India’s educational landscape is changing rapidly. The new National Education Policy is focusing on introducing innovative pedagogies and learning techniques in the education system; several institutes of higher education, especially for liberal arts, have been spearheading the discourse on interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary education and changing the definition of advanced learning while also joining the international education system for wider scope and opportunities.
This also stems from the deep human need to fully understand our world and its issues and respond to it with equal richness. A response that springs from an interdisciplinary understanding becomes a solution rooted in diverse knowledge domains and is likely to be more effective. Problems like climate change need a multidisciplinary approach with the application of learnings from domains such as psychology, politics, development economics, history, sociology, anthropology and culture studies.
The skill of problem solving is cultivated by engaging with vocations from multiple dimensions of life such as ecology, environment, society, policy, innovation, technology, education and more. For this, educators need to acquire multiple intelligences and use them to reshape our world in a healthy and a sustainable way.
India’s academic framework is designed to segregate students based on their performance in the board exams, their attendance in premier institutes of learning, their regional/national identity and their field of study. Hence, job opportunities follow a similar trajectory, allowing little room for cause-based careers. Most students who dreamt of fighting social injustice, designing policies or carrying out wide-spread social change were relegated to the social sciences.
As a result, educators found the Indian higher education system lacking in creating world-class institutes that can both train educators with multiple intelligences and provide the necessary infrastructure for growth and institutional independence.
However, this has been changing in the recent past, and students are now choosing to stay in the country for their higher education. Through world-wide philanthropic movements, educators looked for and found opportunities where students could network and benefit from shared knowledge resources. A movement to build an environment that provided hands-on learning and experiences was undertaken. Programmes were curated to provide tools to understand social landscapes and train students for life-long learning. As a result, teachers, policy-makers, social entrepreneurs, architects, academics and others made room for young cause-driven individuals and supported the creation of an environment that cultivates curiosity. Such programmes were offered as fellowships.
Today, India boasts of some of the best fellowship programmes around the world, in the field of liberal arts, policy, built environment, climate action, governance, law, social entrepreneurship among others. Some target specific sectors of work and/or study while others target networking capital, remaining loyal to the idea of providing real-life experiences of learning and world-class academic capital.
While the models of these programmes may differ, many have developed a niche field of application and do not discriminate against a student’s background or field of study.
Many students find this opportunity liberating. Fellowships not only groom students to become responsible impact-makers, but also alert citizens and holistic individuals. Many fellows apply their home-based learnings in worldwide contexts and accrue international acclaim and recognition. This widening of context gives Indian institutes the necessary edge to participate in a global academic realm.
A good educational institute provides students an opportunity to conduct an open discourse about the issues they face. With their attachment to social causes and vision-driven framework, fellowship programmes invite diverse discourses and, hence, attract global academicians, who find time to interact with students and question the world alongside them.
While the curated format of a fellowship is tasked with building a community of impact-driven empathetic individuals, it also provides an interesting insight into the systemic gaps of the Indian educational system and leverages the drive among the youth to be heard on urgent social and environmental issues.
The programmes provide a window of study to those who are interested in understanding the spirit of this generation. The hope is that this will lead to the creation of a vast network of ‘solutionaries’ (revolutionary thinkers with solution-oriented mind-set) who can confidently step into the uncharted seas of change, and lead us to safer shores.
The writer is the Provost at Anant National University, Ahmedabad.