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Intellectual Synergy - a hidden opportunity in NEP 2020

Intellectual Synergy - a hidden opportunity in NEP 2020

National Educational Policy 2020 has proposed some radical changes in the Indian education system, particularly in the higher education. The combination of grade-based award of degrees and diplomas along with the proposed structure where the institutions must become multi-disciplinary centres of learning, offers an interesting opportunity to all the participants.

While this looks like a student-friendly model, there is a much larger opportunity becoming available to the institutions, the faculty members and the students. An immense opportunity to build synergy and cross discipline learning and research is opening. This article is a humble attempt to bring out these hidden opportunities.

Current Challenges

One of the major challenges in the current education trends has been an undue focus on STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. While this could have been the result of the employment trends and the opportunities in the job market, it has created a subtle and hidden undercurrent among the young students. Anything other than STEM has been rejected as a useless pursuit, not helpful in getting good employment. Consequently, the focus on the all-round development of young children and students has been limited only to their analytical abilities. 

Based on the research by Prof Kathy Lui Sun, it is essential to build empathy into the STEM education, as at the end of the day, all the science, technology and engineering must help the humanity to progress, considering their feelings and emotions.

One of the best ways to bring in these emotions into STEM education is its integration with SLAP – Sociology, Linguistics, Arts and Philosophy. As we know, SLAP is all about human development and their ability to express their emotions and share them. This also teaches the learners how these emotions should be understood and handled.

However, there has been an unfortunate division of students into groups and streams focusing on science, arts and commerce; based on their aptitude and academic performance. This has created a lot of isolation of intellect, boxing up students into unidirectional learning paths, restrictive in all round development and growth and creating certain feeling of superiority and inferiority among the students based on their stream of study.

New opportunity

The NEP 2020 tries to bridge this divide by proposing that the institutions of higher learning must have all disciplines for learning under a single umbrella. The policy also proposed the award of certification, diplomas and degrees based on the grades secured by the students. This brings in a lot of flexibility into the curriculum and learning possibilities of the students. 

This leads to a future where all the disciplines of learning are made available in the traditional university model and the students can pick and choose the subjects of their interest based on the requisite grades. So long as they can meet the necessary grade point average, they would have the flexibility to select their major and minor fields of specialization.

This approach creates a lot of opportunities for everyone involved, opening multi-disciplinary learning, research and offering. Imagine one of the cutting-edge technology solutions involving Natural Language Processing – NLP, which makes it possible to operate machines and systems using voice commands. To build systems, we would require the knowledge of computers, electronics, control systems, linguistics, sociology and a few more such diverse disciplines. These were not available under a single roof and hence bringing them together and building the necessary synergy was not easy. This becomes possible now. Let us explore these future possibilities for the four main stakeholders, the institutions, the faculty members, the students and the industry.

Possibilities for the institutions

The institutions are now encouraged to become multi-disciplinary which brings in diverse offerings to the students. A student need not go away because s/he can’t find the stream s/he is looking for. Institutions can become truly multi-faceted platforms of learning, encouraging students to pick and choose almost anything they are interested to learn, becoming a one-stop-shop for higher learning. They can also build better labs and research facilities as more collaborations across different streams would become possible.

The new age technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning would require a lot of behavioural insights. These can be made available only in a multi-disciplinary environment where scholars of different domains of regular sciences as well as social sciences are able to come together.

Possibilities for the faculty members

These institutions can be made into places of fantastic collaboration between various faculty members. Any faculty member can easily reach out to scholars of other disciplines and start collaborating. The research questions can become truly challenging and break many barriers, institutional, intellectual as well as individual.

Learning from each other and supporting each other can become the order of everyday business. The thinking can truly become out of the box. The conferences would no longer have to be restricted to a specific science or domain.  A free flow of ideas being exchanged leading to a leap forward in scientific understanding from the context of SLAP would become possible.

Possibilities for the students

Students and their studies would no longer be confined to a fixed syllabus and would be able to explore multiple options. Along with the flexibility, they would also be able to learn from the wisdom of diverse members of faculty. The exposure to the social sciences would enable them to develop the necessary soft skills essential for gaining good employment and succeeding in their chosen careers. Entrepreneurship could thrive in such environments.

Possibilities for the industry

Industry-academia partnerships would become truly enriching and exploring the boundaries of cutting- edge technologies. A heady mix of STEM and SLAP could lead to a different way of solving the wicked problems of the world. It would become that much more exciting to set up and sponsor R & D activities resulting in better ROI. They would also start getting better employees who are not only technically sound but also have higher levels of soft skills.

These are the emerging possibilities of unleashing the hidden synergies.

About the Author:

Flt.Lt. Sridhar Chakravarthi is an experienced organizational change coach and consultant with over 30 years of leadership experience in various industries. He believes in the possibility of exponential growth for individuals, startups and mature organizations. He empowers them to achieve exponential growth by bringing agility into their mindset, processes and behaviours. He is an authorized training partner for Enterprise Agility University, runs his company “Coach for Change” and lives in Bengaluru, India.