In what may be seen as the worst crisis of our times -- a so-called educational system totally out of tune with market realities and expectations or requirements of organizations in the real world, we have one big opportunity -- to totally revamp the System, by making it as close to real world experiences,and real world requirements as possible.

The vital question very obviously is: how?  This "how" extends far beyond ordinary cosmetic changes.  It calls for really dramatic revamping of the whole System.

This can be done, if one takes a look at what is going on in some wonderful colleges, irrespective of whether they are arts and science colleges, or engineering or even medical colleges.

Going Beyond Routines

Every college in our country is affiliated to one University or the other.  However, the so-called "syllabus" that is followed for each every course is totally outdated and is very theoretical. The students are not taught life skills, that is, skills that will help them to take up productive jobs, fetching them a good salary and a good future.

For example, the students of History do get to understand the various aspects of culture that prevailed during the various periods of time, in the past.  They also get to learn about how important certain monuments and places are and what they signify.

But do they learn the skills so badly required to translate such knowledge into a commercially and socially desirable job, as for example, tourist guides?  Absolutely not.  They do not acquire such skills at all.

 Certain Universities in India, even offer courses in tourism, as correspondence courses.  What the students learn is mere academic knowledge, which does not take them anywhere.

However, in the now world-famous MOP Vaishnav College for Women, Chennai, for example, the students are compulsorily taught to think far beyond the curriculum and are even taught entrepreneurship skills, that have indeed produced many women entrepreneurs.

Similarly, the students are regularly taught to make presentations, and students have to compulsorily learn about all current affairs.  For instance, on day three of the college, in the very first year, a student of commerce is forced to learn all about the current economic situation in India, and come up with her views on what can be done to get over the situation in the short term.  Such thinking forces the student to look for new vistas in knowledge, and helps the student to learn new perspectives in her life.

We need to go away from the "frog-in-the-well" approach, where students are mere frogs in their small wells.  They do not understand the wider world around them, the opportunities and challenges available, and how to develop skill sets pertinent to such challenges.

There are now hundreds of new courses, that are not only really industry-oriented, but are also game changers.

The Bachelor of Science course started in Visual Communication at the superb Loyola College, Chennai, for the first time in India, over two decades ago, is one such example.  Today, this course is available in many colleges throughout India.  The students get to learn copy writing, advertising, script writing, film direction, creativity and innovation and so on.  Once this happens and the skill sets get so easily formed in a highly motivating environment, the students go on to become superb event managers, comperes, and so on.  Many have entered the film industry.  This course boasts guest lectures from the likes of the highly acclaimed Kamal Hasan, an Indian actor with several National awards to his credit.

The so-called educational planners need to take a big look at such innovative experiments and then start exploring how similar changes can happen in other colleges as well.  

We can go on blaming the so-called educational system.  But what can we really do about changing it for the better?

The aforesaid question should haunt us for ever, and we should learn to come out of the shell, and bring about drastic reform.

In emerging areas, new courses need to be started.  For example, there are not many Universities where there are Master's Degree level courses in Capital Markets or Insurance Management.

Universities need to tie-up with institutions such as the Unit Trust of India, or the ICICI Bank and introduce such courses. Many Universities should enter into an understanding in the form of Memorandum of Understanding ( MOUs) with Banks, for example, and introduce the Master's Degree Course in Bank Management (MBM) and take the learning forward, so that the needs of the industry can be addressed.

One really very good course which offers a good grounding in reality is the Master's Degree Course in Social Work (MSW) with a specialization in Human Resources Management.  In the second year of the two-year course, for two full days, the students have to compulsorily undergo internship in some industrial organization and get to understand how the theory gets implemented in practice -- for example, how the organization starts implements the labor laws.

We need to go a long way in understanding the actual needs of the industry and wider society around us and then train the students for such requirements through suitable job-oriented courses.

We cannot and should not talk about past glory.  The education system needs really good restructuring, of a very tall order.

Faculty with industry experience 

It is a very common observation that wherever there are teachers with industry experience, who can bring to the class rooms their rich learning from practical experience, the learning becomes far more practical and meaningful.  For instance, why can't colleges rope in the services of retired but suitably qualified teachers to teach commerce subjects?  We need to think of such radical reforms as well.

Certain colleges have already started doing such experiments, and in each of the cases, the results are far better when compared to the conventional style of functioning.

Learning from the likes of Loyola College, Chennai, or the Christ University, Bangalore or the SRM University, Chennai, will help a great deal.  In fact, the UGC needs to prepare a detailed list of such colleges and their achievements and then do extensive research as to how such learning can be extended to other colleges in a very systematic manner.  

The industry-institution interface needs to become more systematic as well.  At the moment, this is far from satisfactory.

To conclude, some drastic surgery is called for, particularly when educational reform needs to be done, in a vital area like improving educational standards in colleges.  


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