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Our children need to be job creators, not just job seekers by Dr. Neeraj Bhanot (Ph.D., IIT Delhi, Ex professor IIM, Scientist CSIR)

We can make learning better through PBL (Problem Based Learning)

“Students should go beyond being job seekers and instead become job creators”

Conversation with Dr. Neeraj Bhanot (PhD, IIT–Delhi), Ex-professor IIM, Scientist, CSIR – National Physical Laboratory, Ministry of Science & Technology, Govt. of India

Sandy Hooda, Co-founder, Vega Schools

Sandy Hooda I was curious how you came across PBL?

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – I was not aware of this pedagogy that there is something called PBL (project-based learning/ problem-based learning). It was just that we learn better by doing things rather than by just listening. So, the extent of knowledge or the depth of knowledge comes with practice. Whenever I used to teach any concept in my class, I didn’t believe in making students just read and go through myriads of pages in the books but provided them with an opportunity for hands-on practice to gain experience.

Everybody’s visualization or imagination cannot be expected to be at the same level so we need to explain the concepts thoroughly and when students see illustration of the concepts that is when they actually learn. My efforts are to make students learn through practice using PBL (problem based learning) that is how they would get in-depth knowledge. This is what motivated me to start and I have been following this practice continuously for the last 3 years.

Sandy HoodaIn what ways this PBL approach can help young people in their lives going forward? Especially their lives after graduation when they go into the real world?

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – In today’s interdisciplinary world, we cannot just rely on the traditional approach of ‘looking for jobs’ and a spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be infused in the younger generation to address social issues from a broader horizon. That is how this PBL approach will personally enable them ‘to be  job creators’ rather than passive job seekers. At the same time, this will allow them to solve issues which are faced by society. The PBL approach will play a significant role to first inculcate those skills and have an independent way of thinking. That is where I feel India needs this generation to excel in and achieve Aatmanirbhar Bharat, which the Indian government is also emphasizing on. The idea is to get students to go beyond being job seekers and instead become job creators

Sandy HoodaI loved what you said children instead of wanting to become merely job seekers for them to have aspirations to become job creators! That’s a very powerful message! 

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – In India, I feel, students should not be forced to follow a particular career. They should be motivated to come up with some creative ideas in order to solve any particular social problem and that is the method I used.. On the very first day of my class, I used to convey to them all the topics we were going to learn in any particular course, based on which I used to encourage them to look for social contexts where the concepts can be applied as the course progressed with time. I wanted them to utilize whatever knowledge they were gaining in the course and solve some of the selected problems/issues (no matter to what extent they were able to do it but at least they should attempt it). 

All in all, students should be made to focus on their unique capabilities or interests and then try to collaborate in the right manner which would help them solve any kind of a problem. So, my technique was to make them form groups and first of all, write down their unique skills or interests. Rather than making a group in the form of friends, I used to push them to form groups based on the required skills for their projects and finding the right skill set in their peers.

This is how each and everything has to be taken care of by the mentors. Mentors also need some kind of orientation/ guidance as it can help them make learning better through the PBL approach.

Sandy Hooda I wanted to ask you for your thoughts that if schools make children focus more on PBL/depth of knowledge do you think it would be easier for children to navigate entrance examinations? 

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – Obviously, anyone will be in a better position to answer or solve the problems if they have followed this (PBL) pedagogy. On the contrary, some people just cram or mug up the techniques to clear the entrance examinations. However, after getting accepted into an institute, students struggle to perform because they had just mugged up some techniques to solve those questions. They have not understood the question, but just understood the approach to quickly answer the questions. The problem starts in final year college when students feel frustrated when they do not get any placements. That is where I feel PBL will be helpful without any doubt.

Based on my experience, I can say 60 to 70% of students are interested to follow this practical based learning or they are interested in doing projects but need little guidance in different phases of the project so that the interest is retained. Even why I interacted with you is because seeing a person like you from top management who is taking interest in this pedagogy will definitely create a place for it in the entire educational ecosystem. 

Sandy Hooda You have been to IIT, you have done your PHD at IIT, taught at IIM. Tell me what happens when you are at IIT or IIM then does having depth of knowledge and knowing how to apply knowledge help a learner once they get into the Institute?

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – Definitely because you see even my perspective changed a lot when I entered into IIT for my PhD. Having started my PhD journey in IIT helped me learn many things. Basically, it’s not about IIT or IIM it’s actually the environment. I have been able to perform so far in my research career because of my PhD supervisors, as they always inspired me to focus on social issues and be beneficial for them. They supported my ideas and helped me shape them in a better perspective. That is how you know such an environment in reputed institutes play a very significant role.

Sandy Hooda The world is changing rapidly and the needs of the world are changing rapidly. The pandemic has led to so much disruption in India and around the world. We sometimes say that the pandemic is like a trailer of a movie. The big movies are yet to come – be it global warming led disruptions and job losses due to technology. What is your opinion as someone who has done exceedingly well at IIT, taught at IIM and is a Senior scientist with the Government of India? What is your advice to parents and educators as they teach children for the world of the future? What’s your advice to them?

Dr. Neeraj Bhanot – Parents and educators both play a significant role in shaping the children’s career. Children spend most of their time with their family. Hence, my sincere advice to parents is that they should never impose their career aspirations on their children but simply share their concerns with them and make them understand about the pros and cons of the choices they make. This can help both, the parents and children, to develop a bond based on trust and at the same time, it will help children make decisions independently and will improve their overall personality. Educators should try to explain the relevance of any topic they teach, as it will motivate students to learn the concepts and can be further supported to see the way their learning can be implemented to address (in real time) social issues. After all, school and college are the only phases where students can still afford to make mistakes while learning to implement the concepts. The job environment will expect them to be as much efficient as possible considering the tough competition. Last but not the least, the students should try to explore their interests, areas where they feel connected while working in that domain, and then should try to learn how the available knowledge can help them perform better.

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Dr. Neeraj Bhanot is currently working as a Scientist in CSIR-National Physical Laboratory, New Delhi. He has also worked as Assistant Professor in IIM Amritsar, NIT Jalandhar and GNDEC Ludhiana. He did his B. Tech in Mechanical Engineering and M. Tech in Industrial Engineering from Guru Nanak Dev Engineering College, Ludhiana along with MBA in Sales and Marketing from Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. Later, he completed his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.