A frightening report…
By GEETA ANAND
Mr. Singh and several other engineering graduates said they learned quickly that they needn’t bother to go to some classes. “The faculty take it very casually, and the students take it very casually, like they’ve all agreed not to be bothered too much,” Mr. Singh says. He says he routinely missed a couple of days of classes a week, and it took just three or four days of cramming from the textbook at the end of the semester to pass the exams.
Others said cheating, often in collaboration with test graders, is rampant. Deepak Sharma, 26, failed several exams when he was enrolled at a top engineering college outside of Delhi, until he finally figured out the trick: Writing his mobile number on the exam paper.
That’s what he did for a theory-of-computation exam, and shortly after, he says the examiner called him and offered to pass him and his friends if they paid 10,000 rupees each, about $250. He and four friends pulled together the money, and they all passed the test.
“I feel almost 99% certain that if I didn’t pay the money, I would have failed the exam again,” says Mr. Sharma.
BC Nakra, Pro Vice Chancellor of ITM University, where Mr. Sharma studied, said in an interview that there is no cheating at his school, and that if anyone were spotted cheating in this way, he would be “behind bars.” He said he had read about a case or two in the newspaper, and in the “rarest of the rare cases, it might happen somewhere, and if you blow [it] out of all proportions, it effects the entire community.” The examiner couldn’t be located for comment.
Cheating aside, the Indian education system needs to change its entire orientation to focus on learning, says Saurabh Govil, senior vice president in human resources at Wipro Technologies. Wipro, India’s third largest software exporter by sales, says it has struggled to find skilled workers. The problem, says Mr. Govil, is immense: “How are you able to change the mind-set that knowledge is more than a stamp?”
At 24/7 Customer’s recruiting center on a recent afternoon, 40 people were filling out forms in an interior lobby filled with bucket seats. In a glass-walled conference room, a human-resources executive interviewed a group of seven applicants. Six were recent college graduates, and one said he was enrolled in a correspondence degree program.
One by one, they delivered biographical monologues in halting English. The interviewer interrupted one young man who spoke so fast, it was hard to tell what he was saying. The young man was instructed to compose himself and start from the beginning. He tried again, speaking just as fast, and was rejected after the first round.
Another applicant, Rajan Kumar, said he earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering a couple of years ago. His hobby is watching cricket, he said, and his strength is punctuality. The interviewer, noting his engineering degree, asked why he isn’t trying to get a job in a technical field, to which he replied: “Right now, I’m here.” This explanation was judged inadequate, and Mr. Kumar was eliminated, too.
A 22-year-old man named Chaudhury Laxmikant Dash, who graduated last year, also with a bachelor’s in engineering, said he’s a game-show winner whose hobby is international travel. But when probed by the interviewer, he conceded, “Until now I have not traveled.” Still, he made it through the first-round interview, along with two others, a woman and a man who filled out his application with just one name, Robinson.
For their next challenge, they had to type 25 words a minute. The woman typed a page only to learn her pace was too slow at 18 words a minute. Mr. Dash, sweating and hunched over, couldn’t get his score high enough, despite two attempts.
Only Mr. Robinson moved on to the third part of the test, featuring a single paragraph about nuclear war followed by three multiple-choice questions. Mr. Robinson stared at the screen, immobilized. With his failure to pass the comprehension section, the last of the original group of applicants was eliminated.
The average graduate’s “ability to comprehend and converse is very low,” says Satya Sai Sylada, 24/7 Customer’s head of hiring for India. “That’s the biggest challenge we face.”
Indeed, demand for skilled labor continues to grow. Tata Consultancy Services, part of the Tata Group, expects to hire 65,000 people this year, up from 38,000 last year and 700 in 1986.
Trying to bridge the widening chasm between job requirements and the skills of graduates, Tata has extended its internal training program. It puts fresh graduates through 72 days of training, double the duration in 1986, says Tata chief executive N. Chandrasekaran. Tata has a special campus in south India where it trains 9,000 recruits at a time, and has plans to bump that up to 10,000.
Wipro runs an even longer, 90-day training program to address what Mr. Govil, the human-resources executive, calls the “inherent inadequacies” in Indian engineering education. The company can train 5,000 employees at once.
Both companies sent teams of employees to India’s approximately 3,000 engineering colleges to assess the quality of each before they decided where to focus their campus recruiting efforts. Tata says 300 of the schools made the cut; for Wipro, only 100 did.
Tata has also begun recruiting and training liberal-arts students with no engineering background but who want secure jobs. And Wipro has set up a foundation that spends $4 million annually to train teachers. Participants attend week-long workshops and then get follow-up online mentoring. Some say that where they used to spend a third of class time with their backs to students, drawing diagrams on the blackboard, they now engage students in discussion and use audiovisual props.Job applicants at 24/7, which says only three of 100 are qualified.
“Before, I didn’t take the students into consideration,” says Vishal Nitnaware, a senior lecturer in mechanical engineering at SVPM College of Engineering in rural Maharashtra state. Now, he says, he tries to engage them, so they’re less nervous to speak up and participate in discussions.
This kind of teaching might have helped D.H. Shivanand, 25, the son of farmers from a village outside of Bangalore. He just finished a master’s degree in business administration—in English—from one of Bangalore’s top colleges. His father borrowed the $4,500 tuition from a small lending agency. Now, almost a year after graduating, Mr. Shivanand is still looking for an entry-level finance job.
Tata and IBM Corp., among dozens of other firms, turned him down, he says, after he repeatedly failed to answer questions correctly in the job interviews. He says he actually knew the answers but froze because he got nervous, so he’s now taking a course to improve his confidence, interviewing skills and spoken English. His family is again pitching in, paying 6,000 rupees a month for his rent, or about $130, plus 1,500 rupees for the course, or $33.
“My family has invested so much money in my education, and they don’t understand why I am still not finding a job,” says Mr. Shivanand. “They are hoping very, very much that I get a job soon, so after all of their investment, I will finally support them.”
—Poh Si Teng and Arlene Chang contributed to this article.
Write to Geeta Anand at firstname.lastname@example.org