Published on July 30th, 2012 | by drkkr


The first bridge::: School to College

India’s education agenda now should take its cue from a slew of ‘young’ facts: in sheer demographic terms, India is a young country: 325 million Indians are under 20. In the coming decade, many of them will be the first wave of the youth power that Indian is expected to wield on the world stage. Their energy, their vitality, their habituation to dizzying change of the digital world, their self-conception as global citizens, it will all show up on India’s balance sheet as assets and profits. Just these facts should completely alter the degree, scope and nature of attention are we paying to preparing them now.

The first great passage of life is from school to college. To appreciate this, let us bear in mind that about 3 million Indian children head for college every year, and their mental and emotional needs not only rival their academic needs, they rule the academic outcome.

The school to college journey is as romanticized as the campus to career one. Schoolchildren spend their last year in school preparing for what looks like the beginning of a deliciously unfettered existence, taking their cues from what they will no longer have to do: they won’t have to wear uniforms, they won’t have to be present in every class, they won’t have to stay confined to classroom and campus, they won’t have to explain when they slip up in small details. I see this as a wonderful chance to provide a epiphany for them: hypnotise them into understanding that the ‘adult’ part of their life will begun, and all the glory of being an adult is theirs.

It is important to pain the college world with careful strokes of description because once they step on campus, what catches them unawares is not just a new landscape of academic accountability but a more pronounced social dynamic an  insidious world of peer pressure, and an unexpected velocity to everything that is happening around them.

I never tire pointing out that we assume that children enter college and overdose on independence. It is assumed that they overreach for life’s social possibilities.. In fact, I repeatedly tell faculty and parents what what is frequently misunderstood as rebellious or distasteful behavior is actually a child navigating internal emotional, mental and physical changes in a world that offers no explanation for the forces they feel and encounter. The truth is that this stage can be traumatic We owe it to them to ensure that it should be an epiphany, and a rite of passage that makes a seminal difference in their grip on life. It should be understood for what it really is …. a priceless prep for adult life. The child is getting a 3 to 5 year window where the emotional and mental demands escalate and the child emerges at the end of a it a graduate in a very profound sense of the word: graduated from childhood and preparation into a fully functioning and contributing adult member of society.

It is fair to say that this is due all the weightage one could give to a ‘first step’ in life. This journey should become a primary priority for all stakeholders in Indian education. For the Government, this means making available to the student a variety of choices (properly equipped and staffed colleges, manageable fees, state-of-the-art disciplines to major in), for the parents, this means doing everything within their power to ease this transition (especially for girl children who have studied in a girls-only school) and for the student themselves, to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of what is ahead of them

In personal terms, the key may be the student, who is more often than not, once the gauntlet of college admissions is over, ready, but not sure what he or she is ready for. There is as much fear as there is excitement. There are questions: when can I choose what to major in and who will help me? Students are available to learn but need to be taught with cunning, and the outside-classroom teaching opportunity needs to be maximised.

This is as good as place as any to mention an important point: what should a student major in? Far too often a student finds themselves doing what their parents want them to study. I do believe that we must state in open terms what has been known for a very long time now: there is the danger of a student studying what they don’t want to study and even more harrowing what they don’t have the aptitude for. Indeed when a student doesn’t want to study the aptitude simply vaporises. But the parents still bear down on them with a ‘doctor’, ‘engineer’ and ‘computer’ agenda. Many educators will tell you that they have experienced downright frightening episodes of rage from parents when it was explained to them that their child does not want to, does not have the aptitude for, and will not do well in a particular stream. Many parents take it personally. Their responses seem to cover just 3 sentiments: 1. I have the authority to decide 2. I am paying the money 3. This is my child and he/she will do exactly what I want. And then some parents accuse the counsellor of poisoning their children with “these new-fangled” notions. Some parents suspect that counsellors are merely diverting students to streams whose seats the counsellors have been directed to fill because of the paucity of applicants. This may well be the case with the smaller institutions in towns but it isn’t so with the larger institutions. Most educators all over India will tell you that they are overjoyed to see enlightened parents give their children the freedom to choose, but that does not mean that the number of parents having the final decision has decreased.

Then there is the unchanging Damocles Sword hanging over their heads. No matter what is the life experience, if the requisite marks are not attained, the entire forward motion comes to a complete halt. So a student must ration excitement with examinations, and may fall into the trap of resenting deeply the only benchmark with which they can be judged and awarded. They know that submission to the number game is not the optimum policy but they know that the ‘education policy’ begins and ends with the numbers.

Hitherto, peer pressure and approval was limited to personal interaction. Now there is the social universe, with a entire world of dynamics all its own. Social offers the possibility of expressing oneself in spaces that cannot be monitored or regulated.

The first step is to help them choose the course they are best suited for. This means that there has to be an inspired vocational aptitude dynamic that helps them.

Incubation cells in colleges deserve to be considered anew. Yes, the major institutions have them and yes, they are not a new phenomenon. But truth be told, what they have ‘matured’ into, if it can be called that, is giving students with an idea a room, some utilities, some equipment, and a little desultory counsel from faculty and disinclined sources. It has been more than a decade since incubation cells came into vogue, long enough for us to be worried about the fact that there must be some examination as to why there is such a poor ratio of incubation cells to successful to-market exercises. The incubation cell must be a not just a brass and tacks, but a cell that incubates leaders and industry changers. Perhaps we need to consider that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison and Peter Drucker were not born from incubation chambers; indeed, the uncomfortable fact is that most of the men that crafted the digital universe as we now know it fled college at the earliest opportunity, and we educators must take it up as a challenge that our students find the campus to be brimming with promise.

Speaking of the digital universe, this is a growing dynamic that needs to be taught. Proof that a digital education is crucial is the proliferation of websites that teach every aspect of the digital universe. And many of these are free! One would think that many of the ‘digitally-savvy’ institutions would at the very least direct their students to these sites but I have discovered to my astonishment that these sites are not even known on the campus. Just directing students would be a more than worthy start. I am many a time disappointed to see that educational institutions that have a facebook page, a web site, a blog and a twitter feed are congratulating themselves that they have a sufficient and robust digital presence. Many of these institutions do not even update their social platforms on a regular basis.

And what of the burgeoning opportunity that the 21st century brings? We need to take our cue from two facts: 1. the established fact that many of the professions that will be n existence 5 years from now are not even known yet and 2. the best opportunities for students are the professions that do not have the ‘textbooks’. So we must put into place the courses that prepares students for the digital age: Animation,graphic and web design courses, sports management courses, inheriting the family business courses, sound engineering,courses on retail management, visual merchandising, media management, interior decoration, jewellery designing, space, psychology, fine arts and specialized courses on Intellectual Property Rights, Construction Management, Public Relations, Stylists (would you believe: food, automobile, machinery and architecture stylists) and of course, Tourism Management, Education Management.

Co-curricular activities should be more than just digital ….. students should be helped to move out and engage. Facebook is NOT engagement, and can never be enough. For this the institution should first reach out to the corporate world and arrange a fit. The corporate world is slowing waking up to the fact that it can save itself the gauntlet of the placement process and gaining the privilege of handpicking people to employ long before they graduate. I have personally witnessed interns that scored with companies they were spending just a month with, and it completely reshaped them into mature professionals even BEFORE they graduated, such was the confidence it instilled in them.

There are as many challenges as there are opportunities today, for student as well as educator. Educators must accept the responsibility of sifting through the tsunami of possibilities and potentials and crafting a way through. Students are no longer passive recipients of ‘teaching-from-on-above’, they have the means, resources and forums to check and recheck their teachers, their textbooks and their teaching. It promises to be a brand new time: and when the dust that is now rising settles, we all hope that the new education universe that comes into view will be the springboard for a whole new era of possibility.

(This Article appeared in India’s National Daily   THE HINDU dated 30 July 2012 http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-features/tp-educationplus/article3701063.ece#   )


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