Arun K Saraf
Department of Earth Sciences
Indian Institute of Technology, roorkee
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) education in India, in true sense, started about fifteen years back. However, since then there have been discussions among academicians regarding the format and curriculum of GIS teaching. Since then GIS has evolved and come out with full vigor and implementation possibilities. The time, when there used to be talk of the great potentials of GIS, has passed.
During early stages of GIS education in India, the irony was that no one was ready to accept GIS as its discipline. The question that arose was, “Whose baby is this?” For example, Earth Scientists, Civil Engineers, etc. said, “It is ‘geographic’ and hence GIS has nothing to do with us”. Of course, later, this was proved to be a complete ignorance on their part, for, now almost everyone claims GIS to be his/her baby! Nevertheless, it is indeed good for GIS. However, in the early stages of development of GIS, there were just few visionaries who tried very hard to convince the decision makers of that time that GIS is going to be part of IT revolution and the technology for spatial data handling, analysis and modeling. After the pioneering work of USA in introducing GIS education in their country, in the year 1990 Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee (then University of Roorkee), started a subject specialization in GIS for postgraduate students of the institute. The specialization was instantly popular and introduced the GIS foundations in India for research.
Two more important issues are associated with the academics of GIS. GIS is truly a multidisciplinary technology, which now encompasses all spatial sciences / technologies e.g. remote sensing and GPS. And due to this, GIS developers and users come from diverse and different domains and backgrounds. The second interrelated issue (which still persists) is about naming or calling GIS technology. Several experts are still busy in naming and renaming GIS – sometimes Geoinformatics or sometimes GIScience or Spatial Technology etc. All these diverse developments have led to a confusing situation where no defined format for GIS education in India could develop. Neither have we had any national level GIS accredited organization nor well-defined procedures for GIS teaching in India. Learning from past and present situations, the time now is ripe to make appropriate efforts to make national level GIS education policy and well-defined accreditation and certificate procedures. Otherwise, it will remain as it is today – India might be producing GIS technicians rather than GIScientists! This scenario is scary for the research world.
If we look at what is happening in regard to GIS activities in private sectors in India, we see that most of these private companies are involved in digitization and spatial database generation works, which are coming through out-sourcing channels. The result of this is the same that India will have mainly GIS technicians not GIScientists. Without formal and well-defined GIS education in the country, we shall be developing GIS skilled labour, but with proper GIS education we shall be producing knowledge, scientists and researchers.