Innovating for real teaching-learning

Even after 14-15 years of education, a large percentage (as high as 70-80 percent depending on which data you look at) of graduates of Indias 431 universities and 21,000 colleges are unemployable. They may have acquired certificates, but little education valued by the market. For a nation which will host 25 percent of the global population in the age group 25-35 by 2035 according to some demographic studies, this situation is simultaneously sickening and alarming. The problem is so huge and immediate that all stakeholders of society need to cooperate to innovate ourselves out of this unacceptable predicament.

For graduates to be employable, they require capabilities across four dimensions. They need to be knowledgeable in their area of study, at least to the level of being familiar with fundamentals; know the real-world relevance of fundamental concepts; and need personal effectiveness and workplace competencies. The last two capabilities are essentially ‘can-do attitudes mixed with responsibility, the hallmark of a professional. Given the accelerated pace and complexity of contemporary workplaces, the expectation of graduates is that they hit the ground running and exhibit these capabilities right from the start of their careers by at the very least possessing relevant knowledge.

In the current collegiate system where the teacher is the sole provider of know-ledge, the onus is on him/her to develop all four capabilities of students. But it would require a miracle for a teacher to do this, since she is equipped with noth-ing but prescribed text-books! Quite obviously the requirements are diverse, and need additional material and human resources to be inducted at low cost.

The first step is to mobilise additional material. This is tantamount to saying that a very large library is required. Yet such a library will be filled with high quality, as well as amateur material. This is the equivalent of having class notes, renowned texts and colloquial explanations of students in the same premises. A second step of the solution is to invite proven professionals to enter the education system. Thus not just experts and tutors, but also knowledgeable peer-learners will be involved with the teaching-learning process.

If contemporary ICT (information communication technologies) are utilised, such a mix of expert tutors and peer-learners aiding the teaching-learning process is entirely possible at low cost. The internet and worldwide web, especially Web2.0 facilitates this. Therefore teachers and educators need to adopt new technologies to develop faculty and student capability. The growth and development of the Wikipedia on the internet, which is the outcome of a conscious effort to build a community of peer-learners, experts, and professionals engaging with students and teachers worldwide, is a good example of new possibilities created by ICT. The material created by students and teachers in the classroom becomes content, and students form the peer-learning group.

However this is not to suggest that we abandon all existing pedagogies and start afresh. The suggestion is to integrate ICT and the internet into the existing academic process, to dramatically improve learning outcomes.

An exercise i often do when interviewing candidates and participating in townhall type interactions is to ask them to name their favourite subject and follow it with questions to test their understanding of it. My experience is that as long as questions require descriptive and definitional responses, they are well answered. But when questions require insights and logical analysis, 98 percent fail miserably. This indicates that they had been learning to pass exams rather than to understand theoretical concepts. Hence the need to shift the entire focus in higher education to grasping concepts and applying knowledge, while developing the ability to proactively access knowledge. Like they say, nothing is out-of-syllabus in the real world.

Web2.0, social networking, and the internet are not new and there are many examples testifying to their benefits. Then why are these enabling technologies not being adopted far and wide for knowledge gathering and learning? The main reason is that they are perceived as technologies for simple chatter. Also the education world is so used to chalk-and-talk pedagogies that most new technologies are regarded as teacher replacement solutions, when in fact they are teacher enabling technologies.

Simply asking students to use social networking and Web2.0 media solutions is unlikely to improve learning outcomes in tertiary education. Theres a need to customise and integrate them with teaching-learning processes. Moreover theres also a need –– and opportunity –– to build active communities of peer-learners aided by experts.

Yes, there is a crisis in higher education. But new technologies and media offer new solutions at the secondary and collegiate levels. The teachers community should do itself a favour by embracing new technologies and integrating them into their teaching-learning processes. Doing so offers the prospect of all-round win-win solutions.

(Vaidya Nathan is the Chennai-based founder-CEO of Classle Knowledge, an education empowerment enterprise)

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