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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Future Students & Education



Become a student of change. It will remain the only constant' said author Anthony J D'Angelo. Students have been the pioneers of change all over the world. They themselves have also been changing — their quest increasing and their horizon broadening.

The student is becoming increasingly independent. He knows what to do. He lives in the present — well aware of what he is doing. Since he dictates his own terms to life, he does not hold anybody responsible for what becomes of him. Students pursuing unconventional courses like music, choreography and styling may have been a rarity in yesteryears, but today their numbers have increased drastically. They now listen to their hearts and 10 years hence, many more people would take up their hobbies as their profession.The face of an Indian student in the future would coincide with the forces of globalisation, modernisation and urbanisation of society. The transformation of the education system, to suit the employment demands of the future, would manifest itself in the changes brought about in the values, attitudes and lifestyle of the modern Indian student.


No longer does one's gender define one's line of work.The age-old belief 'girls for hospitality and boys for fieldwork' has been broken. Besides, the modern student has no place for unnecessary gender divisions and wants to be classified as a thorough professional. "We can communicate better in the classroom. The outlook towards peer-topeer relationship has finally changed," says Akansha Mishra, a student at National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). There is also a strong desire for excellence as students keep upgrading themselves continuously.

With the penetration of communication and network technology, awareness about various courses and specialisations has spread immensely. Gone are the days when one's Guru and a copy of the Employment News served as the only source of information.


Two schools of thought exist on this topic; one that can't let go their gurus and one that can get enough of e-learning. In ancient times the Indian system of learning was 'guru-centric' and the production and dissemination of knowledge was a centralised system. Knowledge was accessible and used by a privileged few. Until the 1990s, when the internet was not so popular, there were clear traces of this 'guru-shishya' tradition still persisting in our education system. Indeed it still persists, but to a lesser extent. Critics argue that the 'guru-shishya' tradition only helps students become accustomed to spoon-feeding and that the central concern of the relationship becomes how you 'please' each other, while learning takes a backseat.

On the other hand, with the increasing popularity of e-learning, virtual and open universities and distance education, you can learn anywhere, any time and all by yourself. Madhuparna Roy Chowdhury, an MBA graduate from the Indian Institute of Finance, Delhi, elaborates: "The e-modules and business classes operated from different university departments abroad have helped me immensely. I have taken two online courses in economics from the University of Illinois, which helped not only my knowledge base but also my resume." According to conservative estimates, the worldwide e- learning industry is estimated to be worth over 38 billion euros. But when asked whether teachers and trainers could become dispensable in the future, many remain apprehensive. Says Ngamjahao Kipgen, PhD student at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences (HUSS), Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Delhi: "Distance learning has definitely eased the process of learning. I have been participating in online seminars and discussion forums since the past year at IIT, which I could have never imagined doing from back home in Manipur. However, it still does not undermine the importance of a teacher.’’

The point of contention lies in the fact that e-learning places most of the responsibility for learning squarely on the shoulders of the student. Madhuparna agrees, saying: "It eventually depends on the individual as to what he or she learns from a programme online. It also reflects on their level of maturity, because you have to work within self imposed deadlines and schedules."

While motivated learners may do well, how many of us actually manage to stay motivated all the time? Unmotivated students either never begin or don't complete their online training course.Whereas the guru serves not only as a caring therapist pointing out our hidden psychological blind spots but also as a constant reminder that the task at hand must be completed. Making students do something rather than merely telling them what to do is where a guru will always beat the computer.

It is, perhaps, as a reaction to this that many online educational initiatives are now looking to incorporate the best of both worlds. One such example is the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) that, in partnership with DirecWay Global Education (DWGE), has launched the Interactive Onsite Learning (IOL) programme. The programme is an advanced form of e-learning wherein students can actually interact with their teachers.The teachers’ live lessons are broadcasted over the internet using video-conferencing and students gather at special centres to attend the same and to interact with the teacher as well.


The need for an alternative system of admission to universities in the future stems not from the fact that various psychological, social and emotional pressures confront students across the country but from the discernible lack of satisfaction the present system brings along. Nitya Talwar, class XII student, Mater Dei High School, opines: "At present, if one doesn't perform well in boards, their entire life, seemingly, goes down the drain. Is that fair?" Most universities have a centralised admission procedure, wherein the university itself or a central body conducts tests and applicants are ranked by exam grades. The applicants may, further, state their preferences for institutes or courses based on their rank and personal choice. Elaborating on the flaw in the modus operandi of course allotment under such a system,Vaibhhav Sinha, third-year student, IIT-Kharagpur, states: "We shouldn't be screened on the basis of exams that have little or no relevance to one's aptitude for a particular discipline. Besides, one shouldn't have to choose a particular discipline unless you have had the opportunity to explore and decide whether or not you wish to pursue it. A lack of this is why we see students with 'bookish' knowledge pursuing technical courses in the country."

Why is academic marks the sole criterion during admissions? One's marks can't really reflect the potential, abilities and skills that a student possesses. Besides, isn’t knowledge subjective and can be acquired? An alternate system of admissions that can be proposed is based on a combination of a series of assessments. A percentile could be taken from the board results and special weightage could be given to the subject that one is applying for.This could then be combined with the results of another test that would ascertain a student's logical-reasoning abilities and his approach towards the subject.

Another flaw in the admission system is that students need to appear for different tests for different colleges. As Gaurav Singla, student, Hindu College, Delhi University, points out: "Taking a different test for every college can drain you.The set up adopted by universities abroad is relatively less disorderly with standardised exams like the SAT, GMAT, GRE and IELTS being accepted by most universities."


Another aspect is the entry of private players. Private spending on education has increased in India at a compound annual growth rate of 10.38% since 1994. Education is among the fastest growing service sectors of the economy, coming only a close second to the health sector growth rate and hence the increase in private initiatives.

Education provides the strongest link between income aspirations and the realisation of income goals. It can be controlled from within a household and without unreasonable dependance on the external environment and infrastructure.

The good thing about the entry of private players is that it provides quality infrastructure, albeit for a price, and transparency and accountability to the client also increases. Moreover, due to intense competition, the courses and degrees offered by different private colleges, institutes and universities are far more updated, better equipped and marketcentric.

However, critics aren't far behind. There is a strong wave of dissent against the privatisation of education because, it could mean that the government relinquishes its duty of providing basic amenities to the underprivileged. Rajneesh Choubisa, PhD student, IIT-Delhi, says: "Growth in private education is an essentially urban phenomenon. It doesn't show the rural reality on the ground, where basic education is still elusive as they simply can't afford it." Perhaps what is needed is more publicprivate partnership (PPP) in education.

Sunil Sharma
Dil Se Desi Group

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