Quest for the right education for the new world

Everyone almost everywhere seems to agree that the education system, especially, the higher education system, is in a mess. And employers seem to agree that the kind of people they need are not at all available. In India, it is a constant complaint that those who come out with degrees from universities are largely unemployable. They simply don’t have the skills that are needed for the jobs — often, even the skills to live properly in a society! It is in no way happy to learn that the problem is not unique to India, though it may be a sort of relief that we are not all alone and that rest of the world is also struggling with the same problem. But that is not much of a solace. In this context, I would like  to quote from an article by David J. Helfand, President & Vice Chancellor, Quest University Canada. He writes,

“Our educational system is stultified by an answer-based curriculum. What we need in order to produce creative problem solvers for this new millennium is a process-based curriculum….

“In my Quest class this year I adopted a different approach. I divided the class into teams of five and gave them a sophisticated computer simulation of planets orbiting their parent stars. The simulation had a dozen free parameters, including the number of observations one could make and the size of the telescope used (and thus the noisiness of the data collected). I also gave each group a dozen suggestions as to how to play with the simulation. Three hours and thirty minutes later, with everyone was still there, one group got up and wrote out Kepler’s Three Laws of Planetary Motion. They had derived them empirically, just as Kepler did, from noisy data….

“Later in the course, there were more simulations and paper models – and fewer hints were required. My students were comfortable jumping into the mess, arguing with each other, pursuing dead ends, failing…they were engaged in process-based learning, not seeking an answer they could find on their phones. This is the kind of education our students require to support a lifetime of creativity.”

Isn’t this the whole problem in a nutshell? Our universities also ask their students to cram stuff without understanding (to be most efficient), so that they can reproduce everything on the answer sheets. I recently met a young electrical engineer who couldn’t tell me what kind of batteries are used in torches! Or for that matter, what causes electric current to flow! He later explained to me that they were told only to learn by heart. And, to my utter shock, they were told not to touch anything during practical examinations! All this happens, in my view, because the most important thing in education is the final score. It really doesn’t matter whether the student has understood anything or not. Why do we run educational institutions like this? They are just a waste of money, time and resources. It is long past the time when our higher education also followed our schools and adopted social constructivism as its philosophy. I am sure that our university teachers are going to protest, and probably go on strike too, if this happens. I would suggest that it would be more beneficial to our country if those teachers are given golden handshakes and sent off for perpetuity, if that happens. The loss can be made up pretty quickly.