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Dark clouds in employment sector and the silver lining

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Technocrats in the country observed the Engineers’ Day on 15 September 2020 as a tribute to the great- est Indian engineer and Bharat Ratna Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya. Engineering has always been a popular career choice among students in India. The engineering industry has always been able to pull students to it due to job security and the defined growth trajectory that it offers. While the number of engineers passing out every year increases, the lack of skill set beyond the core competency of an engineer amongst the talent pool and increasing shift towards automation are stagnating the engineering ecosystem in India. The Annual Employability Survey 2019 report revealed that 80 percent of graduates are unfit for jobs and unemployment.

While the pandemic hasn’t been kind to anyone, it has created a vast number of problems for the education sector. From schools to institutions of higher education, everything has been shut down to prevent the spread of infection, and if it weren’t for the advancement in technology and the availability of tools like video conferencing and the Internet, the education sector would have been brought to an excruciating and grinding halt.

Many senior executives from leading IT firms have stated that even though the pandemic has affected their businesses, they will continue to hire fresh graduates from top campuses. However, lateral hiring has been frozen in most companies and the experienced candidates are being hired strictly on a need basis. “Many IT firms are readjusting their hiring-strategy to have just enough new employees in order to meet any anticipated surge in demand. Once the demand picks up, a lot of companies would suffer from shortage of resources. Those companies that are going the extra mile in terms of hiring judiciously now will have a definite competitive edge. The top Indian IT companies, including Infosys, Tata Consultancy Services, HCL Technologies, Wipro, etc, have all explicitly stated that they would continue hiring, even amid the pandemic,” says Prof Ranjan Bose, director, IIIT-Delhi (Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology).

Another thing to note is that many entry-level positions have opened up in the companies at the expense of a few mid-level positions. The HR experts are suggesting that the mid-level positions that have been vacated are unlikely to be filled up soon, and most probably, the companies would distribute the work of such positions among a number of fresh-hires. “Most companies will be opting for a virtual mode for recruiting, which will include online tests and online inter- views using some of the standard video-conferencing tools. One of the possible changes that can be explored for technical screening is to use multi-modal assessment methodologies, including randomized MCQs, short essays and case- study outcomes. The online interviews can be simultaneously judged by multiple assessors in order to gain bet- ter insights into the candidate’s soft skills, including leadership skills and personality. The HEIs should proactively help students prepare for online tests and interviews. The responsibility lies equally with the students, the teachers and the IT companies to ensure that the ‘quality of hiring’ does not suffer during these changed times,” adds Prof Bose.

The Covid-19 crisis is likely to contour the engineering land- scape for the next several years. Undermining the potential impact of this pandemic is likely to cause severe damage to this sector in general and to the lives of students in particular. The overall impact will depend not only on ‘how’ we respond but ‘how fast’ we respond and to develop an effective plan for the continuation of education, being adaptive is the key.

4 online platforms that promise to make engineers job ready:

  1. BridgeLabz: This is one of the largest IP-driven incubation labs aimed at nurturing engineering talent and ideas emerging in the technology space. Platform is offering a 30-day online CodinClub bootcamp to upskill the fresh engineering, IT talent in India and improve the overall coding proficiency. It further connects top-per- forming candidates with its partner companies for assured jobs. Currently more than 800+ users are undergoing the 30-day coding bootcamp and the latest round of interviews has now begun with considerable interest from the organisations.
  2. DALHAM Learning: The Bengaluru-based startup, founded in July 2020, offers social science and liberal arts courses for undergraduates and postgraduates of engineering and management disciplines. The main objective is looking to bridge the employability and skill gap. The platform is the outcome of a unique Indic liberal approach to education that has evolved over a period of time. The organisation is dedicated to provide students with a holistic education model immersed in liberal studies and offers integrated liberal edu- cation programmes to higher education institutions for students of engineering and management courses. Through various programs DALHAM Learning aims to provide opportunities to the students to explore a variety of academic areas from science to literature
  3. GitHub: A platform for the open source developer community which was acquired by Microsoft Corp in 2018, is providing virtual or remote internships to students for 6-8 weeks through its global partnership with technology giants like Facebook. Students in the program are placed in small groups of 8-10, called “pods”, along with a professional mentor and 2-3 open source project maintainers. The students within a pod collaborate on projects over the course of a programme.
  4. InterviewBit: Founded in 2015, the Bengaluru-based start-up offers computer science courses through live online classes. Students are mentored and taught by tech leaders and experts working with companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix, among others. The start-up aims to polish the skills of fresh college graduates, working professional engineers and make them job ready.

Educationally Speaking

Pearl Academy brings home studio kits for students

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While education delivery has shifted to the virtual mode, practical classes have taken a hit because campuses and campus infrastructure like labs/studios are currently shut. As a solution to this problem, Pearl Academy has come up with the idea of providing kits to its students to set up functional home studios. Nandita Abraham, president, Pearl Academy, says: “We thought if students are not allowed to come to the campus and access labs, why not help them set it up in their homes. We took a long-term view of the situation and realised that a home studio is a great way to enable them to learn at their own pace even after the re-opening of campuses.

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IIIT-Bhubaneswar develops unique ventilation device

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Given the surge in the number of Covid-19 cases, the demand for ventilators has hit an all-time high with governments and hospitals struggling to meet the demand. To address this shortage, a group of engineering students from IIIT-Bhubaneswar have developed SWASNER, a first-of-its kind helmet-like ventilation device for patients suffering from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Unlike regular devices, SWASNER can be used without a ventilator by directly plugging in to available oxygen ports at hospitals and thereby help reserve the existing ventilators for the critical patients. In fact, according to research conducted by University of Chicago Medicine, patients demonstrate a better recovery rate by wearing helmet-shaped ventilator masks than regular ventilator support. Further, the team has conducted trials at a hospital in Cuttack, and has also applied for a patent for the design and technology.

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VLCC launches online course in hairstyling

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VLCC has launched an online certificate course in hair styling. The 90-hour, 6-week course is timely given the work-from-home trend brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Individuals can avail training at the safety of their houses while adding new expertise in their resumes. Course content also includes intensive segments for hands-on practice and styling consultation skills. The course covers a wide range of topics including hair cutting, hair colouring technique, client consultation, hair product knowledge and trendy hair styling. The course also emphasises on the Covid-19 related safety and hygiene protocols that need to be followed and preventive measures while delivering hair services. It also comes with live demonstration classes by VLCC experts and unlimited Q&A opportunities

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IIIT Naya Raipur invites applications for B.Tech

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 IIIT Naya Raipur has invited applications for B.Tech programmes for the year 2020. The institute currently offers three undergraduate programmes: B.Tech in Electronics & Communication Engineering (ECE), B.Tech in Computer Science & Engineering (CSE) and B.Tech in Data Science & Artificial Intelligence (DSAI). These credit-based programmes are designed to foster core skills with innovation and entrepreneurship skills among students. Candidates aspiring for the admission may apply online from the institute’s website and the last date for application is 15 October 2020.

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Educationally Speaking

How to choose the best ed-tech platform for your children

Vipul Sobti

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Online vedic courses

Right technology in the hands of great teachers can be a life-changing experience for students. The experience and learning of students purely depend on two factors: Great educators and right technology. Hence, educators and education institutions need to ensure adoption of best education delivery platforms. Given the time and circumstances, it is evident that online learning is the way forward post-Covid as well. But parents are now facing the dilemma of how to choose the best ed-tech platform for their kid. What parents seek from ed-tech is information on how their children are faring in their learning process. Here are some key points that can be kept in mind while exploring the myriad options:

 Must be compatible 

It is very important for edtech platforms to be compatible with the systems that the kids are going to use. While choosing a platform, one should keep in mind that it should be comprehensive enough and should entitle one to completely integrate the best visual, audio and data streaming services. In addition to this, one should be mindful of creating a high-quality learning experience among teachers and students. To achieve this, one needs to adopt a platform which has a high resolution video quality and which will not require the installation of new plugins. 

Uniform theme is a necessity

 No matter the electronic device, the theme of appearance and look of the online education platform must be even. The students will perceive better if they will be able to acquire more than just pages of the text. The learning will become even more dynamic when homework assignments, study guides, concept summaries, reading quizzes, video tutorials, etc. are on hand within the opted platform. 

Format of the classroom 

There is an abundance of new classroom formats that are different from traditional formats. One of them is known as ‘flipped classroom’. In this classroom format, in place of going over a lesson in class and doing homework at home, it enables the child to watch a lecture before class begins and complete homework or exercise assignments during the time with the professor. However, this format works the best only if there is a superior video system integrated into the education technology. If the students can smoothly watch the lecture beforehand in high quality, then only a platform could favourably replicate a traditional classroom in a virtual world.

Customisation

 There is a vital need for technology to have the scope of being customised according to the preference or needs of the user or the instructor. Given the condition, this way the professor could utilize the online education platform to maximum potential and fulfil the requirements of the students provided the specifics of their own classes are well taken care of. Instructors need to have the freedom to execute decision making. There are certain specific demands of each different class or section which needs to be addressed by the teacher. For example, which chapters of the textbook are needed to be covered in detail and which amongst them necessitate a quick run through? What shall be the punishment for late comers? Should points be deducted across the board for the submission of overdue assignments? Therefore, being able to customise according to the demands of the classroom and students is highly required. Easy-to-use

 Whilst exploring an edtech platform for a child, one must choose a platform which is easy to handle or use. Once the student has logged in, the dashboard of the ed-tech platform should appear innate to them. The child must seamlessly be able to move between text books, available courses, assignments and also tests or exercises. If the student finds the dashboard of the online platform cluttered or difficult to surf, chances are that he/she will become discouraged, get frustrated, and log off. In order to develop students’ interest in an online platform there are some things that need to be determined. They need to be informative, and less complicated assignment details should appear wherever a homework, quiz, or reading assignment is provided to students. 

Should offer data feedback

 Feedback of data admits us to adjust in real time. If you want a successful learning experience for the students then it’s essential to keep the feedback loop open whether inside or outside of the classroom. This can be attained through a proper course management platform. The instructor is competent to manipulate settings such as multiple attempts on problems, hints, links to the text, and right/wrong etc. In addition to this, the amount of time spent by the student on homework the number of tries attempted, and access or due date for the assignment are all valuable measures. A teacher needs to pay attention to these metrics for their students and especially the struggling ones, in order to attain arbitration and remediation. 

The author is the business head, Unthinkable Solutions LLP.

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Educationally Speaking

Parents, teachers concerned about school reopening amid Covid-19

As per a new survey, most parents want to continue with the online classes for their children and would prefer to review the situation once the coronavirus numbers start reducing.

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The Centre’s decision to partially reopen school on a voluntary basis comes at a time when the students have adapted themselves to the new normal. As the decision is aimed to bring back life to normalcy, students are now perplexed to decide between their health and career as both can’t be ignored. Gradually continuing the unlock process in the country, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare issued new sets of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) to partially reopen physical classrooms for classes 9-12 from 21 September. The ministry has clearly mentioned that online/distance learning should continue to be permitted and also encouraged. Meanwhile, it also limited the strength of concerned teaching and non-teaching employees up to 50 % to be called to schools for online teaching/telecounselling and related work.

 Based on the recent government announcement of Unlock 4.0, Heritage Xperiential Learning School (HXLS) conducted an online survey for students and parents to understand their views regarding the reopening of schools for students outside of containment zones. The survey results stated that only 8% of parents/students expressed their desire to come to school under the current conditions for assistance classes. Most parents stated that they were happy with the online classes being offered and would prefer to review the situation once the Covid-19 numbers start reducing. Kevin Brady, head senior programme HXLS said, “We have largely adapted to lockdown conditions by using all available resources to foster meaningful online relationships with our students and as time has passed, this has become less difficult to accomplish. Based on the survey, while the majority of families may still prefer that these interactions take place virtually, we are prepared to provide the support students require in both virtual and traditional contexts. It is important that we carefully consider the needs and expectations of our families and embrace the flexibility to meet their needs.”

 Talking about parents’ unwillingness to send their children to school amid the fear of a pandemic, Sangeeta Hajela, principal, DPS Indirapuram, adds, “We consider it important to have a clear communication between all stakeholders — the management, parents, staff members (teaching/ non-teaching) and students. Their preparedness, both physical and mental, will be important before we embark on it. Parents’ consent, as per the advisory, would also be taken for the same. The infrastructural groundwork for reopening of the school is also very much in place, with all details carefully planned and executed.”

 The latest SOPs also make it mandatory for schools to maintain proper sanitation in the school campuses. For some, this may look easy but according to Anusha Shridhar, a student of class 12th, many schools in the country lack the basic infrastructure and resources to maintain the physical distancing norms and sanitation. “As crucial this may be, I think it is still very dangerous for students to step out of their houses for education. Not all schools have a big budget to install safety sanitary measures in their schools and without the basic facilities, it is just pointless for students to attend school. With the rising number of cases of coronavirus in India, you would be risking even more lives by opening schools and that is just not what the situation calls for,” says Anusha. 

“If our MPs who are sitting in Parliament are not safe then how can students or teachers feel safe amid the pandemic? Students use common washrooms, there are limited spaces and students often eat lunch together. If any one of them gets infected then there’s a possibility that others too may get infected. There’s also lack of transport facilities and public transport too offers a chance of Covid spread. Who will take care of it?” adds Vaishnavi Halder, a student of Amity University, Mumbai.

 Along with students, parents too have raised their concerns on reopening of school when India is reporting around one lakh Covid cases daily. “It’s not safe to send children to schools in a pandemic. Children unknowingly expose themselves to virus and there’s no one to guide them on the safety measures. It’s difficult for anyone to wear a mask for long hours. If children get infected, they can bring the virus home and it may spread in the family or in the locality as well. Senior citizens might get infected too. It would be better to continue classes for home right now,” says Purnima Biswas, a Raipur-based parent.

 However, Delhi-based parent Anu Bajaj also feels that it is a welcoming step as students would be able to take guidance from students.“ The children’s health is also to be taken in consideration while also looking after their academic development. As long as we stick to the safety guidelines and are vigilant towards managing our health, this decision is more than welcoming,” adds Anu.

 As the uncertainty remains, schools are doing their level best to ensure best safety measures to contain spread of virus in the campuses however, they feel that this decision will surely have consequential effects on every stakeholder. Pankaj Rathore, head master, Seth Anandram Jaipuria School, Lucknow says, “With all safety measures in place, we are very much ready and eager to get back in the classroom; however, amidst rising number of cases, reopening is tough. Many parents are fearful and afraid over reopening the school. If a teacher joins from an area with a higher number of cases and last but not the least, our helping staff, whether they will be able to come up transparent with their health problems. With concerns about no proper medication available at this point of time, regular physical classes will have consequential effects moving forward despite taking all precautionary measures. In the end we should understand that if we want to be successful in opening the schools, we need to strictly follow the blended learning approach.” 

Though concerns over Covid spread in schools are valid, many also believe that reopening of schools would allow the lesser privileged children, who lack resources like mobiles, Internet, computers, to be benefitted from physical classrooms. Dr Madhav Deo Saraswat, principal, The Scindia School, says, “Globally there have been few successes and some failures and therefore all the prescribed guidelines, even if followed fully, can never guarantee 100% safety. However, given the increased screen time, loneliness and unhealthy lifestyle; and the fact that there is a very small percentage of students in this country who have access to the necessary IT tools to continue knowledge acquisition, reopening, in my opinion, looks like a probable option.” 

Reena Rai, English TGT, Jindal Public School, Delhi, adds “A few of my students’ parents either lost their jobs or had to cut down on expenses, being able to afford a steady Internet connection and a personal phone/laptop for the child to attend classes was not easy. With the re-opening of schools, all my students will be able to take the classes that do not require over-the-top expenses, which was not possible earlier. I have witnessed that students need a non-virtual teacher-student relationship and a child-peer relationship that is necessary for a child’s physical and emotional growth.”

 It is difficult to match the quality of education only through online education, therefore, online education should be looked at as a very efficient but only an interim solution to continue the learning. “Operating systems of a school environment is based on various systems and processes run by the educators, administrators, students, and parents, it is not just about the readiness of physical infrastructure, school operations are designed to facilitate intellectual activities within its campus, the usage of mind is higher as compared to the other activities, therefore only a mind without fear can facilitate the learning, observe the learning and support the overall learning,” says Ritesh Rawal, founder, Dudes & Dolls The Cosmic School, Adhyay School, Delhi NCR.

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