What changes do you think can interdisciplinary learning bring in a student compared to the traditional methods of learning?
I start with the premise that we are living through some fascinatingly challenging and opportunistic times. The interactions we as an individual have with other humans sharing this planet, or how I would interact with thinking and learning machines, or how I would interact with Nature are all fraught with enormous challenges but also create a space for finding solutions to such challenges. So, since many of the problems we face in the real word – climate change, world peace, depleting resources, need for more civic engagement, global poverty, rising inequality, rapid mechanization – the list can go on – requires each of us to be aware and in some cases knowledgeable about a range of topics and subjects spanning different disciplines.
So educational systems, that force us to put ‘blinkers on like horses’ and ‘stay in our disciplinary lanes’ does not allow a person to make ‘connect the dots across multiple disciplines and perspectives’ or ‘see around the corner’. Cultivating such aptitudes and interests in schools and then in college prepares us to be better researchers, teachers, government bureaucrats, employees, or simply good voting citizens. It is however also important for each student to have a ‘strength’ in one or more disciplines but then also develop an interest in other subjects to become more well rounded intellectually. At the same time and in contrast with a traditional system, I strongly believe in emphasising the ability of a student to ‘learn how to learn’, rather than focus on ‘what to learn’; which means they have to become thinking, adaptable, resilient, curious and creative individuals in and out of the classroom. Furthermore important for each student to learn how to collaborate with others, how to communicate with others, and also develop good computation and comprehension skills given the plethora of data and information sources we are deluged with.
How would the university shape the students through interwoven learning?
We recognize the weaving together of multiple disciplines and perspectives to truly educate a student; at the same time as you look through our Program Design document, there is an emphasis on communication, computational, data analytical, ethical orientation among others. Rather than simply view them as a stand-alone course, we expect many of these attributes and approaches to be woven into other subjects and courses taught so as to reinforce the learning that will happen.
One of our other core pillars is to maintain porous boundaries between the real world and the classroom world. There are a number of ways by which we will achieve this and so once as we interweave the ‘learning outside the classroom’ to what might be considered traditional class room learning, further strengthens the fabric of learning experience for each student.
Why do you think the Liberal Arts and Sciences took such a long time to mainstream in India though we have such rich culture?
I think it was a combination of things. After the British left, we followed in their footsteps and gave a centrality to specializing in one subject if one had to get a degree from a university. At the same time, given the demands of a poor economy that needed to develop very fast, a greater emphasis on early professionalization was seen by parents, educators and the government as a sure way for individuals to get a degree but also build careers and then the nation; hence the decision which then gets reinforced with each successive bath of the primacy of engineering, medicine, law etc.
The literature from “Complex systems” points to the power of ‘path dependency’ and ‘lock in’ which may also explain how initial decisions made after independence keeps reinforcing the status quo making it more and more difficult with each passing year to think of an alternative system. But as India has shed many of its post-colonial and pre-reform ‘license permit raj’ shortcomings — be it the positive changes seen in the automobile sector, telecommunications, aviation, IT – to name a few, I think the India of the second decade of this century is ripe for true and meaningful reform in the education sector as well.
Do you believe that the novel culture of learning through Liberal Arts and Sciences is lost amongst other mainstream disciplines, and needs to be revived?
As stated above I am a strong believer and proponent of this approach and also wish to underscore that a student ought to develop in a very conscious and purposeful way ‘the mind and the body’. So while we have talked only about disciplines, subjects or courses, it is important to not lose sight of the ‘co-curriculum’ or ‘extra curricular’ aspects of such an education – be it a focus on well being, sports and athletics, performances, civic and community engagement – all of these go a long way into developing the educational (and not just the academic) potential of a student.
Do you think students on graduating have an actual idea how the industry works?
In Krea’s case, since one of our core pillars is the focus on ‘immersive learning opportunities’ outside the classroom, and making the boundaries between the real and the academic world, more porous, it is our strong belief that the various curated experiences and even the spontaneously chosen ones by a student, will prepare them to really hit the ground running upon graduation.
After all which employer – be it a government, or think tank or an NGO, or a corporate house — will not want a student who can think, ask critical questions, connect the dots, be analytical, be action oriented, collaborate well with individuals from different backgrounds, communicate effectively both orally and in writing ?
Do you think student exchange and faculty exchange programmes can be a temporary solution to quality education?
In my view, the best universities in the world allow for a fertile exchange of ideas between and among students and faculty of other universities. So, I do not simply see faculty and student exchange programs as temporary solution but rather a key part of Krea university’s evolution. We will create partnerships and programs with other universities within India and abroad to facilitate such exchanges.
What extra mile is walked by the university to help mediocre students get employed by reputed firms?
I believe that every individual is endowed with ‘will, imagination, thought’ but through years of neglect, poor or no schooling, and other family dynamics, the “light” in ‘all of us’ that allows us to channel and shine our ‘will, imagination, and thought’ in a positive and meaningful ways becomes dim; good education and more importantly good teachers are able to ‘remove such layers of grime, dirt and soot’ from the lampshade so that the ‘light’s effulgence’ is once again visible. So from a practical standpoint, the university will invest in modules and workshops to address any learning gaps as students enrol at Krea; at the same time, these deficiencies – be they in writing, communication, math skills or what-ever, the “Learning and Teaching Centre” at the university will be empowered and expected to work with students on an ongoing basis as and when such a need arises. So, it starts with a recognition that such investments in such efforts are critical for the success of each and every student at Krea.
What can be the impact of faculty development programmes in the education system?
We want our faculty to be life-long learners and thus act as role models for our students. When I think back to many of my colleagues in the US or here in India who I admire, their teaching and research has clearly evolved since I first knew them decades ago. Clearly a lot has to do with innate curiosity, discipline and hardwork, but top class universities also create a nurturing environment with the appropriate “carrots’ and sticks” so that faculty continually evolve and excel in how they teach, what they teach, what research questions they pursue and how they communicate these results out. So, a crucial part of the faculty review and retention program at Krea will be dependent on our focus on ‘faculty development’.
With the innovation culture hovering in the air, do you think students know what to innovate and how to innovate?
I believe very strongly that children and hence students have an incredible potential to innovate – to make changes in something established, by introducing new methods, ideas or processes. The spirit of curiosity and inquiry that is there in all children, if allowed to be fanned and grown, then allows students to be really innovative – this has been my experience with my nearly three decades of teaching and research experience here and abroad. At the same time Krea can and will do tangible things and introduce ways to promote such an innovative culture on campus.