NEP recognises the need to teach teamwork and the ability to think through problems
Technology is crucial to offering basic education to the last student, feels Pramath Raj Sinha, Founder and Chairman of Harappa Education. The polymath — engineer-turned-consultant-turned-mediapreneur-turned-edupreneur — was speaking at the Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (BCC&I’s) 3rd Annual Education Conclave, ‘Indian Education — Reflection of the New World Order’, a virtual session partnered by ABP Education on October 9.
“Never in the history of the human race have we had to educate so many people so quickly. We are trying to solve a bullet train problem with a horse cart. We need a bullet train. We don’t need another automobile. Even another automobile will not get us there,” said the founder and trustee of Ashoka University.
“You have to move to a whole new technology and rework the whole education model. A 1:20 teacher-student ratio — what are we talking about? How will we find so many teachers? The only solution is to use technology. It is the only hope we have left to achieve these goals,” said Sinha.
Speaking on “NEP 2020 Decoded”, the founding dean of the Indian School of Business offered a fresh perspective on what the National Education Policy (NEP) meant for the country in the larger context of what was happening to the future of work, how workplaces and careers were changing.
The session was moderated by Dr. Suman Mukherjee, Director-General of the Bhawanipur Education Society College.
Sinha identified three dominant trends in the world of work today. First, people are living longer, healthier lives and thereby working longer. Second, careers, roles and functions were changing every day. Third, changing roles translated to difficulty in predicting what new areas were about to emerge on the horizon.
“The question is how can education cater to something like this? How one trains and educates themselves is a black box,” he said.
Lifelong learning and multidisciplinarity
Sinha asserted that lifelong learning had become a reality. The mindset that education was over after college had to change. “The ability to constantly keep changing is going to be core to being successful in your career. And the only way you can do that is through multidisciplinary education. What that means is you become so comfortable in studying any new subject that whatever you throw at me, I’d be willing to learn. This aspect that has come into the NEP is very interesting,” said Sinha.
Sinha, whose online learning platform Harappa “begins where formal education ends”, feels strongly about having foundational skills that one can hold on to. While hard skills would be changing with the advent of artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning, fundamental skills would not.
“These are skills that will never change regardless of what happens to you — like communication skills, the ability to work with others and solve and think through problems. Unfortunately, in the last 20 to 25 years, we have not been able to teach our kids this. It is very important to bring this back and I think that’s what the NEP recognises,” he added.
Need for flexibility
In response to some questions raised by the moderator, Sinha said we have
made our education system too rigid and everything has become about rote learning. “We should allow for much more flexibility, which I think this policy allows for. We have to make sure our school system focuses on ensuring that everybody gets a certain standard of knowledge and education, particularly at the foundational level. The period in grades 1 to 5 — what you learn about language and numeracy — that is what determines all future learning.”
Regarding Mukherjee’s query on the inclusivity of technology, Sinha said when the printed book had come out, people had asked the same questions of how people would learn from books.
“Online education is as revolutionary as the book was to education. It is our only saviour in the numbers we are facing. We learnt from books, now kids will learn from videos. That is the reality. Education cannot solve all problems. Making students aware in school, giving them a voice, a chance to choose and experiment, and getting quality education to every last student are the three things we can do if we put our minds to it,” he said.
College education, earlier, had always been about discovering oneself, said Sinha. “Higher education was for me to go and explore in college any variety of subjects and then decide what I was good for. Maybe I would make some mistakes but that would train me in my values and in asking the big quintessential question of ‘Who am I?’” said Sinha. “That is what college was always meant for when the Greeks and the Italians set it up when the Indus Valley Civilisation set it up in Taxila. That was the original intent and I think we need to go back to that in our country.”