Darwinism in academics
In the academic arena, growth of any discipline is a function of its student enrolment, which is often tailored by the placement of those passing out. This results in competition amongst different disciplines to attract not only more students but also brighter students.
In order to do so successfully the disciplines mutate with time to maintain their relevance in the fast evolving and competitive job market. The disciplines doing so successfully flourish and prosper at the cost of others.
There was a time when zoology–botany–chemistry (ZBC) and physics–chemistry–mathematics (PCM) used to be the two most popular combinations in most science faculties across the nation. Since then, ZBC as also physics have diversified immensely, and have acquired interdisciplinary nature at the postgraduate level.
The courses having been designed according to the to market requirements, pass outs from these disciplines are much sought after, and so these courses are most popular presently amongst the students of science faculty.
Popularity of the disciplines that could not diversify with time has dwindled despite these being highly relevant.
Status quo in geology
Geology is one such subject that despite having high societal relevance, has failed to keep pace with the changing scenario and in most Indian colleges and universities the subject is still being taught in the same manner as it used to be in the 1970s.
This does not however imply that the course material has not been revised. There have been some additions and deletions but these have failed to make a perceptible positive impact.
Geographic information system (GIS) and remote sensing (RS) have been the latest additions to the geology curriculum of many colleges and universities. GIS and RS are no doubt highly relevant in present times, but these have their own limitations that are often not communicated clearly to the students, and unlike land use, geology and structural aspects of the rocks affecting their strength and stability as also economic viability cannot be delineated remotely.
Impact of RS and GIS
Moreover, rather than promoting GIS and RS as tools to supplement geological investigations, in most institutions these are promoted as having solutions of all our problems, including those related to geology. Needless to say that overemphasis on GIS and RS, is eroding the basic elements of geology.
This has deteriorated the very essence of the subject to the extent that most students have started to perceive geological fieldwork as being irrelevant.
This is evident from the deteriorating quality of the geological maps themselves. Prepared using various GIS software these maps are certainly vividly coloured but unlike ones prepared using standard geological symbols these often do not convey anything about the lithology. These maps at the same time do not faithfully depict the attitude of the rocks. Standard symbols used for depicting the attitude of the tectonic boundaries and discontinuities are also missed out in these maps.
Many of the students even struggle in the field to locate themselves on the map using compass/clinometer. They are no doubt smart enough to determine their location using a global positioning system (GPS) and plot these on maps created in the GIS environment.
It is hard to imagine if the one not confident of measuring dip and strike of a simple bedding plane or foliation, would be in a position to use a stereonet and derive anything useful out of the data collected in the field. Use of computer programs for the same do not really provide an opportunity to visualise the attitude of the planar and linear features as also their interrelationship.
With fieldwork relegated to the background, it would not be wrong to comment that the present day geologists prefer airconditioned working environment not appreciating the basic fact that there exists no alternative available to the geologists, but to sweat in the field.
The students are not to be blamed for all this. They learn what they are taught.
If they cannot appreciate the importance of compass/clinometer, topographic map stereonet or geological fieldwork, perhaps the significance of all these tools available to a geologist has not been properly conveyed and meaningfully stressed upon.
Shouldn’t the system and academia be blamed for this?
All this has led to decreasing importance of such an important subject; the subject that affects our routine lives in a big way, and if put to use effectively can make the difference felt.
Geological advice in landslide restoration works or geotechnical feasibility reports have already been reduced to a mere formality and engineers dominate the show at the cost of geologists. Lack of effective geological advice at the right time is adversely affecting the whole developmental process and things are required to be set right; sooner the better.
And the stalwarts of the subject would be the best persons to herald this process. It is high time that the ones proudly carrying the mantle of geology as a subject make serious attempts to see that this interesting subject is saved from being totally subsumed by some other enterprising discipline.