India stepped into the 21st century with tremendous optimism about information technology, which led to a subsequent boom in computer science (CS) education programmes across the country. Even now, a degree in CS is considered to be an aspirational hallmark for most students from middle-class Indian families looking to secure a job in the domestic or international markets. All of this buoyancy is not misplaced; after all, it is in this field that nearly half a million jobs will be created by 2024. Jobs across the spectrum, be it in STEM, engineering or mathematics will all eventually be computer-related. Computer science, thus, remains one of the most coveted educational programmes to pursue in India. However, when it comes to research in this arena, the landscape becomes a bit rocky.
Although India is among the world’s top countries when it comes to scientific research output, the pace of original research projects in computer science specifically has been a bit slow. With more research projects and papers being concentrated in the applied sciences field, the pure sciences have a taken a bit of a backseat.This can largely be attributed to India being a developing nation with scores of economic, social and health challenges ahead of it. Solution-oriented and problem-solving research isn’t uncommon in countries like India that pool their resources to address developmental problems.
Take for example something as elemental as potholes on city roads – young researchers are trying to solve this problem with the help of the phenomenal work being done in AI-driven image processing. Algorithms are being designed in such a way that pot holes can be identified through smart street CCTV cameras—this includes ascertaining their depth and size—and alerts can be sent out to city authorities immediately.
Similarly, in the field of education, with the help of AI and data analytics, programs are being developed to identify types of dyslexia among students that may often present atypically. Data capturing plays an important role here and AI-heavy projects like these could be a game changer in countries like India where the government is often unable to step in due to the sheer vastness of the country and its population.
India is, thus, leading in many ways when it comes to applied sciences research. Whether it is in fintech or education or health, solutions are being developed every day so that there is a positive and tangible impact on people’s lives. Having said this, academic institutions still need to devise a way to steer back to fundamental research that has gone down visibly over the past decade. There needs to be a renewed focus on developing a rigour for mathematics, so that India’s students are at par with their international peers from countries, like China and the US, that are currently ahead of the learning curve. A balanced approach, in terms of research in both pure sciences and applied fields, is, thus, the way forward for India’s academic institutions.
Authored by Dr. Prachi Gharpure, Director, NMIMS Deemed to be University, Indore