Need For A Comprehensive Education Ecosystem

The purpose of education is to help people understand the power of the human mind and recognize that technology will play an important role as a subservient tool.

Rajendra S Pawar

Rajendra S Pawar, Chairman and Co-founder, NIIT Group and Founder, NIIT University, about New Education Policy, shift to online and future of education in India.

What are NIIT University (NU) priorities and future plans?  

Our vision for NIIT University (NU) is to achieve distinctiveness at a global level in all four areas outlined through our core principles—industry-linked, technology-based, research-driven, and seamless. NU has already set a benchmark in offering education backed by technology with a strong industry-linked focus. Not only our industry practitioners mentoring the University’s students but the University has also set aside one full semester for compulsory internship in an organization, a move that underlines its deep industry linkages. 

In fact, NU’s four core principles resonate strongly with the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. The policy speaks extensively about the need for India’s education system to have flexibility, multidisciplinary approach, seamlessness, strong industry linkages, technology-centeredness and research orientation. All these characteristics are an inextricable part of the NU fabric, positioning us well to fulfill the goal, purpose, and aspirations of the NEP and stand apart as a true University of the Future.

What impacts did COVID have on on-campus placements at NIIT University (NU)? 

COVID-19 pushed us into unchartered waters. Despite the many hurdles, at our 10th annual convocation that was held in a virtual mode last year, 298 students were awarded degrees for successful completion of various programmes. Living up to NU’s 100% placement record, the students who were eligible and opted for placement have found good jobs with leading organizations like IBM, PwC, EY, Airtel, HCL Technologies, Cognizant, Big Basket and Byjus, to name a few.

Also, at NU, placements happen 6 months earlier than most other institutions. Most of our students start the final semester with an internship in an organisation that ends up being the place where they will work. So, while the world was battling several challenges, our students were interning with their potential employers while completing their courses online at the University. This also highlights our strong industry linkage which is one of the core principles of NU. 

Do you think online will be the default mode for education in India? Are we ready for this transformation? 

Owing to COVID-19, educational institutions across the country were compelled to adopt an online mode of teaching and learning. While this approach has allowed at least some engagement between faculty and students, it is far from optimal. Replicating a classroom through communication tools such as Microsoft Team and Zoom is not the full story for effective digital education. It needs a comprehensive ecosystem that comprises innovative tools and technologies for teaching and learning, and also encapsulates a number of critical areas in the context of higher education. The industry linkage needs to be woven into the digital education ecosystem as well, including elements such as placement, internships, incubation and alumni connections. We also have to remember that learning is a social process and we cannot ignore the centrality of face-to-face learning. 

So, I don’t think online will be or should be the default mode for education. What we need is a blended learning model, which includes a vast range of digital activities that collectively deliver effective learning. At NIIT University, a significant part of such a blended learning model has been implemented, based on extensive work done over the last 10 years, with 40 years of research and experience from the sponsoring organisation, NIIT Limited. This model incorporates innovative pedagogies, technology-based teacher-student engagement and end-to-end processing of student administration.

All of this is delivered through NU Digital, a comprehensive ecosystem that includes multiple aspects such as an increasing percentage of lab work done through digital simulators, and work-from-home internships during the pandemic. Additionally, we have a robust online admission-interaction process, that allows prospective students and their parents to communicate with us from the comfort of their home well before admission time. The NU model is based on the belief that digital education and traditional education are not two watertight compartments but a continuum in the growth of the education ecosystem. A judicious blend of the two can benefit teachers, learners and other stakeholders in the system.

What is your take on New Education Policy (NEP)?

New Education Policy (NEP), in spirit a harbinger of directional change and sectoral reforms, is expected to open fresh avenues for India's education sector in the 21st century. The policy is particularly welcoming for the industry as it focuses on the use of technology for seamless learning, holistic, multidisciplinary education, and technology-centeredness. It encourages flexible curricula, innovation, and the freedom to delve into various combinations of subjects which in turn has the power to create more well-rounded, multi-faceted and creative learners. 

Taking a more practical and skill-based approach towards education, the policy is sure to facilitate a generation that is better equipped with expertise and niche skills. Now, students can change if they feel like opting for different subjects and even take a break. 

What were your expectations from the Union Budget 2021-22 and how far have they been met?  

The New Education Policy (NEP) has already set the ball rolling for reforms in the education sector. We now have a policy vision and a cohesive plan for curriculum advancement that will stay with us for a decade or so.  I eagerly look forward to seeing an enhanced budget for education in 2021-22 which help NEP ideas to be implemented comprehensively. 

How do you visualize the future of education in India? 

I view the 21st century as the Century of the Mind. We’ve had over two centuries of the Machine, in which technology (which is the pragmatic implementation of science), has taught humans to manage, exploit and cope with machines. In this era, the curriculum has seen social sciences and humanities give way to subjects that taught how to build and manage machines. This is undergoing a fundamental change. 

In the 21st century, the Mind is at the centre and the machine is subservient to it. The purpose of education, therefore, is to help people understand the power of the human mind and recognize that technology will play an important role as a subservient tool.Covid-19 accelerated the global connection between human minds through the use of technology. Herein lies a monumental opportunity.  While some skills that were relevant before Covid-19 will still stay relevant, a new set of skills will be needed to thrive in the future. The key priority for education going forward is to make students industry-ready by assessing their competencies and aligning them with what the industry demands. This can be achieved by bringing research and innovation to the forefront of education. For the past couple of decades, the government has been committed to education, first by universalising school education and now by focusing on education at all levels while imbibing skills that will make students future-ready. We look forward to the NEP bringing it all together.

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