Purposeful education, better learning

Purposeful education, better learning

FLEXIBLE SYSTEM

In recent times, there has been a growing demand to allow Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) which allows students to pick and choose electives from diverse disciplines. A recent article in Deccan Herald dated June 29 also discussed this model.

In this article, Ghosh suggests that the introduction of CBCS in various central and autonomous universities can bring about a substantial qualitative improvement in the education of millions of students who are presently victimised by an opaque and rigid system.

The introduction of CBCS will definitely prove to be a positive step in reforming our higher education and providing students the freedom for inter-disciplinary education but it alone may not be sufficient. School education, as it exists now, has so far been unable to equip students with requisite training in reading, writing and critical thinking.

In my case, I was pretty sure I wanted to do engineering as I liked both Mathematics and Science. So when I got admitted to IIT Delhi, I thought I was in the right place. But soon my faith was broken and the environment that I found in IIT was quite different from my expectations. It was focussed more on making the students the right candidate for job placements rather than learning or thinking about technological ideas. We also had the exposure to cross disciplinary electives as we had to satisfy the requirement of compulsory credits in Humanities.

But that did not work in my case and for many others in my college. The reason was simply that the basic training to engage with either engineering or humanities subjects was missing. So we all completed our degrees without learning much and got placed in MNCs with high paying corporate jobs. But within three years I was completely disillusioned with what I was doing even though I was able to earn a lot of money. I quit my job soon and joined an NGO to do something worthwhile. For the next year and a half I worked in advocacy of urban electoral reforms, research on issues of urban democracy, community organising and other domains.  

All this time, I still lacked the right training to engage with the issues of development, society and technology and to really understand the kind of social change which I wanted to be a part of. At that time I was unable to find any universities in India or abroad that would have offered me the right exposure and guidance to engage with the issues I wanted to.

And then I came to know about the Masters Course in Interdisciplinary Humanities at the Centre for Philosophy and Humanities (MCPH) at Manipal University. It was only after spending a year doing the MA coursework and interacting with the multi-disciplinarily trained faculty at this centre, that I realised what university education can actually be. I came to know the joys of learning and thinking. This was unlike my earlier educational experiences, where I was absolutely disenchanted.

Because of the information revolution that we are witnessing, thanks mainly to the internet, getting information is not a problem anymore. Any interested student can get all the information about any discipline online. Then why does she have to come to a university? Is it just to get a formal degree that can be utilised in getting a job or pursuing research? If that is the case, then we have a bigger challenge with our universities becoming mere degree dispensers.

Has India, with the history of the oldest universities of Taxila and Nalanda, lost a sense of the significance of university education? The fact of the matter is that education is not merely about gathering information in different fields and disciplines. It is not as much about the ‘what’ as much as it is about the ‘how’. How is information delivered to the students? How are the students getting trained to engage with that information? And finally how does that information become purposeful knowledge for the students?  

The greatest capability of the teacher is therefore not to simply provide information to the students but to help them critically think through large volumes of information. Inter disciplinary learning is the only way to do this as the best universities in the world have discovered. Only then will the students become independent thinkers.

The teacher’s role is therefore extremely important in empowering the students to critically engage with diverse ideas and at the same time to come up with unique innovations which are expected of an inter-disciplinary training.

This is exactly what I understood in the last year getting trained by the best of faculties in a dynamic and liberal environment at the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Humanities. I realised that I could have got information anywhere, in books or the internet, but that in itself would not have helped me as I had not been trained to engage with it effectively.

Here, at the Centre, students are trained in critical and creative thinking, and in reading and writing through semester-long courses. The faculty are highly trained in multiple disciplines and emphasise in-depth understanding of foundational concepts. Such training needs to be provided across the disciplines of natural sciences, social sciences, humanities and philosophy which equip the students in writing, teaching, research, NGO and corporate work.

With the new integrated PhD programme at the Centre, where students after their Bachelors can aim to get a world-class PhD degree in five years, there is hope for students in arts and humanities in India.

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