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Geospatial Science in GATE and NET: A step closer to a stronger geospatial presence

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Geospatial technology is crucial for planning, implementing and monitoring projects of national importance. For bringing such projects to fruition, the country needs a ‘geospatially educated’ workforce. Realizing this importance of geospatial education, in 2013, under the Chairmanship of former ISRO Chairman, Dr K Kasturirangan, MHRD constituted a National Task Force on Geospatial Education which discussed the overall issues relating to geospatial education in the country at school and university level, training and outreach needs, need for high-end research and also the possibility of setting up an institution for geospatial education. The Task Force, which was constituted as a response to an official letter submitted by Geospatial Media and Communications to minister Kapil Sibal, noted that there are major gaps that need to be bridged in the geospatial knowledge arena.

For instance, there are very few universities in India offering courses in Geospatial, and the curriculum is not standardized and up to date, often leading the graduating students to join the lower-end of the career chain. What’s more bothering is that lack of funding curbs research opportunities and efforts, affecting the development of indigenous geospatial hardware and software products.

The Task Force made a lot of recommendations for making the country more geospatially enabled, out of which, AICTE’s recent decision to include Geospatial Science as a subject in GATE and NET examinations comes as an encouraging news for the geospatial community.

 A long-pending demand

The Indian government needs to take some concrete steps to build the country’s geospatial capacity. AICTE’s nod in inclusion of Geospatial subject in GATE and NET is an important step in this direction, setting a positive tone, though after a long pause.

Prof Milap Punia, Chairperson, Centre for the Study of Regional Development & Founding Member of Special Centre for Disaster Research, JNU, aptly points out, “This was a long pending demand. We are glad that AICTE has given a nod to this. A major initiative under UNGGIM is capacity building. Until and unless fellowships will be available to the professionals, capacity building will be an issue. Location is central to everything. Thus it is necessary to build capacities of geospatial professionals. Without adequate research support, trajectories of geospatial professionals get curtailed. The government should fund them.”

Dr Debapriya Dutta, Scientist ‘G’, Head, NGPD, SEED and SSTP, DST, reinforces the need to invest in capacity building by saying, “We depend on outsiders for our geospatial hardware and software requirements. We must build indigenous capacities. India cannot just be a market. With AICTE’s go ahead we will have better outcomes in research and development. Knowledge is the most important input for an ecosystem in the national context. We have about 180-190 institutes offering courses in geoinformation science and technology but there is no standardization of curriculum. Because of this students who are coming out of the universities do not find good career opportunities. Industries often pay them less. Industries also face a problem due to lack of standardization. They don’t know what to expect. This needs to be worked upon.”

Sanjay Kumar, CEO, Geospatial Media and Communications, who was an important part of the Task Force, shares, “Inclusion of geospatial science in GATE and NET would help develop geospatial science as a core discipline and strengthen its integration with several disciplines through specialized research and education. It would help develop qualitative and domain specific geospatial knowledge and capacities to serve disciplines of manufacturing, automation, agriculture, architecture, construction,  etc. by being part of engineering and education ecosystem, and substantially benefit geospatial industry move up the value chain.”

Also Read: Knowing Where Matters! But do you actually know where ‘where’​ is?

Agendra Kumar, President, Esri India corroborates the thought by sharing, “GIS has already become mainstream and is being widely used in government and private sector. The inclusion of Geospatial as a subject in GATE and NET will encourage more students to learn GIS skills and build a career in location intelligence and mapping. At Esri India, we understand the importance of Geospatial education and have been promoting inclusion of GIS as part of curriculum at university level. Through our initiatives, we have also worked with few schools in India to set-up GIS Clubs and introduce GIS learning for school students to gain early insights to potential career opportunities by learning GIS Technology. The integration of GIS with new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine learning, IoT, Data Science and the integration of GIS with BIM and enterprise systems such as BI, ERP, and CRM is further driving adoption of new GIS Integrated applications across various sectors.”

“This inclusion will help in benchmarking students passing out from various universities for the purpose of the Master’s admissions as well as research projects. The syllabus being used for GATE examination will further allow for adoption of a more unified syllabus across universities. It is a long overdue step,” shares Dr V K Dadhwal, Director, Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Trivandrum.

“Geospatial is an essential part of human life—we say 80% human activities have bearing on location.  Considering this wide influence, it is important to produce professionals trained in Geospatial.  The inclusion of Geospatial in GATE will serve towards this goal. The study of Geospatial in India is limited to only a few courses at undergraduate level. This inclusion will now promote starting of four year long geospatial degree courses.  Also, more number of  geospatial courses will be offered in other disciplines through compulsory and elective courses. However, we have to be careful also as so far there is no standardization of Geospatial syllabus across universities.  AICTE / MHRD should initiate this and then only a national level exam in Geospatial area can meet the aspirations of students and provide them a level playing field,” says Bharat Lohani, Professor (Geoinformatics), Civil Engineering, IIT Kanpur.

As the discussion unveils, AICTE’s decision to include Geospatial as a subject in GATE and NET exams will immensely benefit the student community and help in the evolution of geospatial ecosystem in the country. There still remains a lot to do though.

Also Read: How to be more Geospatial job ready as the world reopens

To view the full report of the Task Force click here.