Make way for integrated learning

Anuradha C

What use is a doctor who cannot explain to his patients what is ailing them in lucid and succinct language? How can a gifted musician thrive without the supporting knowledge of how to manage her own finances? Does an outstanding finance student not require education on aspects relating to his own health and nutrition? Can growing up ever be complete without exposure to outdoor activity and sports?

These are not hypothetical scenarios. They are everyday inadequacies faced by young adults in the pursuit of their respective careers. As students, they were encouraged to learn subjects only in their own discipline. As adults they are paying the price for this one dimensional learning process.

Parental pressure – Obsessing over science education for children
We make blockbuster movies on how parents condemn their children to becoming a doctor or engineer while in the cradle. A student picks a humanities course in college, and the first thing people ask him is, “Did you not get a science seat?” The entire online tuition and remote learning industry thrives on imparting ‘quality science education that can fetch jobs’.

Children do not have inherent biases towards any aspect of learning. They enjoy sketching doodles as much as cracking the Rubik’s cube. However, as they grow up they pick up mental prejudices on what knowledge is ‘cool’ – from their parents, extended family and the overall social order.

Before the industrial revolution, it was the arts, literature and culture that was considered premier education. After the advent of machines, science took a leap forward, dominating both life and livelihood. Medicine and engineering degrees emerged as the top draw simply because of the earning potential and social status they awarded. Today it is computer science, investment banking, bio-technology and a few other niche subjects that draw the best brains from across the world.

If parents can veer away from the ill-conceived notion that only science education guarantees a successful career, half the battle is won. The situation today is already much better than it was 2-3 decades ago.

Systemic flaw – Languages and social studies treated as secondary learning areas
Eligibility criteria to professional degrees grossly neglect marks obtained in English, social sciences or vernaculars. Most engineering and medical courses simply do not have any languages in their curriculum. Quantitative aptitude is measured, valued and celebrated. However, a student’s emotional intelligence or ability to adapt to difficult situations never gets noticed or honed.

Did you know that almost 50 per cent of students who clear their technical interview rounds at corporates fail at the HR round? Why, you might ask! They lack ‘soft skills’ – an oft quoted term in the corporate world. A collective term used to describe language and communication skills, social awareness, team work, initiative and such critical personality traits. Before joining their jobs, they are taught Business Communication (in English mainly or in the language of business), time management, environmental awareness, social responsibility, business etiquette and what not! If the education system had laid emphasis on holistic personality development throughout the schooling process of children, we wouldn’t have to specially train them later in these life skills.

Students’ dilemma – Lack of freedom to choose inter-disciplinary subjects
A student who excels in mathematics is assumed to be scientifically oriented. So he/she is driven towards opting a science/engineering/medicine course in college. But what if he loves sanskrit too? What if he wants to explore mathematical treatises present in ancient sanskrit literary works? This is a classic example of the silos in higher education. In this case, the student is forced to choose any one of these two as his primary stream and pursue the other in his own private capacity.

A quick look at some of the other emerging research areas will help reinforce the importance of interconnected learning disciplines.
• 3D printing – A beautiful amalgam of mechanical engineering, visual arts and study of materials.
• Computational linguistics – Use of well-formed natural languages (especially sanskrit) to define computational models in Artificial Intelligence.
• Hydrology and water resources management – The hybrid use of new technology to replicate ancient methods of water conservation and rejuvenation taken from Indian history.

Think of a Leonardo da Vinci – the perfect blend between art and science. It is difficult to decide whether he was a greater painter, sculptor or scientist! Noam Chomsky, America’s much loved and much hated linguist is considered instrumental to the genesis of Natural Language Processing. So in a way, the technology behind your Google voice assistant and Amazon Alexa came from a languages man!

Children under the age of 18 have a fluid world view. Their aspirations, career choices, favourite subjects keep changing with passing circumstances and events influencing them. By straight jacketing their subject choices, we are inhibiting their scope of learning.

National Education Policy 2020 – a step forward in the right direction
A heartening policy change has been initiated in the Indian education system with the introduction of the National Education Policy 2020. Most of the inadequacies listed above have been addressed, at least in intent. Let’s wait and hope that the policy translates into concrete, actionable plans at the ground level. A gist of relevant recommendations from this policy are listed below*:

Section 11. Towards a more Holistic and Multidisciplinary Education
11.1. India has a long tradition of holistic and multidisciplinary learning, from universities such as Takshashila and Nalanda, to the extensive literatures of India combining subjects across fields. Ancient Indian literary works such as Banabhatta’s Kadambari described a good education as knowledge of the 64 Kalaas or arts; and among these 64 ‘arts’ were not only subjects, such as singing and painting, but also ‘scientific ’fields, such as chemistry and mathematics, ‘vocational’ fields such as carpentry and clothes-making, ‘professional ’fields, such as medicine and engineering, as well as ‘soft skills’ such as communication, discussion, and debate.
11.2. Assessments of educational approaches in undergraduate education that integrate the humanities and arts with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have consistently showed positive learning outcomes, including increased creativity and innovation, critical thinking and higher-order thinking capacities, problem-solving abilities, teamwork, communication skills, more in-depth learning and mastery of curricula across fields, increases in social and moral awareness, etc., besides general engagement and enjoyment of learning. Research is also improved and enhanced through a holistic and multidisciplinary education approach.
11.4 Even engineering institutions, such as IITs, will move towards more holistic and multidisciplinary education with more arts and humanities. Students of arts and humanities will aim to learn more science and all will make an effort to incorporate more vocational subjects and soft skills.
11.5. Imaginative and flexible curricular structures will enable creative combinations of disciplines for study, and would offer multiple entry and exit points, thus, removing currently prevalent rigid boundaries and creating new possibilities for life-long learning.
11.7. Departments in Languages, Literature, Music, Philosophy, Indology, Art, Dance, Theatre, Education, Mathematics, Statistics, Pure and Applied Sciences, Sociology, Economics, Sports, Translation and Interpretation, and other such subjects needed for a multidisciplinary, stimulating Indian education and environment will be established and strengthened at all Higher Educational Institutions.

*Source: https://www.education.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/NEP_Final_English_0.pdf

The author is an IT industry drop-out after several years of slogging and money-making. She is now working freelance as a corporate technical trainer and content writer. She is hoping to channelize her passion for writing into a satisfying experience for herself and a joyous experience for her readers. She can be reached at [email protected].

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