Viewpoint Education

Revolutionising how students learn

Pixabay   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

The ongoing pandemic is going to differentiate innovative higher education institutions from others. Those who can adapt will survive. This is a great opportunity for institutions to rethink their design of education. It is time to be bold and craft new models of education that will prepare our graduates for an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.


Barring a handful of institutions in India, our higher education systems essentially offer a fixed framework within which students need to fit themselves. In some cases, particularly for professional courses, the ability to choose what and where one wants to study is also decided by the Board/entrance exam performance. This model produces thousands of graduates who have specialised in something they never wanted to and so their employers find them less equipped to hit the ground running. According to the India Skills Report 2019 by Wheebox, People Strong, and CII, the employability of Indian graduates currently stands at 47%.

We must, therefore, think afresh and design a new model of education that places the students at the centre; a system that allows students to choose, explore, and discover their passion. Such graduates will have the right skills, the passion to excel and innovate, and make a significant contribution to our economy.

The world has changed but our programmes have not. Today, disruptive and innovative technologies are reshaping jobs. Research by the World Economic Forum (WEF) states that 58 million new jobs will be created by 2025 due to the adoption of disruptive technology and automation. Problems and opportunities have become more complex and need an interdisciplinary approach. Most of our institutions continue to offer the siloed majors and teach the same ideas and concepts that they did two decades ago. As a result, we struggle to innovate and our economy seems to have more service companies and very few product companies. In fact, we take pride in being the ‘outsourcing’ hub of innovative firms across the world. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) kicks-in, many of these ‘outsourcing’ jobs will be at risk.

We must think ahead and design new specialisations for the new world. The New Engineering Education Transformation (NEET) at universities like MIT and Cornell Tech in the U.S already offer interesting examples of how engineering and management education can be reimagined. Specialisations of Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering are now replaced with majors such as like Living Machines, Digital Cities and Autonomous Machines. If our next generation has to thrive, our degrees and programmes have to change. While upcoming institutions are attemptin to offer interdisciplinary majors in the humanities, there is much to be done in the domain of STEM education.

Time for liberal sciences

In recent times, new universities in India have introduced Liberal Arts education. It is time for Liberal Sciences for those who are passionate about sciences and engineering. If we can offer the same flexibility for exploring various domains of technology and applied sciences before a student settles on a specialisation, we will see passionate engineers and entrepreneurs arise. If we do this right, we can stem the flow of disillusioned engineers to management.

Practice versus theory

Learning and education are often used interchangeably. Education based on curricula, exams, and textbooks make the student a passive recipient of prescribed knowledge. On the other hand, learning that comes from understanding concepts and real-life application makes the learner an active participant. Real education comes from accumulating experiences and learnings, not grades or degrees.

Our education system is still based on a traditional model of delivery. Students go through the motions of learning tonnes of concepts, semester after semester wondering whether they will ever apply this and doing some experiments with predefined outcomes, which may not happen in the real world.

We need to turn the learning journey on its head. We should start with learning and application of concepts to solve simple and real problems. This will help them see the connection between the theoretical knowledge and its practical application. By working collaboratively, they will also improve their people management skills and readiness to work in organisations.

Do away with cut-offs

Over the last decade, there is a growing concern that Board/entrance exam marks are not true indicators of merit and potential to excel. The advent of coaching institutions and tutorial classes that have gamified the results, grade inflation in all Boards and increasing competition places an intense burden on students to run the rat-race. We balk at the news of 100% cut-off at some colleges but accept it as inevitable. Yes, there are a huge number of applicants for a limited number of seats; this is exactly why our selection process needs to be innovative and use technologies like Natural Language Processing (NLP) to build a certain dynamic in the application form that will enable a match between a student’s unique potential and disposition to what they would like to study. Selection through scores should give way to selection by quality.

COVID-19 has shown us that education and learning can happen online. Reputed foreign institutions are offering programmes online and have redesigned and expanded their courses and fee models to suit the virtual mode. Our Indian institutions should use this opportunity to up their game and course offerings and become viable alternatives to students who were looking to go abroad. This can also be a time to collaborate with international faculty and institutions to offer courses in India and lay a great foundation for future engagements once the pandemic subsides.

The writer is CEO, Atria University

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 1:30:39 PM |

Next Story