With students crossing the virtual threshold, everyone is trying to decode employability skills in educational institutions and workplaces
Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." This quote by one of America's founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, encapsulates the challenges and possible solutions to the new-age education in India and across the globe in today's pandemic-afflicted world. With millions of students crossing the virtual threshold and Work From Home becoming the new normal, everyone is trying to decode employability skills, performance metrics in educational institutions and workplaces. Amid the uneasy and unpredictable change, one thing is certain: The human spirit won't change - and that's our biggest solution.
Now let's step into a more familiar past of conventional classrooms. Here, body language, facial expressions, physical projects and practical experiments were integral to learning, besides theory and concepts. Learning outcomes took into account personality traits, cognitive skills, life skills, critical thinking and more, for creative and conventional courses. But the digital world has turned these features into challenges. Or, not.
For instance, for fashion design studies, real-world scenarios and industry-live projects that hinged mainly on sensory and cognitive skills, put a big question mark on virtual teaching of concepts and practical training. The challenge was how to keep students engaged and achieve the desired outcomes? Teaching from books was fine but what about practical learning? The answer to this was, by understanding the process backwards. For example, construction stream students were asked to take apart a stitched garment at home and understand the process, in reverse. They were asked to raise open-ended and close-ended questions and prioritise them. For styling, students used their mobile phones and narrated stories with the limited resources available while they were at home. In the textile stream, students developed interesting and innovative prints using natural dyes.
Similarly, the University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun, decided to take the Coronavirus challenge head-on by developing AeroOpt, an airport management tool to improve efficiency at counters, staff requirements for boarding gates and immigration security with social distancing norms. Both these instances highlight how critical-thinking, innovation, creativity and adaptability were channeled as everyone struggled with the restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. And this is exactly what is needed now: A design-thinking approach, with problem-solving skills, critical thinking, risk-management and most importantly adaptability.
With these developments, one aspect is clear: To shape and mentor this kind of an approach, boxed methodologies cannot be a point of reference. Instead, we need to look at alternative approaches to teaching, experimentation with available resources, providing critical feedback and delivering learning assessment outcomes. This means re-structuring pedagogies and adapting courses to the online mode with necessary tweaks and improvisations. Learning assessment is a fundamental feedback mechanism in education, allowing all stakeholders of the learning process to understand what is being learned and where learning resources need to be focussed. The wheels are moving now. But is India prepared to handle these on a larger scale for the next phase? Yes, because we have tremendous technology expertise and political will to tide through. Besides the Digital India initiative, strong indicators come from the recent move by our Government to encourage more Foreign Direct Investment in education, provide Rs 3,000 crore for skill development and recognise foreign online degrees for Indian students. At present, the Centre and States are collaborating with broadcasting services to deliver education through television and radio. But for these media to succeed, it is important to operationalise talent and skills. These can be done via projects, classroom discussions, encouraging feedback and curiosity. In my estimation, these key metrics will define the future:
Critical thinking: This is a key skill that equally defines both educational and professional spheres. With the pandemic-induced restrictions, how do teachers enhance critical thinking? The answer is, by asking for real-time projects drawn from the students' immediate environment and asking for solutions from different perspectives. How can things be made better? Is there a new way of looking at a situation? How will more people benefit from a solution? Is this safe and has every loophole been plugged? These are some indicators for enhancing critical thinking.
Adaptability and innovation: In a 2018 Barclays Life Skills Report in the UK, 60 per cent of the employers have clearly stated that adaptability has become more important now than during the previous decade. Therefore, how do you respond to a situation and how quickly do you adapt to change? Are you able to control your thoughts, emotions and behaviour under pressure or in certain situations? Adaptive students are certain to be a professional success, wherever they go. Some of the world's best innovations have debuted in the worst situations. Are you willing to experiment, take risks and create something new? An innovator will always be valued in every situation.
Empathy and collaboration: How do you respond to your peers? Are you supportive, understanding and display compassion? Are you a team player and do you believe in taking individual credit? Do you believe in "We" over "I"? These values are critical to the future. The pandemic has eroded everything that we took for granted in workplaces, businesses, economies and even our education systems. This sudden pause from the physical world is significant to herald change. And remember, as Greek philosopher Socrates said, "The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
(The writer is CEO Asia Pacific Region, Global University Systems)
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