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New lease of life for liberal education

Vineet Gupta, Founder & Trustee of Ashoka University

Vineet Gupta, Founder & Trustee of Ashoka University   | Photo Credit: Subhojit Paul

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Ashoka University’s four year liberal arts programme has a multi-disciplinary focus.

Anwesha has scored 93 per cent in her board exam. However, she is depressed as she has not gained admission into the country’s top universities as she has not made the cut-off. “What are we expected to score? 100 per cent?” she asks indignantly. “And economists wonder why students increasingly opt to go abroad for higher studies,” she exclaims.

In a country like India where engineering and commerce have reigned supreme for decades, there are limited options for students who wish to pursue the liberal arts. Even in select Indian universities that offer such courses, the cut-off marks are unreasonably high. This is where like-minded and qualified individuals have combined forces and founded the Ashoka University — envisioning a better education for the country’s liberal arts.

Broad-based education

The founders of Ashoka University hope to change the scepticism with which the country has viewed liberal arts. “Bookish knowledge does not suffice in today’s era,” says Vineet Gupta, one of the founders. “A liberal education is one which is rooted in the social sciences and is broad-based. And this is exactly what our four-year undergraduate programmes entail,” he adds. Mr. Gupta further explains how such a system of education will attempt to rectify the drawbacks in the existing educational set-up: “Academic rigour in higher education has gone missing in many institutions, and people’s allocation of potential is focused on the marks a student scores in board exams. The scope for critical thinking barely exists as a large part of such exams involve reproducing information from textbooks. A liberal education emphasises critical thinking, thus contributing to students’ holistic development.”

Skills and values

The founders believe that every individual should be equipped with certain skills and values such as critical thinking, team work, communication and leadership abilities which are more important than bookish knowledge. “We scrutinise not only the board exam marks of applicants, but their scores throughout classes IX to XII. We give more importance to factors such as problem-solving skills and communication, rather than exam scores. Students are examined on the basis of extracurricular activities and community projects,” says Mr. Gupta. “As writing skills are important, students are judged based on the essays that they are asked to write. A final face-to-face interview will decide whether or not they make the cut.” Sankalp Garud, who will be part of Ashoka's founding batch explains how radically different this interview had been from the other interviews he has attended. “I was given 30 minutes and asked to write an essay on a given topic. After this, I had a personal interview which lasted for about 30 minutes. I walked away feeling completely satisfied and at ease. The university is one of the first of its kind to combine the best features of Indian and foreign educational systems.”

Flexibility

Not all teenagers who are on the threshold of college could decide which stream they want to pursue. Often, a student having multiple interests may lack the ability to choose a stream. The university helps students who face such a predicament by offering the option of a dual degree — a trait that is common in foreign universities. “While the university is based in India, the curriculum and courses are designed based on the U.S. system of four-year-undergraduate education. The programme has a multi-disciplinary focus,” explains Mr.Gupta. “In the first three semesters, students can choose courses across disciplines such as history, maths, literature, economics, sociology and more. Knowledge of multiple fields is integral in helping students develop a broad perspective. In the last two years, students will decide their specialisation. Those interested can pursue dual majors as well,” he adds.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 6:38:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/new-lease-of-life-for-liberal-education/article6228425.ece

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