This year has witnessed some new trends that could be setting the direction for significant changes for students and educators alike.
Flexibility in studies has started giving relief to many students who are good in some subjects but cannot get through some others. For many years, only the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) offered a choice of taking any subject in Class 10 and 12 Boards, including the freedom of not studying a second or third language. This year, many established and new schools have added on the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) and Intelligence Bureau (IB) Boards as an option to their students, entitling them to select a variety of subjects beyond the traditional ones. Following suit, even some Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) schools have expanded their subject base to new optional subjects. And of course, CBSE reverted to its old method of evaluation after experimenting with the continuous and comprehensive evaluation (CCE) for many years.
NIOS, which has been in existence for almost three decades, is now attracting more students and a greater number of schools due to its flexibility, on-demand exams, non-compulsion of attendance, low fee structure, etc.
Learning through exploration
Another scheme started by the government long ago with laudable intentions, the Right to Education (RTE) is being reviewed this year, both in terms of no longer allowing students to keep getting promoted regardless of performance, and sprucing up government schools rather than forcefully thrusting children from deprived backgrounds on private schools.
It is heartening to see that at least a few selected Montessori schools are now offering education beyond the pre-primary and primary classes, to enable students to continue in an environment where they have greater freedom and the autonomy to learn through exploration. Other alternative schools continue to attract a selected segment of students, but there has been no visible expansion in their intake this year.
There has been a significant rise in the number of schools opting to have full or part-time counsellors for students, as more and more stress-related issues have been surfacing. Though thankfully there has not been an increase in the number of student suicides; school-refusal, clinical depression and parent-child conflict have been on the rise. With large cities witnessing higher rates of marital separation and divorce, more and more children are being brought up by single parents, and such children need emotional support which many schools are now providing.
Social media use has expanded and continues to do so. While the scare of children harming themselves with games like Blue Whale was contained successfully, other areas of concern such as cyberbullying, watching adult sites, misleading forwards, etc have grown to alarming heights. In June 2018, the World Health Organization added ‘gaming disorder’ to its International Compendium of Diseases. Despite this warning, game designing as a career continues to be promising. The promoters of the decade-old ‘Farmville’ found their player base reduced from 10 to 5 million worldwide, and have started recruiting hundreds of creative Indian youngsters to give it a boost. But gambling games continue to be the most popular in India despite some, like betting on cricket, have been declared unlawful.
Addictions of different types are under scrutiny. Technology addiction is a broad term that refers to the uncontrollable urge to use technological devices such as computers, smartphones and gaming systems. According to the International Journal of Neuropsychiatric Medicine, as many as one in eight Americans suffer from some type of technology addiction, and the number is growing. In India, we do not have comprehensive surveys as yet, but it is imperative that parents and educators take this matter seriously, understanding that prevention is better than cure. The National Institute of Mental Health & Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) in Bengaluru offers exclusive therapy for such issues through its SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic.
On the other hand, parents are in a dilemma because they want their children to have mobiles, through which their presence and safety can be determined. Also, educational apps are becoming increasingly popular, with many students choosing to study through them. One of the popular apps recently announced that they have received additional funding of $400, which is an indication of their popularity and growth.
Similarly, mental health issues of students are causing concern, particularly depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders, school refusal, emotional disturbances, rebellious behaviour, etc. Psychiatrists and counsellors have reported a significant rise in teenagers requiring professional help and support. On the other hand, parents should not jump to conclusions to label their children. A balanced approach and careful analysis is the need of the hour.
To reduce pressure on lakhs of students aspiring to get into good engineering colleges, the Joint Entrance Exam (JEE-Main) is now being held twice a year starting from January 2019. Coaching centres for entrance exams continued to proliferate at a fast rate, with many students being made to enrol from Class 6 onwards.
Ironically, this is happening at a time when engineering is no more considered as the ultimate career goal. COMED-K (Consortium of Medical Engineering and Dental Colleges of Karnataka) reported in August that over 30 private engineering colleges in the state have failed to attract a single student this year. Another 33 colleges got admissions in single digit only. Only six colleges managed to fill 100% seats. Similarly, the Karnataka Education Authority reported that 21,000 out of the available 64,000 engineering seats through CET remained unfilled.
This is despite the fact that many engineering colleges are upgrading themselves into sunrise areas such as Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, etc. Those interested in getting into these fields now have a wide range of long-term and short-term courses ranging from MTech, MSc to BVoc, PG diplomas and innumerable short-term ones.
On the other hand, there has been a revival of interest in careers in defence forces, law courses, commerce, social sciences, and a marked increase in design-related careers. Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and other institutions offer 4-year BDes programmes through a separate entrance exam called UCEED. A few community colleges recorded higher enrollments in Bachelor of Vocation courses that are academically easier, can be done year-wise, and have lower fees.
For obvious reasons, Indian students moving to the USA for studies declined this year, and more students opted to go to countries like Australia, New Zealand and Germany. Counter-balancing the flight of our students, some of the reputed and new universities in India are offering very attractive programmes in unusual fields such as Liberal Arts, International Relations, Cognitive Sciences and even pure sciences. Internships became more rewarding this year, with many companies picking up meritorious students and offering them not only a lucrative stipend but also the probability of a regular job after graduation. Even school students are showing a marked increase in opting for internships in their holidays. On the other hand, start-ups reduced in number significantly as the reality of a low percentage of success became obvious.
All in all, 2019 promises to bring a wider variety of courses, careers and methodologies, perhaps at least marginally reducing the complaints of long-suffering students who are looking for creative and lateral thinking, exploratory and experiential learning, and the choice to pursue what they feel is most suited to them.
(The author is founder, Banjara Academy, Bengaluru)