NEP—the changing paradigms in Indian Higher Education: Dr. Shrihari Honwad,Teacher, Mentor, Academician and consultant

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There are many articles on NEP written and published and many more are likely to be written while we all stumble along into its’ implementation. The implementation and the resistance to change come from paradigms of education we have all been married to for so many years. Here is an attempt to examine some of the basic paradigms which seem to complicate the change process. As a disclaimer it would be appropriate to point out that this is not another article to detail the NEP nor is this a highly scholarly article on philosophy of the New Education Policy. It is a pointer to the resistance for change and the root causes.

Paradigms are not necessarily irrelevant, rather, their deep rootedness (by definition) prevent other paradigms which are contradicting them from being accepted. One should be equally weary of the new paradigms creating similar biased structures. More importantly, one must understand how ideas become paradigms and then users exploit them to their own advantage. These exploitation render ideas, which did work at certain point of time, dysfunctional over time. About six of these paradigms are discussed here.

  1. The sage on stage paradigm.

    For a seasoned and successful teacher there is absolutely no difference between teaching and learning. These Teachers do not rest till all their students learn. However, if all teachers believe that they teach in the class and the students learn it’s indeed a questionable assumption. The paradigm confuses teachers and even makes some tyrannical. They demand not just attendance but also obedient listening, without realizing that they are first killing inquisitiveness, then creativity and finally thinking ability of the student. In fact, the sage on the stage syndrome can be very harmful to the entire educating ecosystem. For the NEP to be successful this paradigm needs to change in particular for higher studies. The teacher must become a learning facilitator and not just encourage active learning but also allow open ended learning and multiple feasible solutions. It is indeed important to have more and more guides on the side rather than sage on the stage.
  2. The content focus or completion of the syllabus syndrome.

    The pressure on faculty to complete the “syllabus – the contents indicated in the document”, in the class room resulted in responsibility of completing the syllabus resting totally on the faculty (the responsibility that learning objectives are attained squarely rests on the faculty, and all creative efforts have to be made by the faculty to ensure the same.) Where the faculty could not or did not cover the syllabus became a parameter of good academics. While it is an indicator of good academic discipline, it is not a guarantor of either learning, the knowledge of the students nor their skills. This focus on contents sometimes has forced even good teachers to hasten to complete the syllabus. Crash courses which were resorted to become attractive and in fact a number of students prefer crash courses to regular class rooms as they are as effective, it seems, in attacking the dreaded three hour examinations.
  3. The three hour end term written examination.

    The three hour end term examination has been a very effective way of testing how much the student can remember what has been taught during the term. It is to be understood that the examinations drive the student’s strategy to succeed in these examinations. In higher education in particular, any course would have several modules as contents and an examiner would be forced to focus on all of them. That reduces the weight-age of these modules, more so if these modules are sequentially connected and in many cases build on the knowledge of the previous modules. This is where contents win over outcomes. As focus of outcomes changes to contents and even that gets limited as each module gets equal importance. Empowered teachers can escape from falling for this trap, but, majority of our examinations are not set by empowered teachers. The NEP focus needs empowered teachers. In fact, empowered to depart from this three hour examination model wherever necessary.
  4. The external paper setter.

    This has been a very strong attempt at quality improvement at the quality check stage. While the quality standards can be maintained if they are strictly measured by good quality inspectors, namely the external paper setters, would they be able to change the process and ensure good quality product and in great quantity. However, in teaching this takes away the empowerment of the teacher and puts the quality responsibility on the external paper setter. This is not to belittle the external examiners, many of who are competent and do a great job of quality control, but, to state freely that once you have entrusted the learning of your students to a teacher, you may not end punishing your students for his inabilities. It’s always better to focus on making him a better teacher. Use your external expert to do the same. NEP does envisage this empowerment.
  5. The marks and passing marks and credits.

    The 100 marks (examination) papers, 150 marks papers and the 50 marks papers all have corresponding number of hours of classes per week and it is connected with the work load of the teacher and finally whether the teacher has sufficient work in a semester. One can easily see how number of hours per week have been changing in universities by adding tutorials or increasing number of hours per week to improve the importance of the course/teacher. This prevents other courses from being added or the students over burdened with classes (not studies as is normally believed) when you do succeed in adding a new course. The passing marks in fact are often dictating what fraction of the paper needs to be easy to ensure a politically correct pass percentage. A great tool for vindictiveness or vindication both.

    When credit system is being brought into the system the most popular and simplified view is of course each credit to mean one hour of class per week throughout the term. While this is followed world over, it is important to point out that the credits to be earned by student are defined by the work needed to be put in by teacher. Irrespective of the way the student uses these hours the credits are earned. Defining the number of hours in a term the student needs to work may be a better definition of the credit as it puts the responsibility of learning on the students. This of course works only if the evaluations bring out this effort by student or clearly evaluate outcomes rather than content remembering ability.
  6. Passing year on year and progression.

    Year on year progression was by passing each course prescribed for that year. Failing to do so in some of them has been condoned by allowing the student to keep the term (move to next term) without passing a few of the courses (number restricted), and eventually when this burden exceeds the limit the student gets a year back (stays home till he appears only in examinations for the failed courses and brings numbers back to within limits). This has many effects not envisaged by rule makers at that time. For example if a course is a prerequisite for a course in the next term the student could still proceed and study it without learning the prerequisite! Secondly, a student with failures registers in all the courses for next term and has to study the failed courses and the current courses for the new term snowballing his work load. A recipe for further failures or assured failures. The year back as a means of allowing the student to recoup (good intention) unfortunately comes with social stigma and an abundance of idle time as examinations can happen only at the end of the term. The year back student is likely to suffer from further demoralisation and many disorders that need not be discussed here. Now the NEP has credit banking and credit transfer provisions which conflict with this year on year progression concept. Further, multiple entry and exit provisions will have a conflict with the permissions to keep the term. The courses and credits therefore need to be freed from their getting tied to the terms. Complete tree of pre requisites and co-requisites (courses that need to be studied together) would dictate which and how many courses a student could register in a term and he would be free to register lesser than needed courses in case he desires lower work load as long as he ensures the pre requisite course credits in his banked academic credits.

There are many of these paradigms which would affect the implementation of the NEP. It has not been possible to discuss them all but it is hoped that the few pointed out here can help fellow teachers to understand the provisions envisaged and philosophy changed in the New Education policy.

Profile of Dr. Shrihari Honwad
Dr. Shrihari, is a Chemical Engineering graduate from BITS Pilani with Post graduate and Doctoral degree from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. He is a senior academician with administrative and governance experience, the exposure, and contributions to, various functions – from teaching at one end of spectrum to managing institutions at the other – defining his career.  Beginning as a teaching assistant with Industrial exposure, he has traversed a path where he became a researcher, and eventually a teacher. His teaching career also saw responsibilities of Head of Department, Vice Principal, Principal of an Engineering College with 2000 students, (D J Sanghvi College of Engineering), Dean (engineering), Campus Director, ProVost and finally Vice Chancellor of three universities (UPES, Dehradun; GD Goenka University, Sohna), including currently at Sir Padampat Singhania University, Udaipur. He has supervised four PhD students in the areas of process optimization, Safety and Environmental Pollution and published several papers in International Journals.  On Academic front too, he has contributed towards Academic governance through Board of studies and Academic Councils and Institutional governance through Board of Management and Board of Governors. He has worked in unitary state, deemed as well as affiliating universities in India. He has visited several universities abroad in Spain, France, Turkey, Malaysia, and Thailand.  he believes in staying in touch with students through classroom teaching despite the busy schedule. His last assignment was the President of Sir Padampat Singhania University Udaipur (Rajasthan). At present, he is an advisor and consultant to several universities.

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