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Paradigm shift in education: Could private universities be game changers?

Galileo Galilei a famous observational astronomer was reprimanded and incarcerated for advocating “heliocentrism”, which places the Sun at the center of our solar system. The theory was against the popular belief of the clerics at that time. Thinking about new ideas that challenge the existing predominant and widely accepted beliefs are always fraught with opposition. Moreover, it would be more challenging to actually work towards bringing about a change focused to replace the existing system that claims to be popular and working well. Authoritarian systems have always been slow in accepting the change and in opening the door for experimental and novel ideas.

Having tuned generations of faculty and students to a framework of the rigid system that exists in our country in the form of various educational boards, commissions and universities, the Government has assumed that these institutions will aid in bringing about quality education. Soon these institutions with the idea of bringing in an excellent education system assumed the responsibility of micromanaging several thousands of educational establishments. These all-powerful education-governing institutions have overseen every aspect of the education from prescribing syllabus, conducting exams, evaluating and making the exam grades public right from the secondary school to the post-graduate education. The vast controlling powers with little or no accountability led to (i) framing of policy that was very rarely based on the inputs from institutions overseen; (ii) the mandatory requirement of all institutions that come under their ambit to strictly follow the prescribed system, rules and regulations to be eligible for legal recognition.

The widely popular education policy imposed by these systems has dumped vast quantities of the syllabus that is overwhelming and difficult to cope with. Additionally the lack of training sessions on teaching methodologies for teachers and more often, lack of logic and not so clear justification for including certain topics in syllabus have complicated the matters for both faculty and students. The exams being conducted have become very predictable and students are rarely challenged intellectually. Moreover, the vast amount of the syllabus has led them to adopt a popular practice of rote learning of answers to important questions that are easily guessed from previous years’ exams. A clear indication by innovation and creativity- seeking multinational companies that a majority of students passing out neither have problem solving abilities, nor possess the right skills that the employers are seeking is an additional evidence that change is sought. Programme for international student assessment (PISA) that evaluates scholastic performance of fifteen-year-old school students in mathematics, science and reading has ranked India low (Note: assessment done in two Indian states). Similarly, the university rankings are not encouraging either. This report and the country’s universities ranking serve as a wake up call for the policy-making bodies indicating that perhaps it is the time for improving the existing education policy. These problems have resulted in the dilution of the promise of providing high quality education. Further the intention with which these have been set up is compromised.

Independent and autonomous institutes of technology, sciences, and education set up by the government are trying to bring change in the present education system, but these are very few in number and are severely insufficient to match the demand for highly skilled people. Private technical and engineering institutions, which seemed to have found solutions to some of these problems, soon found themselves helpless. Without autonomy, clipped wings and regulated to strictly adhere to the path laid out by the policy-making bodies, they have less freedom to innovate and offer quality education that is much sought after. Furthermore, most of these educational institutes lack clear vision and are slowly transforming themselves into job-guarantee-training recruitment firms to improve their chances of survival. However, most of the students graduating from these institutions are realizing that they are ending up working in sweatshops, the business process outsourcing (BPO) firms doing work that is irrelevant to their education.
I believe that some of the private universities such as BML Munjal University (BMU) have potential to change this paradigm. Many of such institutions with a clear vision to improve upon the existing system are already making progress in terms of higher levels of academic satisfaction among its students and faculty. A fair amount of autonomy in course design and content have given the opportunity for them to raise the academic quality on par with the worlds best standards. Apart from just focusing on assuring jobs to students, many of them provide rich intellectual learning experience, thought stimulating and intellectually challenging environment, setting for nurturing new ideas, platform for transforming ideas into reality and a mechanism for encouraging innovation. These changes will surely bring lots of change in the way the current educational system works. Moreover, such positive changes will provide highly innovation driven industries, especially those that want to compete globally with excellent quality and highly skilled manpower with the ability to solve problems, innovate and think out of the box.

- Dr. Amarnath Bheemaraju

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