Established in 1996, National Institute of Science &Technology (NIST), Berhampur is one of the premier engineering institutes of India. NIST was started with an objective to have a centre of academic and research excellence in higher education in Odisha at par with international universities and has been living up to its commitment. Under the able guidance of Dr Sukant K Mohapatra, founder chairman of the SM Charitable Educational Trust promoting NIST University at Institute Park, the institution has brought many laurels to the state and country. Dr Mohapatra has over 30 years of professional experience in leadership position abroad in the telecommunication industry. In a conversation with Orissa POST, Mohapatra shares his experience.

Being a major player in the education industry, what do you think are the challenges that the sector is facing?

The development and success of a country is dependent on education and our country is third largest in terms of number of students after China and the US. In India, “Right to Education Act” and opening of private sector in higher education have made positive impact on education. One of the many challenges that Indian higher education faces is the inflexibility of course programmes being offered to students. I hope with implementation of NEP 2020, there will be much flexibility for students to follow different options. Similarly, ensuring quality in higher education is amongst the foremost challenges being faced in India today. There is a different perception and view by different authorities and people about government and private institutions. All institutions must be considered based on merit and contribution to academics and research. Many of the top universities in the world today are private ones.

The digital revolution is here. What implications will AI have in the education sector?

Digital revolution is changing the way we live and work today. Use of technology in education will certainly help circumvent resource constraints in many areas and improve quality of education. AI will have major impacts on many domains starting from healthcare, finance, manufacturing, to warfare, and academics is no exception. Education sector can benefit from AI. For example an AI-based virtual professor can replace human being thus circumventing shortage of faculty. AI is currently used to monitor examination centres to ensure due process, safety and security. AI will certainly make education more fun, interesting and help alleviate some of the resource challenges that we face today.

The Indian education system has often been criticised for its emphasis on rote memorisation and test scores, rather than fostering a culture of critical thinking, creativity, and practical skills. What measures should be taken to prepare students accordingly?

It is true that the education system in India post Independence has been primarily based on memorisation rather than creativity and encouragement to students’ inert merit and passion. To overcome this challenge course structure must be revised to infuse more practical aspects and understanding various things rather than encouraging memorisation. Admissions to higher education must be based on multiple parameter of students’ achievement like belief in value systems – based on teacher recommendation, performance in sports and excellence in public service, public speaking etc rather than single test score in an entrance examination or grade in a school. Students cannot excel unless they are allowed to follow their passion. We need a fundamental paradigm shift and strong collaboration of policymakers, parents, society and students.

How has your journey been so far? What makes NIST University a preferable place for students?

My life journey so far has been very exciting and fulfilling, though there have been challenges on the way. During my academics and professional career I felt very proud for coming across many exemplary people from whom I have learnt a lot. As far as NIST University is concerned, we always emphasised on four core and foundational values: Student First, Research and Innovation, Contribution to the Society and NIST Family. NIST has always attracted the brightest students around the country and internationally due to its core foundational values and strong focus on academic and research excellence. We expect it to grow further.

What advice will you give to newcomers in this industry?

My suggestion to people to start off their journey in any industry, not just specific to the field of education, is to follow your passion, not follow the crowd and let the crowd follow you. Never be disappointed and give up during challenging and difficult times, learn from mistakes, change your strategy (if needed) and follow your objective with laser-like focus. Life is short, happiness is the key – make others happy through your karma, you will certainly be happy.

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