George Grierson’s survey of how language changes over geographical regions and with distances—a hundred years ago—is a classic illustration of what I am stating. 

The National Education Policy (NEP), 2020, has rightly laid a great deal of emphasis on providing the right skills to our college students. The problem arises when our universities and colleges mistakenly seem to foster the notion that acquiring skills is something inferior and less important than what is commonly deemed to be knowledge-based learning. The NEP, when interpreted and understood correctly, does not insist on segregating skills and knowledge in rigid terms. In fact, it allows us to view the two—knowledge and skills—as two sides of the same coin. 

I, thus, strongly believe that all institutions of learning must blend the use of basic skills associated with the elementary use of data, IT and analytical, as well as communication skills.

Dinesh Singh

Former Vice-Chancellor, Delhi University; Adjunct Professor of Mathematics, University of Houston, US

Twitter: @DineshSinghEDU

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