The Indian education system largely promotes learning by rote, unfortunately! Students get inured to the prescribed syllabus and by-heart study materials alone. Having fallen in the rut, they continue to limit themselves even when pursuing higher education. Alas, they just attend lectures and study prescribed books; exploring further does not even cross the students' minds. And when it comes to post graduation courses, where presenting research papers forms a vital part of academics, the result is shallow and disappointing theses with no new information to offer.
As Mr. Naveen Chopra, Chairman, The Chopras, a Global Education Corporate, points out, “There is no doubt that the students who have grown up within the Indian education system are not generally used to doing much research because the entire education system is based around reading a prescribed syllabus, in most cases, memorising this and then regurgitating this out at exams. The accuracy with which you regurgitate the answers determines the grade that you get.
This methodology does have benefits of a kind as it promotes development of qualities important for success such as the ability to have long concentration spans, focus and the mental capacity to remember things. However, the system does have its own constraints. The method does not promote the ability of learning how to learn because this ability is usually developed in the research methodology of learning and teaching.”
Dharmendra Shadija, Principal Lecturer, International Development, Faculty of Arts, Computing, Engineering and Sciences, Sheffield Hallam University also believes, “Students studying UG and PG qualifications in India usually tend to stick to their prescribed text and spend little time in exploring further. Assessment tends to be more traditional assessment of learning rather than assessment for learning. Whilst this is a relatively subtle change of words, it has deeper impact upon the approach to assessment and learning. The system tends to reward regurgitation and leaves little room for further research and exploration.” Even Ms. Donna Garner decries in The Lost Art of Research - Paper Writing, “Colleges and university professors are complaining because their students no longer know how to do independent research!”
Devoid of the intellectual stimulation fostered by research, students fall short of invaluable knowledge and self-reliant skills which are useful in many careers and other areas of life. Moreover, these self-learning, problem-solving skills can prove crucial for surviving in today's challenging job market. Dharmendra Shadija elaborates, “By engaging in research and scholarly activity, you get to explore beyond your prescribed texts which are often not up to date. Also learning an approach to problem solving is what helps. This will equip you for the continuous change.” Latha Rajan, Director, Ma Foi Strategic Consultants also adds, “It is important for PG students to take research for two reasons. One for their career growth and it adds to common knowledge and exposure to the society.”
Even those few students who venture to conduct a modicum of research are limited by lack of time, support or end up intimidated, confused and frustrated. Prof. A. Gandhi, Head - Training, Placement and Corporate Relations, Saveetha Engineering College, Chennai expands, “Research - the very word denotes search after search on something which is not known. But students are bogged down with academic routine and they seldom have time to think differently. Further, having conditioned with ‘Don't question', ‘Dare to ask me?' attitudes, even at PG level, a majority of students remain introverts.” He also adds, “The prevailing environment in many educational institutions is not conducive to research. The system demands minimal efforts for awarding degrees – hence, seldom there is movement from comfort zone to effort zone.”
Breaking the rut
Practising intensive research adds depth to research papers as students pick up latest data. Independent research should incorporate a variety of sources – from browsing the web online to offline hunting libraries for books, magazine articles and academic/professional journals to seeking interviews with experts.
Learning from real world case studies and seeking guidance of faculty members when needed, helps students discover new and up-to-date information. But the overload of data can be quite overwhelming at times. Properly organising the information is essential as it directly influences what one learns and how it is applied. Then, one has to critically analyse and evaluate the information before synthesising it with original ideas and interpretations into the final research paper.
Apart from this, using different platforms like seminars, workshops and conferences helps students imbibe the invaluable research skills as well. Mr Prateek Sharma, Professor, Dept. of Natural Resources, TERI University explains, “The participation of students in seminars and conferences gives them an opportunity to interact with the best brains in their respective fields. The sheer experience of presenting a research paper in the company of the best in the business gives their confidence a boost which can only be experienced.” Prof. Gandhi too reiterates, “Participation in seminars, conferences and presenting papers should be made an integral part of the curriculum than a choice!”
Amritha V, Faculty in Soft Skills, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham University, Amritapuri, Kerala goes a step further with, “It should be made mandatory that every student represents his college in an intercollegiate fest for seminars or paper presentations at least twice during the academic years. They get an opportunity to learn a lot from this experience. They will come to know what their peers are doing in other colleges. A sense of healthy competition can be built. There should also be rewards for students who take the effort for this extra step.”
To sum up, making research an integral part of self-learning rather than textbooks is imperative as it prepares students for life! Ms. Amritha V. echoes, “Education is not mere collection of degrees and certificates; instead, education has the scope to refine a student's mind and lifestyle as such. The student community needs to be motivated and inspired to find high spirit in going beyond the borders of curricula. Education for life should be the mantra that the academia should resonate.”