Learning across disciplines

Learning across disciplines

Critical literacy acquired through learning across disciplines is an effective way of building human capital for varied competencies in this era of globalisation, avers A S Dasan.

In an era of globalisation and knowledge-societies, empowerment-education not only involves learning across disciplines and proficiency-development for varied competencies but is also geared towards critical literacy that could address social issues corrupting human nature or impeding human development. While critical literacy focuses on assimilated cross-disciplinary learning contributing to new knowledge, modernity of thought, innovative technology, technology-supported human development and moral choices, proficiency-development is a strategy for energizing human capital, the intangible asset, required for varied competencies across the globe.  

Opportunities come calling 

With millions of youth bubbling with energy, India is an ocean of talent for varied competencies required by civil societies across the country and even beyond. Ever expanding knowledge domains and globalization of economy create a number of opportunities for this talent pool to shine. When opportunities beckon, skilled and employable candidates move beyond borders through migration, work permit, outsourcing, dual citizenship, and such other means. It is all possible in a world viewed as a global village. While a number of Indian graduates from middle-class families across India are already using these opportunities, a majority struggle for want of proficiency.

The crucial question

The crucial question is whether a candidate is proficient in terms of employability for specific competencies and has a credible level of critical literacy matching with international standards. Lack of proficiency, required in English language and cognitive skills among prospective candidates, particularly graduates of varied streams and disciplines, has been a burning issue in India today. Survey-statistics done (2012-13) by different agencies reveal that unemployability of around 50% of graduates is due to lack of basic skills. Among others considered for placements, more than 80% have problems in cognitive skills and more than 90% in communication.

Proficiency beyond fundamentals

Being good at subject-fundamentals alone is not enough.  Proficiency in critical literacy vis-à-vis learning across disciplines is a must for successful long-term careers. Many graduates and research-scholars in India feel comfortable with subject-fundamentals but have problems in terms of critical literacy and communicative proficiency. More functional units of language skills, analytical reasoning and quantum, and programmes related to interactive networking between academia and industry are yet to be part of the priority areas in curriculum-designing. Though National Knowledge Commission, NESSCOM, CII, MHRD and NSDC have taken initiatives to impart vocational education, soft-skills and life-skills, other stakeholders in higher education, with exceptions here and there, are yet to realize the importance of proficiency-development.

Prevalence of mediocrity

Many universities and institutions of higher learning in India are not equipped with personnel to take up the challenges associated with empowerment education. It becomes an uphill task when caste-politics and money-bags have their impactful role in the appointment of academic-administrators expected to be the leaders of empowerment-education. The taint that goes into such appointments spreads the disease of split-personality that is comfortable with mediocrity which is a hurdle to empowerment education.

Mediocrity is bound to prevail as long as influential god-fathers spread their wings of influence in the promotion of their own candidates for varied positions and in the appointment of men or women of dubious character as Vice-Chancellors or academic administrators, often on extraneous considerations. Concerned thinkers and academicians have already expressed their angst often in vain in this regard. Nothing morally effective or soothing happens. The problem is that the best lack conviction and feel helpless, while the worst, full of passion, pave the way for the tainted savage to perpetuate mediocrity.       

Subcultures of mediocrity   

Mediocrity prevails also as a sub-culture down the line of hierarchy, as a legacy of the tainted savage. Visible in plagiarism of varied degrees  which is projected as the seminal input of research-scholars and research-papers published, in the appointments for teaching positions and in the allotment and misuse of scholarships, fellowships, and monthly stipends in the name of reservation and inclusive growth, its enormity or ubiquity is mind-boggling. In a country like India where social exclusion or inequality is a social iniquity, it may not be tenable to grumble against reservation policies. But, the ire hovers around this wish: If only the privileges and benefits under such policies are extended to the really deserving, irrespective of whatever category they belong to, that an empowered community of learners we could ensure!

Continuous internal evaluation process is another grey area that sustains mediocrity. Though it is an ideal system, it is drifting into a sham in many universities. Quite often, grading or marks given do not reflect the actual capabilities of learners. The teaching fraternity and students know the reasons.

What are the Solutions?

n The savage should go: Appointing the tainted or the mediocre to administer or manage higher education should stop at all levels. The god-father culture should go. For any appointment pertaining to higher education, final say should belong to a team of experts esteemed for integrity, not to political or administrative monarchs. In the current scenario, it is easier said than done.    

n Learning from the outstanding: There are outstanding universities and institutions doing commendable jobs in India.  They may be small in number and may not have been counted in the top global ranking. Other universities and institutions should have the humility to learn from them.

There are great Vice-chancellors, administrators, and academicians who have proved their mettle even in the midst of odds with a profound sense of personal integrity. They have had the wisdom and courage to say no to political interference, or to stand firm against extraneous considerations. They do not believe in ‘split-personality culture’ or in the dictum, the eleventh commandment, ‘loot but thou shall not be caught’. It is good to listen to them in the course of building human capital.

n Priority to paradigm-shifts: Paradigm-shifts in curricula-designing, syllabi-content, pedagogical approaches, testing and evaluation patterns ought to be taken up with utmost urgency on the lines of empowerment-education defined above. Expertise available with the industry/Corporate sector could be a valuable resource. Yoga, good for health and mind, and psychology and counselling, moral boosters of self-confidence, could be part of the curricula.

The syllabi-units of every subject/course could be cross-checked by experts respected for cross-disciplinary proficiency at the Deanery level. The Dean’s Office could be a collective entity /agency with more decisive powers on syllabi-content and testing and evaluation processes. NAAC could play a pro-active role through IQACS to ensure that paradigm-shifts happen whenever required and the process of evaluation is free from sham.

n Beyond the barriers of exclusivity: The concept of exclusivity of Departments could be diluted in favour of multidiscipline-departments, with of course, scope and provision for research focused on subject-fundamentals. With a majority of students almost in every discipline looking for job opportunities and better placements, thrust should be towards building skills through core subjects, add on courses, and open electives so that they have a winning edge in life. Education Departments at UG level should identify colleges and teachers who could be the beacon light in this regard and facilitate them to create ripple effects.
University Vice-Chancellors and other officials should have such men and women of vision, calibre and commitment as their core groups instead of looking for coteries who form their ghetto-kitchen-cabinets and perpetuate mediocrity.  
n Learner-centric pedagogies: Learner-centric, rather than teacher-centric, classrooms are the need of the hour. A talented teacher is one who can convert the deficiencies of learners into arenas of strength. Playing a facilitating role, s/he is able to cut across cultural barriers among mixed-ability groups through peer-group dynamics. S/he has her/his objectives cut out for each class vis-à-vis empowerment education with goals and priorities mentioned earlier. Group-dynamics are surer ways of facilitating learners to find their own aroma just as the musk deer does. Once learners discover where the aroma lies, they know how to swim across life successfully.

n Tapping funds: Universities, managements, and teachers should be encouraged to seek and use the funds available through MHRD, UGC and other agencies for launching Proficiency Development Centres (PDCs) in their respective campuses. If funds were to be a crunch, Cluster-Finishing Schools (CFSs) wherein students of neighbouring institutions could meet together and take part in proficiency-enhancement training programs could be started. The concept of community colleges for which UGC has set apart a lot of funds can inspire universities and colleges to open centres for talent-hunt among college drop-outs. 
Empowerment-education creates opportunities for better placements, corporate-industry-friendly integrated HR solutions, and responsible citizenship. It enhances the economy of a nation, the cultural aesthetics and sensibilities of the learning community, and enriches the human resource capabilities of the young generation who could ensure a better citizenry for generations to come.

(The writer is professor of English and founder-director of CPDPS in Mysore University.)

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