'Indian education system focusses too much on exams, not learning'

'Indian education system focusses too much on exams, not learning'

"There is too much focus on exams and not learning. This often desists the teacher to innovate their pedagogy. Exam becomes the end goal for the faculty, the learning and the curriculum," says Professor Pankaj Chandra, Vice-Chancellor at Ahmedabad University

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It is not often that an academician says exams "jaye bhaad mai" but it is with this philosophy that Professor Pankaj Chandra, Vice-Chancellor at Ahmedabad University is building the institution that instills the culture of learning and not of examinations. Chandra shares with BusinessToday.In how the university has been experimenting with different formats to understand the drivers of learning: completely unsupervised exams, volunteer work, and even its mandatory course Foundation programme that every student has to undertake.

Pankaj Chandra, Vice-Chancellor at Ahmedabad University

Q: Please share some of the gaps that you think are ailing the education system in the country.  

The gaps today in our education system are it is siloed. Teachers are trained in knowledge of the past, they don't have skills of the future. Another big gap is education institutions do not engage with the society around them. We are living in an ivory tower. Teachers teach theory, talk about protests, caste and gender, and expect students have learned. This methodology of bringing society in through books is important but it is not sufficient.   

There is too much focus on exams and not learning. This often desists the teacher to innovate their pedagogy. Exam becomes the end goal for the faculty, the learning and the curriculum.  

Q: While these gaps exist, what are the ways in which we can address them?  

First, it is important to understand that education has multiple purposes. Livelihood is just one. It's a joke that in India, where it is said that the first degree was for the parents, the second was for livelihood, the third degree was for your soul. So why don't we collapse all of this so the first degree is for your soul and livelihood too.  

For instance, at Ahmedabad University, we admit students to the university, and not to a programme. At 17, not everyone knows what they want to do. So, they get admission, attend the courses and decide where their passion lies. We have had kids who came to study commerce but took some courses in sciences and ended up doing BSc in Physics.  

We should build an institution for learning, not for examinations. If you've learned nothing, even with 4.0 out of 4.0, you will never be able to do anything in life. But if you've learned, then at some point of time in your life, it will actually show up.

To incorporate this, we have continuous evaluation process and the weightage for each exam is relatively low. So every day there can be a quiz. Every week, there is a small assignment. Some courses might not have an exam also. The idea is not to put pressure on the students.

Q: At Ahmedabad university, how are you ensuring students learn to love to learn. Please share some initiatives.  

I believe the purpose of the university is to enhance somebody's capabilities more than what they think they can do. So after a lot of experimentation, we say there are 4 ways in which one can learn.  One is ways of thinking. That entails reading, writing, assignments, examination so on and so forth. This is important but it is not sufficient.  

There are three other ways too. There is a need for universities to connect all the subjects students learn. Today, the problems, like that of the pandemic, climate change, urbanisation are all global problems. There is a need for interdisciplinary nature of teaching, to connect the knowledge that's coming from one field with knowledge from another. Doing a course in computer science but taking up two modules in literature doesn't work. There has to be someone who is connecting the dots for the students between these two domains.  

We have to make the structure of the university very porous. A faculty may be appointed to the School of Arts and Sciences, but they would be teaching in the School of Management. Many of our philosophy professors teach courses on ethics in the School of Management. Sometimes they partner with the business professor and teach together.  

The third way is to learn by doing. Usually, in classrooms, there are first a few lessons in theory and fieldwork is at the end of it. But those theory lessons are a waste because there is still not a clear understanding of what it means. To give you an example, we used to do a course called Sound and Acoustics and Physics, which was earlier in the theory exam mode but we realised the class was not learning.  Now that course is called The Science of Building Musical Instrument. A music professor and a professor of computer science teach it together and the kids build three instruments: string instrument, one wind instrument, and third is a keyboard.

They'll get raw materials, put it up together. Then, there will be a lecture on sound and the physics behind it. So, they go back to their guitar, remake it, fine tune it further, apply the theory and in doing that they would have learnt Physics.  

The last way of learning is ways of becoming. We realised that purpose of education is not only to offer livelihood but also to change you as a person. We wanted the students to not see themselves as graduates or technicians, they should see themselves as citizens where they have an independent mind, can think critically and solve problems. There are some people more empathetic than others and we think because they are exposed to this world a little bit more, they have experienced what it means to be in a slum or knows a person with disability. 

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