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Leading colleges feel that schools need to teach differently

Dr Jitin Chadha is the Director of ISBF (Indian School of Business and Finance) & IIAD (Indian institute of art and design). As parents and schools prepare their children for a new world the voice of the colleges is an important one. His article in India Today (2020) on how progressive teaching methods such as PBL can transform education has made a big impact. Below is a conversation between Dr. Jitin Chadha and Vega Schools, Ranked one of the top 5 schools in Gurugram (by Education World for 2020-21). The conversation was condensed and edited for clarity. 

Vega Schools (VS): Dr Jitin Chandra, you are a visionary, changemaker and have a powerful voice. Why do you feel school education, and education in general needs to be transformed? As you know the teaching pedagogy at Vega Schools, one of the best schools in Gurugram (Educationworld schools rankings 2020-21), is based on the revolutionary teaching method called PBL (problem/project based learning). Do you think PBL can make a significant impact on transforming India into a nation of innovators?

Dr Jitin Chadha (JC): The world has undergone drastic restructuring from the industrial and post-industrial service economy of the 20th century, to the age of knowledge economy in the 21st century, that is marked by upheavals in technological innovations, and new products & processes coming out of research labs. The key component of a knowledge economy is a greater reliance on intellectual capabilities than on physical inputs or natural resources. These paradigm shifts have moved the focus from managing quality to managing performance, from technical competence to strategic planning, from paternalism and adherence to challenging norms, experimenting and failing successfully. There is a need to equip our students with emotional intelligence and an ability to manage collaboration and relationships. There is a pressing need to relook at curricula and teaching practices, to prepare our students for “innovation, adaptability and survival” in a world of accelerated change and rapid obsolescence.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is an enquiry-based learning approach in which it is believed that students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of the subject matter. Students learn by planning and engaging with experiments, asking and refining questions, collecting and analysing data, communicating their ideas and findings to others, creating artifacts, debating ideas, gathering insights and drawing conclusions. This enquiry-based approach leads to discovery and construction of knowledge as opposed to transferring knowledge from a knowledgeable-other. PBL integrates knowing and doing as opposed to the more traditional method of learning/teaching where knowledge is first transmitted by the teacher and then applied by the learner.  In this process, along with deep content knowledge, students also develop 21st century skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills. PBL encourages learning how to learn and therefore makes students into lifelong independent and self-led learners. This approach prepares the students to face newer challenges and solve problems not encountered earlier. We believe that PBL enables us to develop contextually aware, reflexive practitioners.

VS: How did you (IIAD) come across PBL?

JC: We at IIAD are focused on challenging the way design is taught and practiced in the country. Our curriculum is driven by innovative pedagogy and we invest time and resources into the training and development of our academic staff. Our faculty is constantly involved in research and experiments in pedagogical practices. PBL is a well established progressive pedagogical approach, and it has been part of our DNA from the conception stage as it aligns with our goal of producing contextually aware, reflexive practitioners and life-long learners.

VS: Why is motivation so important (when it comes to learning)?

JC: Having a definitive motive is valuable in all works and walks of life. Learning is an active process that needs to be motivated and guided toward intended objectives. A motivated learner is able to break the glass ceiling of her/his own as well as others’ perceptions of her/his abilities. In our observation, the level of achievement is not entirely dependent on the inherent ability or in-born talent of a student, but her/his purposeful efforts towards gaining skills and knowledge. Teaching-Learning practices can influence a student’s motivation by inculcating a love for learning and by promoting a growth mindset. A supportive and challenging environment helps students stay engaged with the learning process. Moreover, learning plans must also make the students see relevance of their current learning in their future application. 

VS: What is your advice to educators and parents in order to prepare children for the world of the future?

JC: In the rapidly changing world, children must be prepared for new career opportunities and professions that go beyond the traditional and popular career paths of engineering, medical, accountancy and so on. The covid period has also shown the world a new way of working where competency can be sourced from anywhere in the world and not necessarily from the local physical vicinity. While this has opened up career opportunities, it has also increased the competition. 

In the real-world, our children will be faced with questions for which the answers are not previously known, and solve problems that have not been encountered earlier –  it is, therefore, important to prepare them for this dynamic future, where rapid obsolescence is the only constant. Educators and Parents can either choose to change with the times, or try to retro-fit the methods and approaches of the past into the future.