Leadership and Pedagogy: A Challenge in Indian Higher Education System

THE CONTEXT:

Indian Higher Education has come a long way. From being a leader during the Nalanda and Taxshila days to the struggle to remain industry relevant in the most recent times has been dramatic. According to a 2016 FICCI-EY study titled “Future of jobs and its implication on Indian higher education” and as referred in Forbes in August 2018, predicts that 65% of the children who entered primary school in 2016, will be doing jobs that don’t exist today. This prediction of the future which is uncertain due to fast paced technological advancements, therefore raises two issues; 1) the students of today are not sure of what jobs they will be working on and, 2) how should Universities and Institutions impart education to make their graduates to be relevant and employable in such an uncertain world? However, one thing is absolutely clear that the education should not only emphasize on quantity of knowledge but also on developing the capability in the graduate to become a life-long learners to remain relevant in the era of rapid changes. Increasing automation of jobs is forcing human jobs to involve creativity and abstract thinking, finding and solving problems by designing innovative and creative solutions.

THE CHALLENGE:

One of the challenges for educational institutions in India is the exponential rate of advancement in technology leading to increased automation of jobs forcing the human jobs to involve creativity and abstract thinking, and finding and solving problems by designing creative solutions. Another challenge is that Indian public has long favoured STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects as the only legitimate course to a successful career path, but this has changed in the recent past. How should the pedagogical approaches facilitate the process of integrating STEM with non-STEM courses?

The educators will have to use different phrases while asking questions. Instead of using “define” and “describe”, they will have to ask students to “analyse”, “interpret” and “apply”. Design Thinking, a human-centric and systematic approach to problem solving will be all-pervasive. Over the last two decades, the issues of un-employability and declining relevance of education have been raised by the industry and policy makers alike but not much has happened on the ground even though there have been some recent initiatives by the regulatory bodies giving more flexibility to institutions and the teachers, developing Indian versions of online courses, project-based learning etc. This calls for an overhaul of the education system since the traditional way of teaching have been fast becoming meaningless and will have to be transcended.

An important aspect of the new approach will have to be the reforms required in the evaluation system in academic institutions. As we adopt outcome based approach, innovative teaching methods and technologies, the old compliance and conformity based standard examinations will need to be replaced with Fair, Learning-oriented, Intelligible, Relevant and Time-bound (FLIRT) evaluation system.  In addition, use of appropriate technology relevant to all the new initiatives will be an issue to be addressed.

THE LEADERSHIP RESPONSE:

The answer to these problems will be, to adopt and implement pedagogical approach, which is outcome based, expands learning opportunities for the learners, and leverages technology in a significant way.

The Bloom’s Taxonomy (Figure-1) as a framework for writing learning outcomes for a programme and the courses moving from “remembering” to “creating”, the above approach to education delivery with a relevant evaluation method can make our education system industry-relevant and the students, life-long learners. Traditionally, the education system has not adopted learning outcome based approach and we have failed in going beyond “understanding” and in some cases beyond “applying”.  

(Source: The diagram is developed by Niall Macnulty, 2017 based on revised Bloom’s taxonomy by Lorin Anderson, 2001. Original taxonomy was presented by Benjamin Bloom in American Psychological Association Convention and then published in 1956)

The model of structuring the educational delivery depicted in figure-2, has been found very useful by the author while implementing outcome based approach and has yielded good results:


Source: Christens, 2018. Magellan International School, www.magellanschool.org

The engagement with industry depicted in this model leads to curriculum design being in line with industry requirements and involvement of industry professionals in delivery of courses enables them to learn application and analysis. The internships with industry further enables innovation and creativity.

Inter and trans-disciplinarity (Figure-3) brings interaction among students of different disciplines and thus ensures learning wherein they work together in finding solution to real-life problems, challenges and issues. They develop free-wheeling and are able to see the relevance of their disciplines in disciplines studied by others. It also supports the increasing trend of students opting for non-STEM subjects, choosing to complete their degrees in design, arts, liberal arts, humanities, social sciences, architecture, media and communication, and economics and others. It heralds a bright future for the Indian education system that is not fixated on a future that only caters to STEM education. As per latest trends, non-STEM courses enable graduates in securing high percentage of placements in hotel management, applied arts and crafts. Even for students pursuing STEM courses, inter and trans-disciplinary approach offers an opportunity to choose humanities (of non-STEM) courses as open electives making them able to lead the tide of change in all spheres of life.


Source: Christens, 2018. Magellan International School, www.magellanschool.org

Working with foreign Universities and Institutions helps us in understanding and adopting global best practices. The influence on the curriculum and student and faculty exchanges help in developing global vision and understanding cultural sensitivities and work ethics in different parts of the world.  During last two decades or so, many Indian Institutions and Universities collaborated with foreign Universities particularly from the US, UK and other European countries. Irrespective of the forms and the intensity of engagement with foreign partners involved in these collaborations, they have influenced the Indian partners in terms of their moving towards outcome based education and pedagogical innovations.

The character building is one aspect that must be institutionalized. We need graduates who are ethical and sensitive to social and environmental issues at the grass-root levels. Community outreach programmes and volunteering by students are powerful tools of character building. Working on the field during such activities interacting with people from different walks of life and different social and economic backgrounds sensitized them to the real issues that our society faces. This understanding is extremely essential for real-life innovations and policy-making and working towards making lives of people better.

THE GROUND REALITY:

The author’s experience while chairing expert committees for accreditation, shows that adoption of Outcome Based Education (OBE) and its successful implementation is one of the weakest areas of our academic institutions. In most cases it has been found that the leadership is either not aware of the OBE or only a small number of teachers know a little about it and most of the other teachers and students knowing nothing about it. In some cases while the framework has been defined but they have not been able to measure the outcomes or even write the rubrics to measure them.

In higher education, there are no formal training programmes either for the teachers or for the leadership at various levels. The Directors, Deans, Heads of Department and even the Vice Chancellors belong to the era when OBE was not even talked about, not to mention implementing it. One thing that has caused adoption of OBE and related pedagogical changes, is the mandatory accreditation of institutions and programmes required in view of the Washington accord. However, there is no system of training the teachers and academic administrators on how to adopt these new approaches and initiatives in run up to accreditations, barring a few individuals acting as private consultants charging hefty fees. In most cases, these consultants help in preparing the documents for the visiting expert teams rather than helping in implementation and measurement over a reasonable length of time.

Another factor that has limited the adoption of new pedagogies, is the inability of academia in deciding as to what is the appropriate technology to be used in teaching-learning. There is a need to understand how technology fits within the structure of the entire education model. When new technology is used in the traditional classroom model, it may do more harm than any help and may lead to disaster. If an institute acquires all the latest equipment and gadgets, but the technology does not contribute to enriching the learning experiences, the investment is not justified. Implementing technology in pedagogy can be possible only if the model of education is re-structured making it interactive and dynamic. The various teaching styles of the teachers and the ways in which learners learn, play a crucial role in making technology relevant in the classroom. Education technology needs to apply to what the learners require and what teaching styles are adopted. If the education model is restructured, advancements in technology can bring many useful tools to teaching and learning. For example, virtual reality can bring alive various concepts, creating an immersive environment in the classroom. With storage on cloud, students will be able to access their lessons and worksheets anywhere anytime. In such an environment, the teachers’ role will be that of a catalyst for problem solving and of creating interface of students with the industry.

Also, while many institutions have made efforts to move towards outcome based approach, there have not been much work done towards reforming the examination and evaluation systems. The time has come when we should implement open-book examinations and we must think of evaluating not only the written examination answer books and reports but also the working models, documentary films, mobile apps developed by students and portfolios of work undertaken by them during the programme.

THE FUTURE:

The academic institutions in India have the opportunity to make a difference and inspire the new generation of young minds by moving away from rote learning to insightful learning. The new pedagogical approaches should encourage high expectations for success and at the same time celebrates individual differences and learning styles. The relevance of Multiple Intelligences in teaching-learning has perhaps never been as relevant as it is today and must be understood and adopted. The leadership in Universities and Institutions will have to rethink the current model of imparting education, adopt right kind of technologies and mobilize resources to make investment in it, train the staff, interact with industry and other stakeholders and push the learning to take place in outside-the-classroom environment. It requires a paradigm shift and attitudinal change in people. The concept of traditional laboratories is giving way to simulators with smart robots and on-field learning about the real-world. Fortunately, with the emergence of new-age Universities, it is becoming possible to explore the benefits of new pedagogical approaches enabled by digital technologies. They are influencing education in a way that a job (when jobs are vanishing) should not be the aim of education but a consequence of education. The process is yielding positive results and is transforming our learning environments. They are more effective in meeting stakeholders’ expectations and at the same time are managing resources efficiently.

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