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Updated: August 10, 2009 15:23 IST

Preparing students with better skills

DEEPA KURUP
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Big plans: Knowledge panel wants to raise the bar of higher education
The Hindu
Big plans: Knowledge panel wants to raise the bar of higher education

Realign policies, get deeper into research and go for unconventional courses, says Karnataka’s Knowledge Commission

The first set of recommendations, submitted by the Karnataka Knowledge Commission this week, has got its priorities right, it seems. From proposing strict guidelines to determine a uniform academic calendar in universities to offering a variety of recommendations aimed at raising the bar of higher education, these proposals offer a glimmer of hope to the heavily bogged down and stagnant higher education scene in the State.

The most notable, as far as the student is concerned, is the proposal to up the level of skill-training, and re-align various State policies to suit the evolving needs of the education sector. According to M.K. Sridhar, member secretary and executive director of the Karnataka Knowledge Commission, this is an “extremely urgent requirement.” “The job market and the industry have undergone a sea change over the years, and it is necessary — in fact, an urgent need — to step up the existing framework to meet these demands. We wish to take these proposals as far as we can,” says Mr. Sridhar.

To bring about this change, the Commission recommends that necessary amendments be made to the existing State Apprenticeship policy to match the expectations of the current job market. The proposed changes include increasing stipend, allowing for public-private partnership and adoption of open apprenticeship placement instead of ‘designated trade.’

Further, it is proposed that skill training in retail business, communication skills, life skills, data entry operation and entrepreneurship, to name a few possible areas, must be imparted to college students, particularly those studying B.A. courses. This must not come at any additional cost, but must be part of the curriculum, it mandates.

Experimental basis

This scheme is to start on an experimental basis in two districts. Also, it recommends that steps be taken to promote collaboration between universities and other bodies and institutions (including private universities, deemed universities, foreign universities, professional bodies, industry associations, research labs etc.). Here, “collaboration” points towards measures such as twinning programmes, faculty and student exchange, joint courses and joint degrees.

It also proposes to create an autonomous certification and administrative body in Karnataka to bring in more dynamism and contemporariness to vocational education and training. This body could cover certain uncovered areas: bringing elements of quality, quantity and relevance on an ongoing basis and skills and certification, which will have wider societal acceptance.

It is also recommended that unconventional courses — Medical Electronics, Aviation, Marine Engineering, Solar and Wind Energy — be introduced in select industrial training institutes of the State, with an initial seed assistance provided by the State Government.

Headed by eminent scientist, academic and current director of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, K. Kasturirangan, this Commission deals with a variety of sectors within the field of education, besides proposing a few knowledge tools such as digitising manuscripts containing traditional knowledge, and cataloguing Kannada literature and even regional pharmacopeia. Hence, it has formed working groups in different fields — vocational education, higher education, literacy and school education.

In the field of research, the report states that there needs to be great development, and increased focus. It proposes that an advanced centre for legal research and law-related studies, on the lines of NIAS or ISEC, be set up in the State. This could be autonomous or part of a newly created Law University, it recommends. For legal education, it proposes that postgraduate courses in law be confined to the newly created Law University of Karnataka and constituent law colleges of universities in the State.

Further, a Karnataka State Research and Innovation Fund, for encouraging research work at the university level, has been proposed. The Commission moots that two existing universities be chosen to develop as model universities, that can set the trend for reforms. “The policy and legislation for forming such a committee to take this forward will have to be drafted.” Colleges offering humanities, social sciences, law and management will be ranked by a special committee constituted by universities.

Developing libraries

The Commission stresses on the need for developing the existing library system. Undergraduate college libraries should select video-taped lectures of experts in humanities and social sciences, to be used as a tool to educate students and teachers of humanities, social sciences, law and management education, health care, and libraries and knowledge networks.

This report, that enlists 26 recommendations, is the first phase of the KKC, constituted in September 2008. While the ensuing months will be spent in consulting with various government departments, and helping them draw blueprints for its implementation, the second set of recommendations are scheduled to be out by December 2009, Mr. Sridhar says. “The objective is not to simply make recommendations and leave it at that. We want to take each of these proposals to the project stage, and of course initiate it to whatever extent possible.”

The Commission also proposes reforms in teacher training by revising D.Ed. and B.Ed. curriculum; by upgrading elementary teacher education to degree level programmes; and by increasing the number of graduate elementary teachers. Further, the DPI has to initiate effective measures to improve the quality of these institutions by better regulation of standards and norms.

Every student enrolling in non-professional undergraduate courses, in the 39 most backward taluks identified by the Nanjundappa Committee, will be given special scholarships worth Rs. 10,000, if a key recommendation of the Karnataka Knowledge Commission is implemented.

Further, five well-performing institutions in select backward districts of Karnataka will receive a onetime grant of Rs. 10 lakh. This aims at increasing enrolment rates in colleges in these districts, as well as increase the quality of higher education on offer here.

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