The recent controversy over JEE questions in regional languages calls for reflection. The wishful belief that regional languages are suitable enough for the techies-to-be to enter the IT and AI world is a symptom of the deliberate blindness that our politicians are adept at for populist reasons.To be efficient in comprehending English and communicating in the language is essential at the very threshold of the globalized world in which the young engineering aspirants prepare themselves to function , and this, at a time when many of the members of the highly trained professional group called engineers seem to be unable to write the language correctly, or, in a large number of cases, are unable to follow the lectures in English.
In this rapidly shrinking world, English continues to enjoy the status of the most important international language. Engineers are naturally integral to the global technological revolution. Is it wise not to allow our bright engineering students to share the experience and reap the harvest? Their knowledge and command over English becomes an indispensable tool. In 2012, a bright student of AIIMS committed suicide because he could not keep pace with his English-speaking classmates. Incidentally, he had scored 75 per cent in his Higher Secondary examination. Despite such instances, English was made a non-competitive subject in the JEE from 1973 onwards.
This resulted in an increase in the number of students from vernacular backgrounds. A few years later, the IITs scrapped the English exam altogether. There has been a marked deterioration ever since English was dropped from JEE. Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics are the subjects that hold the key to success. However, a strong base of facts, facts and facts alone apparently fails to give them the required confidence. Most of them realise their shortcomings in English communication. Grasping lectures, taking class notes, availing library facilities ~ all becomes a nightmare. Even with adequate technical information most are loathe to write reports in which verbosity and monotony are the common defects.
In their campus interviews, the ability to communicate their technical knowledge is also tested. Many of them fail to assert their depth with confidence. Only after cutting a sorry figure, do they realise that the final stroke of victory is achieved by the magic of spoken words. Selectors look for technically sound, smart and well-balanced personalities. And the game is lost by those deficient in the English language. Basic knowledge of the English language alone can create the necessary confidence. This can come only when a candidate is aware of what is correct and what is incorrect from the school level.
English is a developing language; changes in its usage do take place. Spelling of words also has a certain uniqueness. These seemingly minor factors matter because many companies ask for handwritten applications where poor spelling can cost the candidate dearly. Filling up of application form is also a fine art. One may blow his own trumpet, but this must be done cautiously and correctly. Group discussions test a candidate’s ability in several ways ~ what he knows and how clearly he can express his ideas. Many fail to come up with flying colours in group discussions because of their inability to express. Topics set for group discussions range from sports, politics, business and finance, social, national and international issues.
All standard English newspapers cover a wide range of relevant topics for them. The purpose of technical presentation is to encourage direct thinking; to impart information; to stimulate listeners; to convince and to inspire action. This is particularly true when engineers, as managers connected with shop-floor operations and production, have to present performance plans vis-a-vis targets achieved, highlight shortfalls or constraints faced, as well envisage future strategies to overcome them. More importantly, the fact that English continues to be the most important international language cannot be ruled out. And engineers cannot afford to lose their human identity in the dry desert of hard facts.
They need to possess good communication skills and refined manners as well, indeed the capability to establish the weight of their technical knowledge. T here is abundant opportunity to develop oneself provided one is left with the choice to develop. If things are nipped in the bud, who on earth can impress upon them a greater need? Moreover, it is the individual’s awareness of the ultimate reality as well as his personal grit that sees him through ~ the awareness that is evident on the campus in their craze to imbibe the latest slang, technical jargon rather than terse, crisp, concise and precise forms of expression.
Teaching of literature may also be included in the engineering curriculum because it is sometimes felt that teaching the language through structural grammar alone may not yield the desired results. Primary language abilities develop naturally and in a more realistic manner when students are exposed to literature. Good style concerns technical writers too. Effective use of common, simple words are found in George Orwell and Charles Dickens. The height to which human imagination can soar is nowhere better evident than in science fiction. The force of wit and logic in Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde stirs one and all. Reading a novel exercises the memory and develops it as well. To read a piece of literature is to develop the power of comprehension which helps in overall grasping of other subjects as well.
An engineering graduate must also develop into a complete person, a balanced individual. An engineering graduate has to take responsibility of the various sectors of a company’s functioning. The present style of the functioning of management demands meaningful presentation. Communication skill is the basic requirement for this purpose. Managerial functioning calls for action plans, microplanning and periodic performance plans, to be delivered before the audience and also presenting the same in writing. Clarity, logic and precision should not be compromised here. Mere technological knowledge cannot help one to acquire this skill. Engineering graduates cannot divorce themselves from the real world.
Their need to communicate skillfully in a language that enjoys international status is proving more significant than ever before. We must willingly cope with this reality while stepping into the portals of technical learning. Proper training in English must begin in school. However, the actual learning can be imparted only when there is adequate investment of time, care and expertise. The pretext that English is too elitist to allow the rural and suburban candidates to do well in the JEE will deprive them of this essential tool of dealing with the world. Without political will, our country will keep producing capable engineers bereft of global exposure because of their deficiency in language skills.
(The writer is former Associate Professor, Department of English, Gurudas College, Kolkata. He is presently associated with Rabindra Bharati University)