Ethical wellsprings of engineering education
Ethical Wellsprings Of Engineering Education. Last week I felt happy when I read that a doctor in Chennai had become the first in India to live stream a surgery wearing Google Glass
Last week I felt happy when I read that a doctor in Chennai had become the first in India to live stream a surgery wearing Google Glass. It made me appreciate how technology is strengthening the world in hitherto unforeseen ways and in many areas undreamt of. But, on the same day I read about something which is so common that we even stopped worrying about the collapse of multi-storeyed buildings leading to several deaths.
Who are the people who build these unsafe structures? Are they not responsible for these tragedies? Though it may seem ‘inhuman’ according to our so-called modern thinking, I was reminded of the Babylon’s Building Code (Hammurabi’s Code) and also about the increasing need for human values and ethics in all professions and much more so in the ubiquitous fields of science, engineering and technology which can be the cornerstones to either make or mar our collective future. It was with this message that I addressed an enthusiastic gathering of future engineers in ‘Hitam’ on their Orientation Day.
My concern here today is about the sorry state of engineering colleges in our State which forecast a gloomy scenario in our developmental graph and about the need to make engineers ‘humans first and professionals next’. The former issue is minor compared to the latter which is global and grave. However, regarding the former, if left unaddressed, more and more of our engineering colleges would be forced to shut down.
Why do we have 13 colleges with zero admissions ?When there are more than two lakh candidates qualifying in our State EAMCET, why have only less than 50% candidates joined our engineering stream ?Where are all the other probables ? When I interacted with some parents and youngsters, I found the answers; our delay in the admission process, late commencement of I year classes in September or beyond, very poor pass percentage in the first year-end examinations and the poor support or motivation extended by the institutions to the entrants have had their say in parents’ and learners’ choices, encouraging them to opt for better environs elsewhere.
In neighbouring States like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, first year classes in engineering colleges are handled by senior faculty and department in-charges who are well experienced in motivating and directing the freshers. In our State, the task is mostly on the shoulders of junior most members .There, in the four-year course, one and a half years is in industrial internship, thereby enhancing employer-employee relationship, awareness of employers’ expectations and also scope for developing good contacts leading to absorption in similar industries if not there itself. When we are aiming at social transformation through technical education, can’t we stop at least the ‘mini brain drain’ from our State to neighbouring States?
As it is, only 15 to 20 % of our professionals are being considered employable, and when no new industries are established it worries me greatly to think of what our State’s future would be in the coming decade. What is the purpose of churning out ‘unemployable ‘products who don’t meet the global requirements? Are we funnelling public money into schemes which go waste? In professional education, fee concessions and education loans are common globally but ours is the only country implementing total fee reimbursement. After this vast investment, what are the returns? Are they adequate and justifiable? After successive setbacks in our engineering college admissions, do we not see the need to restore confidence of our learners by taking essential corrective steps?
If training our young engineers to be globally competent is one target, creating awareness about ethics and their professional responsibilities to the fellow humans, society and our planet becomes another vital target. Would we see buildings and bridges collapse like sand castles or low quality equipment in high risk industries because of a compromise on budgets or market-centric research which is blind to the common man’s needs like basic health and security, if we had a strong ethical sense? We chant that STEM research is our future. True, but is it worth having without ethics? Will it be a utopia or a dystopia? Resisting moral amnesia and realising one's foremost commitment to the fellow creatures is what engineering ethics advocate, be it to the humans as individuals, society in general or environment at large.
In 1948, General Omar Bradley observed that “We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount....The world has achieved brilliance without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants.” As an example, let us see what Albert Speer (Hitler's Minister of Commerce & Industry) said about how their government gave patents to the highly-educated scientists, engineers, and doctors who designed the concentration camp gas chambers! ”Because of what appeared to be the moral neutrality of technology, these people were without scruples about their activities." Does this observation not hold good for our bio-medical engineers, our agricultural scientists and entertainment technology gurus today too?
So far, we have witnessed what development or growth without ethics can do …depletion of all available resources, wars for monopolising the available resources, unpredictable climate changes, devastations, all with the continuous accumulation of wealth and technology in the hands of 15% of the population at the cost of 85% who remain underprivileged even now. The after-effects of Green Revolution which has left the damages of pesticides, the global warming from industries and modern lifestyles, the commercial angle to organ transplants and the yet unknown side-effects of genetically engineered products outweigh the little progress in medical ethics we have striven for in the past decade.
Technology that neglects people’s welfare is not our goal but one that knows the risks, seeks methods to overcome them, thoroughly counts all the possible side-effects and risks. Creating more jobs must not be our goal but rather building a new society. Engineering curriculum may be the content, but our focus must be on the ‘containers’, the engineers, as invaluable humans, good citizens.
“Ethika” in Greek means “character”. Engineering ethics is concerned with the personal conduct of engineers as they uphold and advance the integrity, honor and dignity of engineering while practicing their profession. Engineering ethics course is not about preaching virtue; rather, its objective is to increase the ability as engineers to responsibly confront moral issues raised by technological activity.
They must judge if the outcomes are mere profit-oriented or welfare-oriented. Some of the canons which all engineers should imbibe and practice are :whistle blowing or alerting relevant persons to some moral or legal corruption where “relevant persons” are those in a position to act in response; using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare; holding paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties; remember their professional and moral responsibility to themselves and to their fellow human beings to defend the truth and expose any questionable practice that will lead to an unsafe product or process either globally or locally.
14 Oct 2019 10:28 AM GMT