Is a shift needed in our approach towards formulating the degree courses or academic programmes? Do we need to revisit and revise our academic curriculum as per the industry needs? Is it the need of the hour? Abha Adams, Director, Shri Ram School and Advisor, Step By Step School answers all these questions in a conversation with Meha Mathur. She also talks about the shifts occurring in higher education and how the generic degree courses should be aligned to these shifts.
A Sneak Peek into Abha Adam’s Profile:
Abha Adams is a renowned name in school education and pedagogy. She has a wide and varied experience in education and has been at the forefront of introducing reforms in several leading educational institutes. She did her graduation and masters in English from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi, and followed it up with a second masters in Drama and Theatre Arts from the University of Leeds, the UK.
Adams started her career as a lecturer in her alma mater. She has been Director of Shri Ram School and is advisor to Step By Step School. She has founded Abha Adams School Development Consultants that provides services in the areas of school management, staff training, management training and physical education management.
Adams also has written columns in leading newspapers. She has made youth-centric programmes for All India Radio and Doordarshan and was associated with the BBC in various capacities.
Careers360: Increasingly, students now prefer to take up professional and vocational courses straight after class XII—courses like Law, Design, Fashion Technology and Hotel Management, besides of course, Engineering and Medicine. In such a scenario how can a student opting for BA, BCom or BSc make this experience very meaningful, and how can he/she add value to that?
Abha Adams: Let me answer first why these shifts are happening. I see that in urban, metropolitan private school sector, these shifts are happening because students are getting the necessary career guidance, which points them not to a generic degree but to be aligned to a career that they are looking for. In institutions with a good career counsellor and provision for aptitude test, students are able to narrow their prospects down or to see what really gives them joy.
We have seen that there is a dip in Pure Science undergraduate degree. Sadly, languages are also suffering. Not English, because that opens up opportunities in media and publications. But in Hindi and Sanskrit, unless the individual is clear that he would teach the subject, he would not pick up these subjects. Students who would take up Bachelor of Elementary Education in urban areas are only a few.
Now, with social media and internet platforms, there is a huge need on the part of companies and large conglomerates to have individuals who will handle their social media accounts. Things that advertising industry used to do, now they need someone in-house to do that. The market was a bit slow to catch on to this requirement but of late I have seen ads for combined bachelors in these areas. Students are venturing into Art Curation, Design, Environment Studies and so on. And that happens when a student knows what he is good at and what will give him great happiness.
This kind of guidance is not available in government schools. So many of our children end up taking generic degrees, still not clear what they will do at the end of the three-year programme.
So, to answer your question, how do generic degrees become more meaningful, we need to incorporate the changes that the industry is looking for. We need to give opportunities during the three years. So if you are a history student, you need to get an understanding regarding openings in that field.
Careers360: There are certain areas that require a vast knowledge base that generic degrees give. For example, media requires understanding of social formations and political movements…
Abha Adams: But your BA in journalism caters to that.
Careers360: So are you suggesting more of integrated courses?
Abha Adams: Absolutely. We need to take a leaf out of the four-year degree that Americans offer. In the first year, they experience a whole range of programmes. And there is such a huge variety they can pick from. It could be Gender Studies, or Philosophy, even if they haven’t studied it in school. That leads to a better understanding of the world around. We, at 14, stream them in schools. They become so narrow. And that’s no age to understand who we are and how you want to lead your life. And a child taking up Commerce has no understanding of History. They do Accounting without an understanding of the world. And there is this deficit that American universities and private universities in India are fulfilling. Take Ashoka for instance. The kind of exposure to thought that their first year gives them before they go in for specialisation is incredible. And that’s what our three-year undergraduate programme needs to review.
Careers360: But such a vast range of choices can become a logistical issue. How to design the time table to accommodate so many subject choices?
Abha Adams: It’s manageable. People are doing it the world-over. And we are an amazing country when it comes to finding solutions. I am not asking for jugaad but it’s manageable. And it’s critical, because our children are coming out with inadequate understanding. Our engineers are unemployable.
Take communication. Where do they learn how to communicate? And the future is about communication, both written and verbal. And the future is about being able to express yourself. Whichever career you take, you need to understand how to plan. No one teaches us. These are fundamental skills. Every course needs to be able to do that.
Careers360: Coming to private universities, how have they changed the education scenario and are they playing a positive role?
Abha Adams: I can’t talk for all private universities. But they have really changed the scenario and they need to be encouraged. Given the cut-offs in Delhi University, most children do not find a place. Middle class parents then have the aspiration that they will send their child overseas. In the UK that costs anything between £18,000 to 22,000 a year. So we are looking at a crore for three years. I have known parents selling ancestral property, mortgaging it.
There weren’t options here. But now I find parents and students looking seriously at private universities.
Careers360: But parents are ready to shell out huge sums for BA or BSc programmes in private universities. How do you see that?
Abha Adams: I see it in terms of quality. I have heard from many students in the Delhi University that apart from a handful of colleges there is a disenchantment with quality of faculty, infrastructure, academic vibrancy, whereas in private universities, with exceptions, faculty are inspiring, there is openness to learning, and excitement.
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