I may not be alive when India gets an “education system by 2040 that is second to none”, but I will die a peaceful death thinking that all Indian learners will get an access to the highest quality education in this country itself regardless of the social or economic background. If the vision of the new National Education Policy 2020 is translated into action realistically, parents like me won’t spend the last farthing of their hard-earned money for sending their children abroad for higher education. Our university campuses full of American, British, Canadian and French students pursuing higher education will be a sight to see just as I saw hordes of international students on a number of campuses of the British and American universities.
Why do Indian students go abroad for studies when we have so many reputed colleges and universities in our country? Why did I go abroad to get just another post-graduate degree in English when I had a post-graduate degree in English from one of the Indian Universities? Many years after I had a taste of education abroad, I did not hesitate to visit Bank branches for an educational loan for my daughter’s undergraduate studies abroad. “Why are you so crazy”, people asked me? “Is it a good investment?” friends and relatives cautioned me. But I knew the nature of the life changing experience that students get in the reputed universities abroad.
I did not enjoy studying in schools, colleges and universities in India. It was a compulsion, it crushed me, it made me dumb. My teachers never asked me to think, I was always expected to absorb my teachers’ thoughts. Even during my Ph.D work I had to follow the dotted line, I was terribly afraid of my Ph.D guide. Any dissenting note was unacceptable to him and I knew that without his approval it would be impossible for me to submit my thesis.
What a refreshing first class I had in a British University! The professor came to the class, asked us to have a look at the syllabus and to select the books that we would like to study during the first month of our M A class. The selection was not at random, we had to justify our selection, all the post graduate students argued a lot, tried to justify their selection and I was awe struck by the depth of the literary discussion we had on that first day of my M A class in a British University.
As an Indian student I expected rhetorical lectures from my learned English professors. The image of my Indian professor reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy “To be or not to be” and transmitting his interpretation of T.S.Eliot’s “Hamlet an artistic failure” was still fresh in my mind. But to my utter surprise , the grey-haired English professor entered the class and asked us to tell him how everything had turned upside down in the very “first act of Hamlet”. He stopped and the responses from the students came one after another, “Here is a play in which a guard is on duty and some body is approaching him in the dark. Instead of the guard challenging the intruder, it is the intruder who challenges the guard. The changing of guards at Elsinor is itself abnormal and it signals the abnormal things which happen in the drama. A brother kills a brother, marries his dead brother’s wife, a son promises to kill his father’s murderer but when the opportunity comes he philosophises, a young man professes his love for a young girl but does little to honour his love.” The professor did not tell us these things, we discussed and he facilitated the animated discussion. We learnt from one another; the professor just prompted us how to look at things from different perspectives. It was an enjoyable learning experience for me. The professor did not analyse the text, neither did he burden us with his critical note, he simply showed us the way to explore literary texts. He guided us to become autonomous learners. Back at home, learners’ autonomy was very difficult to find in our universities. The Pedagogy of the oppressed!
I don’t remember on how many days I went to the college and university libraries during my a student life in India. But studying abroad, I spent more time in the library than within the four walls of the classroom. I had to find out the names of the relevant books related to the topics we discussed in the class. I had to read them and tell the professors next day about my understanding of those books. In India, the teachers are expected to provide the reading list, not to speak of dictating notes or handing over photo copies of the materials students are supposed to read. Spoon feeding by the teachers in our schools and colleges makes our education system lacklustre, demotivating and ritualistic. It’s never challenging, cognitively as well as academically.
Unlike the ritual of the final examination, we were expected to submit assignments during the whole academic year. My three term assignments done in a year were equivalent to three M.Phil dissertations submitted by my friends in an Indian University. Examinations are never stressful abroad. But in India examinations make the students, parents and all the stakeholder stressed.
As a postgraduate student in India, I was assessed for “what” I learnt, but as a postgraduate student abroad I was assessed for “how” I learnt. My critical approaches to literature, my ability to explore language and literature and problem solving skills in the particular domain were tested during the course, not the content knowledge of the literary texts articles written on those texts. The system capacitated me and my professors facilitated the capacity building process. They did not interfere with my process of knowledge creation, it was just an academic support that led to my academic growth.
It is the pedagogy that matters. The new National Education Policy 2020 adopted by the Govt of India states: “Pedagogy must evolve to make education more experiential, holistic, integrated, inquiry-driven, discovery-oriented, learner-centred, discussion-based, flexible, and, of course, enjoyable.” Do our universities care for experiential learning? Experiential learning is the inclusion of phases of reflection designed to help the learners relate a current learning experience to past and future experience. Expressions like “experiential”. “holistic”, “integrated”, “enquiry driven” “discovery oriented’ “learner-centred”, ‘discussion based”, “flexible” and “enjoyable” call for a drastic change in our pedagogy used in schools, colleges and universities. These are not some high sounding academic terms, they are the ingredients for making Indian education system the “second to none” education system of the world as envisaged in the National Education Policy 2020.