Research-based learning involves investigation of concepts and theories and allows students to become solution seekers through an exploratory approach. Compared to a rigid textbook-based style that encourages rote-learning, this puts the student at the centre of knowledge acquisition. John Dewey’s project-based approach, Jean Piaget’s constructivist theory, Maria Montessori’s play-way approach, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s questioning mind approach are early examples of 21st century versions of Research Based Learning.
The 21st century has mandated a global shift towards enquiry, creativity, critical thinking, green inventions, passion, communication skills and leadership. Research-based learning triggers the development of these qualities by transforming the learner from being a passive participant to an active participant in one’s development journey. Raising questions, seeking solutions, discussions, debates, making assumptions, testing assumptions, testing theories and principles, collecting data, effectively communicating ideas, drawing conclusions, engaging oneself in research activities, learning various research tools and techniques and engaging with senior professors are some of the ways to trigger research instincts in a classroom.
The biggest disservice our country’s education system has done is to take away students’ right and opportunity to have a personal experience with the subject. The 21st century requires learners to move from being consumers of information to becoming producers of information.
All life is learning and learning is lifelong. Therefore, students must be encouraged to appreciate the correlation between a scientific temper and quality of life. A mind based in research is an active one eager to unlock and understand the unknown realms of life.
Two components that distinguish school education from university level are an increased degree of independence and freedom in the learning process and research. If a higher education institute has failed to transform into a self-driven exploratory mode, then it has failed to elevate itself from the level of school. The differentiator is to integrate research into teaching and learning.
Research in India
According to the National Institutional Ranking Framework, Ministry of Education, Government of India, 2020, some of the institutes listed in the top 20 were the Indian Institute of Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, University of Delhi, Homi Bhabha National Institute, Vellore Institute of Technology, Aligarh Muslim University. Listed in the top 100 were Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Amity University, Shiv Nadar University, and Lovely Professional University. However, the measures used to grant rankings were void of considerations such as employer reputation, student-faculty ratio, academic staff involvement in active research, students’ engagement in active research, research facilities, research centres, and frequency of published papers. This methodology shows complete disregard for research as a tool to trigger knowledge acquisition.
On the other hand, according to Centre for World University Rankings, 2021-22 edition, Harvard University was ranked first in research, followed by Stanford University. The University of Oxford was ranked No 4 and MIT No 8. Among the criteria were quality of education, quality of faculty and educational qualifications of faculty, alumni employment rank, and research performance rank. This clearly highlights why the average Indian student aspires to study abroad.
The road ahead
The 21st century needs in students are learning, literacy, and life skills. Systems, government regulations and mandates must be put in place to ensure that university students are actively engaged in departmental research and go through compulsory research training modules. Universities must facilitate ample sector-specific internships and field work and have dedicated research centres in each department. Classroom teaching must be linked to research and concept application. The UGC must ensure that the teaching staff is well qualified and double up as student research guides and mentors. It is also important that university departments build international relations with their global counterparts.
Views expressed are personal
The writer is an educationist who is documenting her observations on children's play and learning experiences.