Written by: Ali Imran
With a mindset which favours stability and conformity, most Indian parents have long favoured a “professional” education for their children, viewing it as the gateway to a regular job (and stronger marriage prospects). This has meant the dominance of engineering and medicine courses, with commerce making an entry as management careers became lucrative. However, numerous research studies have shown up our average tech institution as woefully short of the quality required by industry, and students as lacking real-life skills.
Combined with an education system, which favours rote learning rather than deep understanding, this has brought us to a situation in which the country is producing neither outstanding tech innovators nor original thinkers in the required numbers. Our most talented students are very frequently lost to universities and organisations in the West, and we celebrate their rise to senior positions in global corporates, top educational institutions and foreign governments without recognising that their talent could not flourish in our system.
The lack of evolution in our education system has, ironically, been accompanied by a remarkable pace of change in the world. Technological leaps and sweeping social and demographic changes have created an environment in which obsolescence is always round the corner. Once-dominant corporations such as Nokia have been undone and others like Apple and Facebook have grown faster than any in the history of humankind, primarily because of the side of change on which they were located.
COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have illustrated once again that there is no one-dimensional solution to the complex problems of today’s world. Multiple organisations are scrambling to find a vaccine, governments are working out how to get it to every last citizen, and economies are struggling to recover despite massive fiscal stimuli.
The economies of nations and the business models of companies are being completely reshaped, and assumptions about productivity are being permanently redefined. It is clear that the post-pandemic world will need solutions that take into account science, economics, mathematics, psychology, sociology, history, political systems and human behaviour as a whole.
Hence, there is no doubt that the leaders of the future will need to understand how different disciplines interact with each other, and how human behaviour and societal megatrends are shaped by this interaction.
In this context, India’s first National Education Policy in 34 years has placed the right emphasis on the need to move to a multidisciplinary form of education.
A multidisciplinary form of education enables the development of skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, adaptability, flexibility etc. These skills are only going to become more valuable as the prevalence of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning grows, ensuring that many professions of today may not exist by the end of this decade. Multidisciplinary education is indispensable to be prepared for the even faster pace of change which awaits us.
New Education Policy (NEP) will hopefully help Indian educational institutions to create critical thinkers who can think out of the box to solve issues, utilising the breadth and depth of learning from their education. Suggestions in the policy, such as the creation of model public universities for holistic and multidisciplinary education and the abolition of single-stream Universities in a phased manner, are meant to make Indian universities competitive with the best universities in the world. Its focus on value-based education and emphasis on Global Citizenship Education (GCED) will help develop students who are aware of global issues, as well as increase the employability of Indian graduates and create independent-thinking ethical citizens.
Multi-disciplinarity and the four-year undergraduate programme are central to Ashoka University’s approach to education. When Ashoka, taking inspiration from the Indian tradition of multidisciplinary education (going back to Takshashila and Nalanda), the Greek pursuit of all-round knowledge (the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Astronomy, Geometry, Music) and the pedagogical approach followed by globally recognised universities in the West, set out to establish one of the world’s best liberal arts and sciences institutions in India, the idea was met with some scepticism, which is inevitable for any new concept.
But today, as alumni from the University pursue higher education in some of the world’s best institutions, make an impact in hundreds of highly respected corporations and organisations and run their own entrepreneurial ventures to solve societal problems, it is evident that multidisciplinary education delivered through globally recognized faculty has enabled our students to develop the skills required in the 21
While we will get more clarity in the coming years on how the multidisciplinary institutions being proposed in the policy shape up, we must welcome the change in the mindset of policymakers, which should help create a framework for the country to take advantage of its demographic dividend and bolster its all-round growth in the 21
st century. —Ali Imran is Vice President, External Engagement, Ashoka University. The views expressed are personal