The National Educational Policy (NEP 2020) is all set for implementation in Higher Educational Institutions in the current academic year. The NEP has ambitious expectations from Higher Educational Institutions. For many years, problems, ambiguities, and anomalies of higher education were being discussed on various platforms but remained confined to round table discussions. After years of deliberations, revisions of various drafts, inputs from the stakeholders, and comments from the public, NEP is here and to be implemented now. It is time for Higher Educational Institutions to gear up and contribute to making Indian education the best in the world.
It is for the first time after Independence that we have overcome the English/British model that is so deep-rooted and had penetrated every facet of our education. Reshaping and revamping all aspects of the undergraduate education system needed a vision that the committee members have displayed. However, a lot of work is still needed to be done. We must structure the system and look at various aspects of governance and implementation. There are many critiques and some concerns raised need to be addressed immediately. It is being reiterated that nothing is set in stone and public opinion still holds value and course corrections will be made. Before we comment, though, a better understanding and in-depth analysis of the policy and various levels of education are required. For this, planning, execution, and involvement of everyone who will be affected is being envisaged.
As a faculty in one of the ten best undergraduate educational institutions of India in all the three streams of Arts, Commerce, and Science, my feeling is that the NEP is timely. For higher educational institutions, especially the ones that bring the best talent across the country on one single platform, it is a time to reinvent ourselves and work on our teaching and pedagogical tools and methods to raise the standards of undergraduate teaching and set a benchmark for rest of the country. It is our responsibility to create a new system that is in line with the aspirational goals of 21st-century education. If we fail to do that, the generation “Zee” will never forgive us, and we would be bogged down by our own conscience as the guilt would be that we did not do much.
Looking at how to reinvent classroom teaching, I feel that teachers need to work on how to bridge the gap between the aspirations of students with brilliant scores with current educational practice that has been standardised. For years, classroom teaching has been our focus and we have been putting our best in delivering the lectures pertaining to the syllabus in our classes. But times have changed. This is not going to work for sure as information is available online. The best teachers at some universities are on Youtube, and we already have MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) on every single topic. Students do not actually seek from us what is available at the click of the mouse. So, experiential learning is one way to reboot our obsolete system. David Kolb, a well educational psychologist, had been advocating that the students learn from their experiences, and teachers must create that environment for them. It has been often emphasised that knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. That is also what the NEP emphasises: Experiential Learning. We have been doing this but now it needs proper restructuring and acknowledgment.
Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experiences that student acquire in an institute right from the entry gate. The role of subjective experience in the learning process has never ever been emphasised. For imparting learning, teachers must move out of the four walls of the classroom and help students have hands-on experience. Learning by doing, Do It Yourself activities and their contribution in overall capacity building has been underestimated in our education system. Teachers who engage students in this way are not considered mainstream. However, talk to the students who have had the teachers give them all this, and they revere them. Students can reflect more on their learning and are able to connect theories learned in the classroom to real-world situations. Experiential learning promotes autonomy and independence of thought, which is more often crushed in the classroom where students are passive learners. Experiential learning opportunities exist in a variety of forms and may include community service, undergraduate research, and culminating experiences from internships. NEP has outlined some methods and left some to be discovered by the respective teachers. Teaching methods are exclusive to a teacher as well and the same may not work for all. When we engage in a bipartite teaching-learning relationship, we also help students have deeper insights into their own skills, interests, passions, and values.
Understanding the diversity of the classroom is important and undergraduate teachers rarely invest there. Students can learn at their own pace, have their own ways. Some are naïve, and some may be high achievers, and some have preferences and an appetite for different domains. So, using novel pedagogical tools will ensure higher-level learning and retention. Another area where teachers need investment is in Discovery Learning. In 1961 it was Jerome Bruner, an American psychologist, who introduced the Discovery Learning Model. Teachers can play an important role in helping students reflect on this method as well. In a classroom teachers can impart that by asking questions and not providing an exact answer but rather the materials to find the answer. Discovery learning is seen as a breakthrough as this encourages motivation, active involvement, and fosters innovation and creativity.
Learning methods where a teacher makes the student the pivot and he views learning as an activity need to be developed. Encouraging students to become self-learners through self-education, through reading and writing, is important. Social forms of learning such as modeling, guidance, and feedback from peers also is becoming relevant with changing times. Learning should be self-regulated, and learners should be taught to take personal initiative and have adaptive skills in pursuing it. Students can self-regulate their learning by taking advantage of personal environments or seeking social support from family members, teammates, or friends.
There are solutions and there are challenges. As undergraduate teachers, we must be well prepared and anticipate the questions, the challenges, and devise strategies that can help achieve the larger goal of imparting quality education. We can work as teams and not remain in silos as we need to interact with schools and universities. Undergraduate teachers are at an interface between the school output and the university input, and thus our strategies need to also consider the age group we are engaging with and the social realities that are in constant chaos. We need to invest in pedagogy that may be far from the present mainstream to secure results that the NEP aims to achieve.
The writer is Associate Professor at Hansraj College, University of Delhi.