Education Will Be Flexible, Focused On Teacher Training And Student Centric: Dr Prashant Bhalla

Featuring on BW Education’s Wednesday Wisdom, Dr Prashant Bhalla of Manav Rachana Educational Institutions (MREI) outlines how IT has transformed academia in the pandemic year and the future of educational institutions.

Following a novel online year for academic institutions and the likely hybrid education in the days to come, the rubrics of what a student will learn and how they will learn it is steadily evolving. The advent of the New Educational Policy (NEP), the shift to online education and the quick upskilling of pedagogy spell out the structural changes that are here to stay. Delving into the details- proctored exams, nuanced content that can be digitally delivered, online collaborative tools and the changes to the curriculum which came in as measures to keep the academic machine running might just forever alter traditional education as we know it.      

Speaking at the weekly educational show- Wednesday Wisdom, Dr Prashant Bhalla, President of MREI spotlighted the new dynamics that govern the educational sector in a world altered by the pandemic world. He recollects how campuses had to suddenly close in the middle of March 2020 and go into a new way of working to keep up with the academic calendar. Talking about his role in tiding over the pandemic in an academic setting, he says, “I feel as an educationalist, the role was much appreciated and it felt like as educational institutions we have to be the torchbearers and offer support to the whole society in all endeavours, whether it was the mental or psychological support or if it was connectivity with the families. It was just not the students at that time, you could see the challenges that the parents were facing.”

Academic autonomy and the NEP

Reflecting on the silver jubilee of MREI, Bhalla tracks the growth of private colleges and the shift in public acceptance towards them over the last 25 years. He explains how many colleges are affiliated with the State and that impedes their academic capabilities.

“I think one big challenge in the country is where the affiliation system has been the biggest impediment to the growth of an educational institution, in terms of the way that educational institutions are expected to act, work and what they should be doing,” he stated. He further went on to explain that “Unless and until they (academic institutions) get academic autonomy or academic freedom, I don't think they can grow and contribute to the extent that is desirable.”

He believes this is where the new NEP guidelines will usher changes that will establish a new progressive educational movement and thoroughly welcomes it. “I think I will give credit to the policymakers of the country working towards bringing in very futuristic changes in the policies and the expectations. These policies are very conducive to the growth of an educational institution. Obviously, you need to have some checks and balances but I think if you look at the New Education Policy, it says that the regulations are going to be very light, but tight. So the language and the purpose of the integration of regional language and other aspects are also integrated or interwoven to ensure that the delivery is improved,” Bhalla said. He added how the NEP sets clear expectations from institutes and offers a roadmap to anyone who is a part of the sector.

All About Student’s Choice

The content delivered online and level of pedagogy is under greater scrutiny in online classes. Parents have an opportunity to sit with their children and experience firsthand the quality of education that their children receive, making the vocation more pressurising for teachers at a K-12 level. On a collegiate level, however, the online medium in conjunction with the NEP offer greater levels of flexibility to students who can now learn from multiple sources.

Bhalla explains the concept of the bank of credit, where students can gain their credits from different universities if they wish. “I feel it is going to be more driven by the content and knowledge that you are delivering through your courses. The core would be the teacher and the quality of the teacher who is delivering (the subject) and the decision would be left to the students to continue. They can stay to complete the degree or not. Or they could just take one or two credits from one university and move on to places wherever he or she finds comfort in or are confident about the quality of delivery.”

Subject to these guidelines, we can witness a shift in how students take classes in the colleges of the future. They will be able to pick the classes they want and the teacher they want to learn from and that is a concept that was previously absent in the Indian educational system.

Training the teachers and the role of Edtech

With students having the autonomy to choose classes they want to, the quality of pedagogy and the delivery by teachers becomes more important. “I think students are at the core in terms of the expectations that every institution has to have in focus. But the purpose and the demand for the right teacher for delivery has also come into the core,” Bhalla explains. He foresees that the investments in educational institutions will now not be on on-campus infrastructure or real estate. The focus instead will be on getting the best teachers and the institutions will be increasingly judged by the achievements of their teachers and the students who study there.

Commenting on the rise of Edtech, he observes how Edtech providers have evolved from being partners to institutions to have their own academic structure. He believes blended education is here to stay and so is Edtech.

Talking about his learning, Bhalla believes that the biggest learning from the pandemic is empathy and compassion and this feeds into how educational institutions should also evolve. And while he and other educators cling on to the hope that schools and colleges will soon reopen, the resilience displayed by educational institutions and students goes to show the fluidity and the capacity for progressive change in the academic machinery that is as innate as human nature.

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