Published: 16th November 2019
India needs integrated education right from school: TERI School of Advanced Studies' VC
The TERI School of Advanced Studies saw 19 PhD scholars and 229 postgraduate students receive their degrees in the presence of Dr K Kasturirangan on November 14
The education system in India needs to be integrated so that it is a continuous and smooth journey for the student and not an amalgamation of disconnected years of studying for a degree, said Dr Manipadma Datta, the Vice-Chancellor of TERI School of Advanced Studies. TERI SAS conducted its 12th convocation on November 14 and awarded 19 doctoral degrees and 229 postgraduate degrees.
Dr Datta believes there should be an exchange of information among the levels of educational hierarchy. "This is an issue we face first hand. I don't know what my students have studied in their previous degree or how much of a subject he knows. It is difficult to build a level playing ground in this situation given that India is a diverse country," he explained. "This diversity brings the privately funded universities into the picture. But there is no quality control when it comes to these institutes. If we look at similar private funded US universities, the people behind the money have no say in how the university should run or what it should teach. There is one more issue that I think should be addressed at the earliest — lack of real motivation. A majority of students across the country want a PhD just to get that extra increment, not to gather knowledge or know something new. Thus gives rise to a dangerous nexus where people collude to help each other out and we have many more PhDs in a year. But I don't subscribe to this. Neither does TERI, we send the theses to a foreign examiner where we couldn't possibly have any pull. All the universities used to do this but unfortunately, they have stopped," added Dr Datta. "We need to think more and mug up less. Even a grazing cow looks up at the sky occasionally and pretends to think. We don't even do that nowadays," he said.
Ishita Sinha, who topped the MA in Sustainable Development Practice programme with a whooping 9.8 GPA said that the course was much unlike what she was told about postgraduate courses. "It was inclusive, very interactive and a robust programme. A major part of my course was fieldwork which helped me understand the issues better and gave me the opportunity to conduct extensive surveys to explore the subject in-depth," said Ishita who works on marginalised sections and their issues. She was associated as a researcher under a full grant with the UN financial agency, the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD). She worked with their livelihood project in Uttarakhand, attempting to utilise the capabilities approach to address women's well-being. She also presented this work at the International Conference on Sustainable Development in New York this October. "TERI offered me a course I wanted to pursue and what better place could there be to work on sustainable development than this subcontinent. The course included basics of Economics, Law, Social Sciences and a variety of topics to bring everyone on to the same page. This helped a lot and I have used Dr Amartya Sen's Capabilities Approach in my papers extensively," she added.
But aren't the programmes too specialised? Dr Datta disagrees. "They are definitely specialised because this level of higher education is about specialization but we also teach our students the same management, finance or economics curriculum, as the case may be, as other institutes. In addition to that, we teach them the specialisations in sustainability or the environment. This keeps their job market broadened," he added. "The interactivity of a programme depends a lot on the student-teacher ratio. The UGC mandated minimum is one teacher per 20 students. We maintain a 1:9 ratio. This helps in interaction, a major part of any higher education course of this stature. I cannot just say that the course is interactive and not appoint that many teachers. The UGC mandate is the minimum. We can always do better than that," added Dr Datta.
The much-debated New Education Policy, Dr Datta said, should not be rejected without at least thinking of an alternative, "The NEP talks about the privatisation of education and a majority of intelligentsia does not agree to that bit them we need to provide an alternative or suggest a framework. We have a habit of refuting anything new. That is detrimental. I would say if there is privatisation it should go through proper quality checks and evaluated regularly and it should definitely be included. How would you help in development if you cannot help someone from Chapra in Bihar utilise their potential," added the VC.
Talking about the ongoing protests in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr Datta said that every academic administration needs to lend an ear to its students first to understand their problem, "Their way of voicing their demand might not be something you like, their demands might not always be linear or even clear but only if you listen to then you will unearth the real issue. I look at every student as just my student when they are here but also pay a tad bit of extra attention if I have a student who I feel needs a little more effort to be on the same page with the others. It is my duty as a teacher to do so," he added.