"We need three types of policy reforms in the education sector."
Way back in 1981, a decade before liberalization of Indian economy, he started NIIT Technologies. NIIT University was imagined, envisioned and eventually established by Rajendra Singh Pawar, Chairman and co-founder of NIIT group, in 2009. Reformative, as his ideas always are, Pawar speaks to Sreerupa Sil of BW Education on the immediate needs in the education sector, the three reforms and note for higher education leaders.
A professor is hard to locate in this university. Groups of young people experimenting with gadgets in the nooks and corners is a regular view in this wide-spread green campus. Early mornings rise with students trekking across the hill near the campus to enjoy the sun rise. Well, that’s possible also from Astachal, a gallery on the terrace for literary meets, debates, talks and Socratic dialogues, which pretty much occur every evening during sunsets. Witnessing a view like this, often make one question- what is futuristic education, what are we thriving for, what are we trying to create as educators?
The man behind this whole innovation has been always known for his new and foreseeing ideas way back from 1981, a decade before liberalization of Indian economy, when he started NIIT Technologies. NIIT University was imagined, envisioned and eventually established by Rajendra Singh Pawar, Chairman and co-founder of NIIT group, in 2009. Reformative, as his ideas always are, Pawar speaks to Sreerupa Sil of BW Education on the immediate needs in the education sector, the three reforms and note for higher education leaders.
What is the purpose of education?
Let me start with the story of Aman Nath who visited our university recently to have session. A historian by education, he is the one behind re-imagining Neemrana Fort. His latest work involved building an underground hotel on the Sohna road. The building is dug around the well to keep the building’s temperature under control, topped by a lawn, literally. The lesson I carried from here was ‘nothing is impossible’. That is education when a young child can believe ‘anything is possible’. It is also drawing, sketching, calculations and constraints with the tools you have. Education needs to unbottle the genie in a child and unshackle minds. When the world is completely uncertain, preparing a person with fine skills is harmful since you are making them outdated the day they come. Whereas if you unshackle them, make them adventurous, build a strong sense of daring and let them lose, they will cope. Certification, validation, rankings are so industrial that it boxes away the human spirit of learning. Our core principles of being research driven, innovative and entrepreneurial takes student to a new zone of learning to make them more relevant in adapting to change.
The concept of relevance is quite interesting since ‘relevance’ is rapidly changing..
If one has a sense of daring, only then s/he will be able to cope with the unknown, unlike saying ‘this is out of course’! In our life, we are seamlessly dealing with the rich, poor, birds, surrounding etc, you are getting equipped to deal with environment in a comprehensive way. Every problem that comes, you are looking at it as an opportunity and not as a math or a civics or a geography or biology problem. If we train young minds to deal with such problems and doing it in a way that serves the purpose of society. Industrial era on the other hand dealt with completely different ‘relevance’. The technology for cement industry lasted 25 to 30 years. One could manage a lifetime understanding that technology in an industrial era, but it is no more relevant now. Teaching to learn therefore is the most important phenomenon.
Teaching to learn is the most difficult thing, isn’t it?
Kids are learning on their own. The biggest challenge is that students are absorbing much more information from outside than from inside the system. A child is a liberated learner- this is a very big challenge for education at present. Now the student compares his teacher to a video on YouTube or Ted Talks and finds them smarter than their professors.
What will then be the role of the institutions?
The potential role of the institution will change. A child can study the laws of physics sitting at home but may not be able to relate them to their daily life. A child may not get inspired since the umpteen videos and content may not intellectually challenge a young mind. Additionally peer learning does not happen online as much as it happens in the institution. That social setting makes one more responsible because of the immediate reaction as against that of ‘check again’ comment of a computer. Providing a setting for real interaction, dialogues, debates for collaboration, sensitivity and thoughtfulness should be provided by great institution.
What kind of reforms are required?
In 1991, India opened up several sectors to foreign investment. The liberalization process unleashed enormous energy in India’s corporate sector. Since then a number of Indian companies have earned a name in the global marketplace. We need similar type of policy reforms in the education sector. Players in this sector must be given the freedom to enter, operate and exit.
According to All India Survey on Higher Education (AISHE), India has 38,000 colleges making up 767 universities catering to 33 million students and 1.4 million teachers. Despite of that, India needs more universities.
India needs ‘curricular reforms’. In today’s world, where technological knowhow is evolving with each day, educational institutions need to be granted the freedom to engage with the industry and change the curricula as and when required. Education Industry must teach what the industry needs.
And finally, the education sector also needs ‘financial reforms’, especially in higher education. In government. The government should provide
Three reforms that I primarily talked about are administrative, curricular and financial reforms. The government should provide scholarships and loans to those who need it the most, and leave academic fee to be determined by market forces. That’s what will make our educational institutions relevant and self- sustaining. The need of the hour, therefore, is to rapidly implement this three-pronged reform process- policy reforms, curricular reforms and financial reforms.
This article was published in BW Businessworld issue dated '' with cover story titled 'BW Education Inaugural Issue April-May 2017'
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