The importance of introducing multilingual assessments in Design education

English-only assessments in Design education lead to the exclusion of those who are rich in the knowledge of their diverse cultures and sustainable practices

Updated - July 06, 2024 03:36 pm IST

Published - July 06, 2024 02:55 pm IST

Multilingual assessments expands the pool of students and demonstrates the institution’s commitment towards education for all.

Multilingual assessments expands the pool of students and demonstrates the institution’s commitment towards education for all. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

India is one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world with 22 official languages and countless dialects spoken by its 1.4 billion inhabitants. Given our history, English continues to be an important official language. Though India comes second only after the U.S. for the number of English speaker, only one-fifth of its population is familiar with the language, which significantly reduces access to publicly available opportunities.

Design is an emerging field of study in India and many private universities have set up programmes to cater to the growing needs and aspirations of young Indians. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 called for the curricular inclusion of contemporary subjects like Design Thinking. Designers are expected to be multi- and interdisciplinary problem-solvers who use the design thinking process to combat real-world problems such as climate change, water scarcity, healthcare, and more. Young creative individuals are increasingly opting to pursue undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programmes in fields that impact our built environment as well as harnesses future technology to reimagine the world.

Context aware

Such innovation requires strong creative ability, critical thinking, and analytical skills to design impactful solutions. In order to do so, the first steps begins with empathy, and being aware of the context or culture. Design calls for an amalgamation of logic, creativity, and Science with one’s experiences and roots.

In India, in comparison to Engineering, Medicine and the Liberal Arts, Design institutions are fewer in number. Nonetheless, a sizeable number of aspirants appear for entrance exams that are designed to test creativity, innovative abilities, and analytical skills but can admit only a limited number of students.

So far, all Design entrance tests in India are conducted only in English. Does this process effectively test aptitude? Aptitude is an individual’s natural or acquired capacity or potential to acquire specific skills or knowledge. Musical or athletic talents are assessed by demonstration and not by the individual’s ability to communicate in a specific language. It embraces cognitive, meaning-making, analytical and creative capabilities which are built over time, through childhood, in one’s mother tongue and local context.

Local knowledge

The language and culture of students opens up a wealth of indigenous knowledge systems that is of tremendous valuable today. The initiative of multilingual assessments expands the pool of students and demonstrates the institution’s commitment towards education for all. Today, with massive technological advances in real-time translation, multilingual students can get access to good quality education only if the access points are equitable and inclusive.

Practices such as English-only assessments lead to excellent problem-solvers being excluded and deprives the nation of changemakers who are rich in the knowledge of their diverse culture and sustainable practices that could help solve many problems that plague the world.

Given that Design education is, by nature, more experiential and studio-based with juries that follow a continuous and cohesive assessment pattern, the entry points to such a system must be in line with the needs of the curriculum and industry. This system has been awaiting a creative disruption, and multilingual entrance assessments would be revolutionary as the number of programmes and applicants increase. Designers across the globe are making our real and virtual world more liveable by thoughtfully crafting effective interaction, visual, sound and haptic experiences. Purposeful design draws from diverse knowledge, experiences and professional domains. Let us rethink, restructure and redesign the education system to empower the next generation of designers.

The writer is Provost, Anant National University.

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