The higher education sector in India is in a state of complete flux. While Gross Enrolment Ratios (GERs) have seen a steep increase from 20.8% in 2011-12 to 24.5% in 2015-16, the quality of teaching and learning in higher education institutions and employability of India’s graduates remains concerning. The essential problem is that teaching in higher education remains disconnected with larger society today. There are three main reasons behind this disconnect: age-old curriculum, absence of real-world learning and stagnating models of course delivery. A number of structural reasons play out when we try to understand this disconnect and the reasons which constrain Indian higher education institutions (HEIs) from embracing ‘change’, especially with regard to teaching pedagogies. Two important ones are: the rigidity of the academic system and inadequate training of professors. Notwithstanding these challenges, it is important to look for solutions. We can find them when we analyse these disconnects and compare them to examples in Indian colleges and universities where students are benefitting from engaged teaching and socially responsible learning.
Curriculum in most Indian universities has largely remained unchanged for decades, and has become irrelevant to the immediate, local social reality in which students live and work in. This has gradually eroded value from the teaching process. Teaching requires dynamic revision of the curriculum and introduction of new courses which equip students to apply local knowledge to construct real world solutions. An absence of ‘real world learning’ makes teaching disengaged and redundant. Disciplinary studies should make connections with real-world and real-time social issues. New, critical and reflexive learning systems need to be incorporated, which enable students to use their disciplinary knowledge to further societal objectives of development. While geography students use Geographic Information System (GIS) to map the locality, history students document its local history, and chemistry students undertake water/soil testing of the land. Such practice-based learning brings much needed value back into the teaching process.
Stagnating models of course delivery contribute to lack of interest among students, affecting their learning. Multi-modal pedagogies based on co-learning and participatory approaches, with a problem-solving approach, need to be adopted – and teachers in HEIs need to incorporate these pedagogies into their teaching. One way to do this is to foster collaborations with practitioner organisations that are working with communities and using participatory methodologies for social change. Some Indian HEIs have begun the process of making their teaching-learning process more relevant and better engaged, in order to co-construct knowledge with communities and co-create local solutions to global problems such as poverty, gender discrimination, and climate change. The universities have committed to building the next generation of community-based researchers through jointly offering courses on Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) in partnership with PRIA International Academy (PIA). Courses offered in collaboration with independent, practice-based education institutions such as PIA complement the classroom teaching process in universities and colleges. Through this approach, students learn to undertake research with communities on topics of local importance. They learn practical knowledge and tools to promote citizen engagement, social accountability, and the safety of women and girls. This enhances their learning outcomes and as graduates they better ‘fit’ in the real world.
The University Grants Commission (UGC) has initiated several steps to include innovation and improvement in course- curricula, introduction of paradigm shift in learning and teaching pedagogy, examination and education system. With a view to allow flexibility in the education system, so that students depending upon their interests and aims can choose interdisciplinary, intra-disciplinary and skill-based courses, choice based credit system (CBCS), is adopted. The choice based credit system not only offers opportunities and avenues to learn core subjects but also explore additional avenues of learning beyond the core subjects for holistic development. The UGC has prepared mainline and specialised model syllabi for undergraduate programmes and made it available to the universities to facilitate the implementation of CBCS.
Teaching is a core task at universities. A fresh new approach to teaching – one which is more engaged, learner-centric, contextually relevant, and contributes to the enhancement of knowledge, awareness, and skills of the students – is important if HEIs are to fulfil their social responsibilities. All it requires is taking that first step.