Bracing for progress through education

world class

Bracing for progress through education

India’s education system has been at the center of vociferous debate for several years now. Despite the presence of the prestigious IITs and IIMs, Indian educational institutions and universities have had a remarkably poor run when it comes to global institutional rankings.

According to the reputed QS World University Rankings in 2015, no Indian University was listed in the top 100. Only two institutions — the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru and the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, made it to the top 200 in the rankings dominated by American institutions. In contrast, our regional rival China has over 25 of its educational institutions placed in the top 100 rankings.

An ancient seat of learning, India was once home to globally reputed institutions like Taxila and Nalanda which attracted students from far and wide. Unfortunately, that was too far in the past. Currently, we need an infusion of fresh ideas and teaching mechanisms to created a new educational infrastructure that not just delivers knowledge, but also encourages new thinking and boosts the spirit of innovation in the new generation.

To create world class universities and educational institutions in India, we truly need to adopt global culture, borrow ideas in pedagogy from the best educational institutions around the world and move from a top down mode of education to a more organic culture of learning.

For a country that aspires to become a major global player over the next quarter of a century, mediocre education is not the way forward. World class universities are tremendously important in developing a nation’s competitive nature in the global arena.
If we aim to dominate the global discourse, we need educational institutions that not only create skilled human resource but also boosts indigenous research and development, power the country’s intellectual and entrepreneurial leadership and instill scientific thinking among the masses.

We also need institutions that can become a major draw for international students to help obtain the twin purposes of earning foreign reserve and spreading the country’s soft power.

Breaking traditions
In recent years, some conscious individuals have churned out new ideas to refashion India’s university education. In recent years Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was at the forefront of the Nalanda revival process. Such projects should make global culture an intrinsic part of the DNA, and aim at producing truly global students who think of themselves as global citizens.

One of the underlining features of such new universities has to be access to the best professors and minds of the time. Student and teacher exchange programmes with institutions across the world, greater attempts to attract good teachers from not just across India but across the globe, and increased use of information technology to connect students with bright and inspirational minds from across the world need to be the key components of efforts to build new world class universities.

The idea of strict curriculum delineation also needs to be done away with. Students should be given the opportunity to pursue literally any interest they might have. For example, a student who opts to study Physics must not be deprived of the freedom to study Economics and History, if s/he so desires. The student must have the freedom to choose from a basket of subjects without the straitjacket rules of educational streams. New socially relevant subjects such as environmental studies and development studies also need to be promoted and conscious efforts should be made to involve students in devising new ideas to deal with the country’s problems.

Student-teacher rapport
In ancient India, the importance of a guru was one of the most significant aspects of the education system. Unfortunately, in the modern education system the relationship between the student and teacher has been diluted to a large extent. Students imbibe their teachings from teachers rather than from books. Some profound teachers often leave a life lasting impressions on the minds of students. As we recreate our education system, the importance of building student-teacher relationship should be sufficiently stressed upon.

For this to happen, we need better teacher-student ratio and new concepts of appointing out-of-class ‘guides’ or ‘mentors’ to whom students can turn to for not just clearing their conceptual doubts, but also for advice pertinent to their education and life. Apart from developing world class infrastructure, developing sound student-teacher relationships should be an intrinsic part of our education system. Not all students are the same. The robotic lecture delivery system makes the mistake of considering all students as the same in approach, understanding and behaviour. Teachers, when involved in an interpersonal relationship with the students, can help turnaround students by giving them personalised attention, listening to their internal conflicts, gauging the best way in which they learn and helping them implement their acquired knowledge in the practical domain. Also, a variety of learning techniques should be available for the student at any given point in time.

Student satisfaction
As much as grades and passing rates, the emphasis of measuring an institution’s success should be on students’ satisfaction from the life on campus. Ensuring student satisfaction by measuring social life on campus, extra curricular activities and academics should be an important aspect of building great universities. Student motivation and ambition on campus is contagious and the colleges should not only be specific about teachings within the curriculum but also help the students explore their social life.

Equal emphasis should be laid on maintaining good housing facilities as it adds up to everything the student is doing on the campus and his/her civil life. Students should be exposed to opinions and ways of life that they may never have been exposed to otherwise; this broadens their outlook in life and opens them to new avenues. Also important is to establish close ties with the institution’s alumni who can be instrumental in helping new students find jobs and internships.

(The writer is founder, SkillTree Knowledge Consortium and founder & CEO, Great Place to Study Research Institute.)

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