PROF. SHAHID RASOOL
WITH the falling of Chinar leaves and the drying of River Jehlum, the autumn is all set to announce its arrival. The sunny days are counted, the despair of the long cold season is on its way and the disconsolateness of dark freezing wintry nights is not far-off. Amidst all this despondency, a promising and a reassuring academic programme – ‘Kashmir Central Conclave-2023’ was organised in the serene precincts of Raddison Hotel on the banks of the slowly flowing River Jehlum, in Srinagar.
The conclave, organised by one of the upcoming news magazines ‘Kashmir Central’ attracted people from the academia, industry and culture besides students and young scholars on one platform to discuss issues of critical educational and industrial importance in a free and fair atmosphere, embellished with scintillating cultural performances of traditional Kashmiri dance roufe, Kashmiri music and chakri by famous Gulazar Ganai. The galaxy of experts from the industry and the academia included Mustaq Chaya, Rouf Tramboo, Dr Vikram Singh, Manzoor Burza, Prof Gul Wani, Prof Imityaz-ul-Haq, Prof Afzal Zargar, Dr Riyaz Qurashi, Dr Mehrajudin, Manjoula Shroff and Renu Koul.
Highly engaging academic panel discussions, on topics of great importance for the country in general and Kashmir in particular were organised. These included: ‘Innovative Pedagogies to Transform Education’; ‘Kashmir Tourism beyond PGD’; ‘Peace Building – Challenges and Opportunities’; and ‘Social Deviance of Kashmir’s Youth’. Each panel discussion flagged issues concerning these topics and generated a warm debate among the audience at the Mumtaz Banquet Hall filled to capacity with students, scholars, experts of knowledge and the industry partners. There were as many moments of laughter as were the serious discussions on a sanguine future of the country and the youth in particular.
This author had an opportunity to participate as a panelist in the opening panel discussion on ‘Innovative Pedagogies to Transform Education’. Moderated by Venus Upadaya, the discussion included other panelists like Manjula Shroff and Prof Imtiyaz-ul-Haq. The discussion revolved around the fast-changing digital world, the present scenario of education, the opportunities offered by National Educational Policy-2020 and responsibilities of the teachers and parents.
As Thomas Friedman rightly says, we are living in the “age of acceleration” and “the world is flat”, the challenges and opportunities for education are galore. On one side, we have a huge population of youth, as the median age of India is 28.2, with around 50% of its population below the age of 25 and over 65% below the age of 35. This is the critical mass for the growth of the country to become the world’s largest economy and a knowledge superpower. But the challenge is huge as we have a gross enrolment ratio for higher education around 25% including a sizable percentage from distance education mode. Though having a huge infrastructure for higher education, spread over 1000 universities and over 50,000 colleges; to compete at global level we need to push our GER to 50% in the next 15 years, which seems to be a herculean task given the resources available for education. Against a recommended 6% GDP for the education, we, in India, spend around 3% on education.
As former President of India Dr A P J Abdul Kalam, while visualising India as a knowledge superpower had rightly stressed, the challenge in India is to train ordinary Indians in rural areas, beyond IITs and IIMs, in science, technology and entrepreneurship. Given the circumstances, he advocated a judicious use of technology for teaching and learning. Today as we are experiencing a digital revolution in all spheres of life, we have the possibility of making use of technology for teaching and learning. This will allow students to benefit from vast educational resources and experts of knowledge available in cyberspace from across the world. This will also extend the reach of teachers beyond their classrooms.
Prior to Covid, we had many technophobic teachers and reluctant students and parents to accept technology as a partner for education, but as they say ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ – the Covid cloud that locked down the world for a long period, resulted in acceptance of technology for teaching and learning with amazing results. As Comstock had demonstrated long back that tele-teaching and classroom teaching can be at par, provided the seriousness and attention shown by the students remain the same. When Nature pushed us to the wall, we experimented with technology and now in post Covid times, online teaching has become a new norm. This has brought a tremendous opportunity to mainstream technology to reach the doorsteps of students and seekers of knowledge with quality teaching and learning material.
But this has also brought a new set of challenges for the teachers, who need to re-invent their teaching pedagogies as we have come through heutagogy to the world of cybergogy. The teacher is no longer a ‘sage on the stage’ but a mere ‘guide by the side’ of a fellow student. Because, in today’s world of digital natives, the students have many resources and influences available at the tap of a button. Our examination system that is still caught in the archaic mode has not produced the desired results and requires one to undergo a total transformation. Our learning outcomes are not commensurate with the demands of the industry.
Thankfully National Education Policy 2020, a comprehensive and well-thought out document, has brought a lot of hope and promises to make our educational system second to none. The policy lays stress on flexible multidisciplinary approach, and with academia and industry partnership, also lays emphasis on the concept of veracity – with students moving from institution to industry and back. The policy also advocates skill development and experiential learning that requires a 360 degree evaluation of students. The idea is to develop the personality of a student as a contributing, humane, kind hearted and a just global citizen. This has the potential of transforming the entire gamut of our education and making it a robust contributor in national building. We need to implement the policy at all levels, and the sooner the better.
The idea of excessive use of mobile phones by children was flagged during the discussion. The panel was of the opinion that we need to maintain balance, as children cannot be kept away from technology and the parents can’t allow them to stay alone with the unknown cyber influence for long. The parent-teacher contact can ensure a healthy use of technology for the development of young minds. With impressionable minds having access to all forms of information – useful and harmful in the same measure, it is important to engage counsellors at the institutions to help students and this job can also be taken up by the teachers.
The interactive session during the panel discussion was engaging, with the audience raising pertinent questions and making comments regarding education. The idea of teaching and learning in the mother tongue was emphasised in a three-language formula to make students truly acceptable in the national and global job markets. While the mother tongue has an impact of personal touch and helps in clearing the difficult concepts and doubts with ease, Hindi, the national language of the country, can serve the cause of national integration and help students move across the country with rich indigenous knowledge, while mastery in English will serve to enter the global job market with greater success. While local language and mother tongue require to be strengthened with scientific literature, we also need to translate the universe of knowledge from other foreign languages into local and national languages.
The conclave served as a glimpse of hope for creating a vibrant platform for discussing issues of critical importance for the growth and development of Kashmir with other parts of the country. The organisers deserve appreciation for arranging a meaningful and well thought-out programme, bringing students, scholars, academics and industrialist together, for the greater good of our youth and nation.
(The writer – Prof Shahid Rasool – is dean, Academic Affairs, Central University of Kashmir. The ideas expressed by him here are his own and do not have any bearing on the institution he represents)