A welcome change

Multidisciplinary education enables the development of skills like critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, and flexibility.

Multidisciplinary education enables the development of skills like critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, and flexibility.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

With a mindset that favours stability and conformity, most Indian parents have long favoured a “professional” education for their children, viewing it as the gateway to a regular job (and stronger marriage prospects). This has meant the dominance of engineering and medicine courses, with commerce making an entry as management careers became lucrative.

However, numerous research studies have shown up our average tech institution as woefully short of the quality required by industry, and students as lacking real-life skills. Combined with an education system that favours rote learning rather than deep understanding, this has brought us to a situation where the country does not produce either outstanding tech innovators or original thinkers. Our most talented students are frequently lost to universities and organisations in the West, and we celebrate their rise to senior positions in global corporates, top educational institutions and foreign governments without recognising that their talent could not flourish in our system.

Keeping pace

The lack of evolution in our education system has, ironically, been accompanied by a remarkable pace of change in the world. Technological leaps and sweeping social and demographic changes have created an environment in which obsolescence is always round the corner. Once dominant corporations have been undone and others have grown faster than any other, in the history of humankind, primarily because of the side of change on which they were located.

The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have illustrated once again that there is no one-dimensional solution to the complex problems of today’s world. Multiple organisations are scrambling to find a vaccine, governments are working out how to get it to every last citizen, and economies are struggling to recover despite massive fiscal stimuli. The economies of nations and the business models of companies are being completely reshaped, and assumptions about productivity are being permanently redefined.

It is clear that the post-pandemic world will need solutions that take into account science, economics, mathematics, psychology, sociology, history, political systems and human behaviour as a whole.

Hence, there is no doubt that the leaders of the future will need to understand how different disciplines interact with each other, and how human behaviour and societal mega-trends are shaped by this interaction.


In this context, the National Education Policy 2020 has placed the right emphasis on the need to move to a multidisciplinary form of education, which enables the development of skills like critical thinking, problem solving, adaptability, flexibility among others. These will only become more valuable, as the prevalence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning grows, ensuring that many professions of today may not exist by the end of this decade. A multidisciplinary education is indispensable to be prepared for the even faster pace of change that awaits us.

The New Education Policy will hopefully help Indian educational institutions create critical thinkers who can think out of the box to solve issues and utilise the breadth and depth of learning from their education.

Suggestions such as the creation of model public universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education and abolition of single-stream universities in a phased manner are meant to make Indian universities competitive with the best universities in the world. The focus on value-based education and emphasis on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) will help develop students who are aware of global issues, as well as increase the employability of Indian graduates and create independent-thinking ethical citizens.

The idea of multidisciplinary education goes back to the Indian tradition of education at Takshashila and Nalanda, the Greek pursuit of all-round knowledge (the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry, Music) and the pedagogical approach followed by globally recognised universities in the West.

While we will get more clarity in the coming years on how the proposed multidisciplinary institutions shape up, we must welcome the change in the mindset of policy makers, which should help create a framework for the country to take advantage of its demographic dividend and bolster its all-round growth in the 21st century.

The writer is Vice President, External Engagement, Ashoka University.

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2020 12:28:27 AM |

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