Friday, August 29, 2008

PhD conferment of Abdul Kalam by NTU Singapore

NTU honours Dr Abdul Kalam, President of India, 2002-2007, with the conferment of the Degree of Doctor of Engineering (Honoris Causa) on 26th August, 2008. The honorary degree is conferred in recognition of Dr Kalam's life-long achievements in the service of India, his international reputation in science and technology and his contributions to the improvement of India-Singapore relations.

A report on The Straits Times, Singapore local newspaper

This is the speech Dr. Abdul Kalam made on that day. Please go through it if you guys have time.

Dr Kalam's Acceptance Speech at
the Conferment of Honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

21st Century University Vision
I am indeed delighted to be in the internationally reputed Nanyang Technological University (NTU) which, in a research intensive academic environment, is nurturing students from across the globe in diverse disciplinary strengths as well as entrepreneurial and leadership skills for the 21st century. My greetings to the students, faculty members, alumni, staff and distinguished guests assembled here. I consider it a great honour to me for conferring the Honorary degree of Doctor of Engineering conferred by the prestigious Nanyang Technological University (NTU). While I am with you, I wish to share a few experiences - my personal experience during my education, my personal observations on integrative approaches that have enriched the world, the creativity that is needed for the challenging problems confronting humanity and my thoughts on a 21st Century University Vision.
My first encounter with Integrated Learning environment
Since I am in the midst of students being prepared for techno-managerial expertise, I would like to give my experience with a teacher who taught me system design, system integration and system management in an integrated learning environment in the classroom.
While I was studying Aeronautical Engineering in Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai, (1954-57), during the third year of my course when I was a student, I was assigned a project with five other colleagues, to design a low-level attack aircraft. I was given the responsibility of system design and system integration by integrating the team members. Also, I was responsible for aerodynamic and structural design of the project. The other five members of my team took up the design of propulsion, control, guidance, avionics and instrumentation of the aircraft. My design teacher Prof. Srinivasan, the then Director of MIT, was our guide. After four months, he reviewed the project and declared my work to be gloomy and disappointing. He didn’t lend an ear to my difficulties in bringing together data-base from multiple designers. I asked for a month’s time to complete the task, since I had to get the inputs from other five of my other colleagues without which I cannot complete the system design. Prof. Srinivasan told me "Look, young man (this is in 1954), today is Friday afternoon. I give you three days time, by Monday morning if I don’t get the configuration design, your scholarship will be terminated." I had a jolt in my life, as scholarship was my lifeline, without which I cannot continue with my studies. There was no other way out, but to finish the task. My team felt the need for working together round the clock. We didn’t sleep that night and a few nights, working on the drawing board skipping our dinner. On Saturday, I took just an hour’s break. On Sunday morning, when I was near completion, I felt someone’s presence in my laboratory. It was Prof. Srinivasan studying my progress and the design. After looking at my work, he patted and hugged me affectionately. He had words of appreciation (he said): "I knew I was putting you under stress and asking you to meet a difficult deadline. You have done a great job in system design”.
Through this review mechanism of Prof Srinivasan, I was injected the necessity of understanding the value of time by each team member and brought out the best from the system design team. I realized that if something is at stake, the human minds get ignited and the working capacity gets enhanced manifold. That’s what exactly happened. The message is : whatever be their specialization, the students should be trained to systems approach and projects, which will prepare them for new products, innovation and undertaking higher organizational responsibilities. A Teacher has to be a coach like Prof. Srinivasan. I am confident that the success of NTU is based on the foundation of its faculty and research tasks.
Integrative approaches transform the world
In all the projects that I have dealt with during my professional career, the time during my Presidency of my country, and even now, I have been coming across again and again how networking of individuals, disciplines, organizations, states and countries lead to innovative results and missions. We have been witnessing how complex missions demand synergising diverse disciplines and groups across the world to take up new avenues of research, be it improving the quality of life, exploration of the unknown or bringing peace and preventing conflicts. We are enjoying the fruits of technology expanding physical travel and connectivity beyond any realm of imagination in the past centuries. While the humanity can be proud of this kind of non linear growth of technology and expertise in many fields impacting the world at large, are we up to the challenges that confront us today? Take any issue - be it energy independence or environment protection or understanding the atmosphere or exploration of outer space or increasing outreach of science or equitable distribution of prosperity and wealth or dealing with deadly diseases or weaning people away from drugs or combating terrorism or preserving the family ties, they all require the creativity of best of minds from any part of the world. The question is we have to ask ourselves is whether the universities provide adequate breeding ground for such minds?
Creative mind
Inventions and discoveries have emanated from creative minds that have been constantly working and imaging the outcome in the mind. With imaging and constant effort, all the forces of the universe work for that inspired mind, thereby leading to inventions or discoveries. Higher the number of creative minds in an organization, the best results of invention and discoveries will emerge. Unique academic environment is an enabler for great thinking that leads to creativity.
Education for sustainable growth
As I greet you all in this picturesque campus of NTU in the city of Singapore, an innovative world hub for business, education and tourism, I have been picturing in my mind the revolution that has taken place in university education itself since my younger days. I have had the benefit of receiving quality education with value system from dedicated teachers. I remember with gratitude, the educational institutions and the teachers for their guidance and the life missions that they enabled me to take up. The evolving education system, and the successful accomplishments of many dynamic teams have changed the world immensely.
It is natural, therefore, the university system itself has to meet new requirements in the twenty first century. The number of universities and the number of students in universities have increased several folds. The number of international students has multiplied considerably. With the mobility of citizens from one country to another, the students belonging to multiple cultures live in most of the cities of the world. The costs of educational system have increased and funds availability also is an important aspect. The teacher-student ratio is a major issue. For want of quantity, quality and particularly research should not suffer. The universities, in my view, need to address four important criteria.
a) The education has to address the needs of the citizen for contributing to the sustainable growth in various areas of national and global development.
b) It has to meet the diverse cultural needs.
c) It should ignite the minds towards research and enquiry.
d) It has to be cost effective for deserving students to take up subjects of their choice.
Technology through communication media and internet has revolutionalised the education delivery, which needs to be used in conjunction with the direct teaching. The 21st century challenges faced by nations require the universities to address disciplinary and interdisciplinary subjects of relevance to the society. Now the question is, is it possible that university education can drive sustainable growth of a nation?
Some time back, I happened to read the Conference General report of the International Conference on Education for sustainable future in Sep 2003, which refers to central challenge for higher education for sustainability. Since it is relevant to this audience, I would like to quote
“The Johannesburg world summit for sustainable development has made one thing unmistakably clear that the political leadership the world over is incapable of rising to the challenge of sustainability. Yet, most of the hundred or so world leaders who attended have a higher education degree from some of the world’s most prestigious universities – the higher education sector is failing society by producing leaders incapable of addressing the most pressing problems. If higher education is the nursery of tomorrow’s leaders then the sector bears profound responsibilities to create a sustainable future. This implies that graduates of every discipline need a sound working knowledge about sustainability”, through their education in the university campus.
You may like to debate this view and arrive at a conclusion on the introduction of sustainable development in the teaching and research. Of course, NTU may have an answer to the above challenge.
Technology is a non-linear tool
Science is linked to technology through application. Economy and environment are linked to technology. Technology is the non-linear tool available to humanity, which can effect fundamental changes in the ground rules of economic competitiveness. The growing technological evolution in the last one hundred years is the testimony of the fact of this non-linear trend. Technology consists of stages like research and development, technology transfer, technology absorption and production of products or systems with the desired performance, quality, and cost-effectiveness Hence technology empowers nations through science. What are the future challenges facing the humanity, which needs to be addressed by the combined efforts of various nations?
New Paradigm for Science and Technology: Many challenges are going to be thrown on the sea, under the sea and above the sea. Scientists will also have challenges in bringing back a clean environment by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy from sun, wind and nuclear systems. Some of the future tasks are:

• Evolution of clean atmosphere by replacing fossil fuel by cost-effective renewable energy systems, leading to energy independence;
• Exploring the human body, particularly gene-characterization through the proteomics project for developing gene-based drugs;
• In the area of communication, a big revolution is setting in. High-bandwidth mobile wireless is in the offing. This could result in the mobile phone becoming a convergent system for multi-media applications for meeting the needs of communication in the office, home and on the move.
• Particularly for India, having 1 billion plus population, enhancing the food-grain output from the present nearly 230m tonnes to 380m tonnes by 2020 with reduced land, water and number of people working in the farms through the use of technology could be a role model for the rest of the population in the world
• A sustainable Rural Development through provision of urban amenities in rural areas (science and technology as the focus) will need innovation, research leading to products, systems and services in physical, electronic, knowledge and economic connectivities.
• Understanding precursors for phenomena like earth quake and tsunami which damage decades of development and put humanity into descent
• Evolution of Unified Field Theory, which may be the ultimate of physics, by revealing how the universe is born and how we are born;
• Evolution of an alternate habitat among the system of our galaxy for humanity by the scientific community of today and tomorrow;
• Evolution of earth, moon, mars complex to bring to the earth new material like helium-3 and other rare materials for the generation of solar power;
These are the some of the major areas of research and innovation, which need the joint research and development efforts of multiple nations based on their individual core competence. Certainly Indian Universities, Institutions and Nanyang Technological University can work on certain specific missions which are of our interest.
21st century University Vision
I have in the last ten years have met more than 3 Million University students and faculty from more than 150 universities in India and 50 universities in abroad. Based on this spirit, I wish to formulate a 21st university vision for your consideration.
• The universities have to prepare citizens of the future with a global outlook and be capable of serving his/her nation or nation of his/her choice.
• Science and technology and public policy are interrelated for mutual benefit and ushering in human kind’s development. This link has to be solidly built in the university education
• Good teachers can be in any part of the world. The university has to bring in this resource through innovative content generation in virtual class rooms.
• Technological connectivities among universities have to be pursued on a war footing using cost effective virtual class rooms.
• Cost effective continuing education possibilities are essential for citizens to be in tune with time.
• Can university education lead to sustainable development of the nation?
• With the world population increasing and resources dwindling, a mindset has to be developed for conserving and sharing the resources and look for new research for abundant resources. This calls for a “noble spirit” as well as a “research spirit”
In summary, the 21st century university education is about developing enlightened citizenship for a knowledge society for peace and prosperity of nations and the world. 21st century University has to be the incubator of world knowledge powerhouse. Based on my interaction with Indian and foreign universities, I have detected certain dynamics. Wherever there is research intensity, it has enhanced quality teaching and also the university has got a great name in the world of teaching. Universities from developed world with their vast experience of a century, have realised the significance of research as a foundation for the university. This is one dimension. The other dimension is that the student community with research focus will most aggressively ask questions. The third dimension is that the sharp gradient and accelerated development processes can give a platform for research for sustainable development. There is a large student community in the developing countries and there is an urge for higher education. Hence, we should see how we can empower them through university to university collaboration, student – faculty interaction, lab to lab collaboration, reaching out the world class quality teaching and research through a virtual reality environment with the excellent content generated.
Ultimately, education in its real sense is the pursuit of truth. It is an endless journey through knowledge and enlightenment. Such a journey opens up new vistas of development of humanism where there is neither scope nor room for pettiness, disharmony, jealousy, hatred or enmity. It transforms a human being into a wholesome whole, a noble soul and an asset to the universe. Universal brotherhood in its true sense becomes the sheet anchor for such education. Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realized by each individual, and carried forward in every field of human activity the world will be a much better place to live in.
Once again, let me thank the members of NTU for giving me this unique honour of being conferred with the degree of Doctorate of Engineering. My best wishes to all the members of NTU for success in their mission of providing a distinctive education to the students for solving real world problems.
May God Bless you.

1 comment:

Gerald Lek said...

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