Gandhi’s ‘Be the change you want to see in this world,’ is good favourite quote. And he likes to love to live by it, and also thinks students could emulate it. Dr. Rajan Saxena, Vice Chancellor of NMIMS (Deemed to be University), offers his messages to the various stakeholders in higher education. Excerpts from an interview by Shraddha Kamdar, published by Free Press Journal on 26th June 2017.:
What would you advise today’s students?
The most important learning for a student is to be a good individual, which means that you must possess compassion, and be sensitive to those who are not so privileged as you are. Your education is not just to get a degree or a job, but it should also teach you how to be a responsible citizen, one who continues to be a learner for life.
It is about giving you values, with which you can lead your life. The value of learning in our life is perhaps one of the very important values. We often say that the only characteristic that distinguishes human beings from other species is that human beings have emotions. At the same time they have the power to learn and to respond to the environment.
The environment is continuously getting disrupted by technology, radical government policies and political forces. In such an environment, a good education must equip you to think innovatively. Old solutions do not deliver in today’s time.
Any message for today’s teachers?
Yes. Our students today are very different. There are inquisitive, want to explore and want to achieve in a much shorter time than their parents did. They are far more informed than the earlier generation. It is a generation who’s attention span is gradually shrinking. It is not uncommon for us to see the students getting away/ switching off from us even when we may be teaching a topic or a subject passionately. We may have done a great job, but perhaps our students don’t think so.
So what is the new role for a teacher in an age of search engines, social networks and the internet?
I feel that a teacher’s place cannot be taken by any technology, but we cannot continue with the same teaching style as we did in the 20th century. We have to assume the role of a facilitator and a talent developer. The student is a talent that needs to be nurtured. And hence that role is needed to be fulfilled.
Growth is not appeasement, it is where you work on the strengths of the individual and help him or her overcome his or her weaknesses. Hence you have to use all the tools of cajoling and threatening, and at the same time, occasionally, penalising. We as teachers have to be the role models for our students and hence we have to ‘walk the talk’.
So if we want our students to be continuous learners, then we have to first demonstrate by first acquiring the knowledge and being ahead with information and data. This obviously requires research, no matter what the institutional environment is.
The fact is that we have to be honest to our ownselves and our careers. We cannot grow unless we engage in research, especially such that influences the industry and the society. Mentoring students is as much our responsibility.
What’s your message for today’s parents?
In this day and age, parents have a special role to play. Today, the are significant distractions in the environment and parents need to be aware of them. It is a fact that many times students, especially those who come away from home for the first time for education sense freedom. They haven’t been educated on how to responsibly use their freedom.
The fact that there is a growing violence, sexual abuse and use of alcohol is an indication of rebellion against the society and also perhaps represents irresponsible behaviour. Parents need to be watchful for such symptoms in their children from an early age.
Mental sickness is growing in the society and parents have to shoulder tote responsibility. So they should not push their child in one specific direction, which is taken by all others or by children of families that you aspire to. Neither should they be taking up a career or a profession which you wanted to take up or you are today engaged in.
Let the children flower, for all that you know, photographers or musicians of repute. There could be a hidden artist in your child whom you are pushing engineering or management.
Give the freedom to the child to discover himself or herself, and finally remember, it is not important only to give the money to your child, but teach him or her prudence and how to live life responsibly and be a good human being.
Parents and teachers play a very important role in developing a responsible and creative generation.
What is the change you would like to see in higher education?
Our education system today is bound by several rules and regulations which are archaic. Unfortunately, our policy makers and those who are part of the education system fail to realise that the best education institutions are the ones which are left to themselves.
It is the academic community which actually determines the future of the institutions and the system. The fact that they are free to think in turn produce some of the finest research and graduates who play a significant role in the destiny of their countries and the world.
This is the community that plays a significant role in the evolution of the society.
Unfortunately, our system today is so much bureaucratised and politicised that there is no independent thinking that is happening in the institutions.
Increasingly, we’re realising that the space for creative and innovative thinking which could be disruptive in nature and radically different from those who govern the rules is being curtailed.
Descent is not considered favourable and often it is seen as having the potential of destroying the institutions.
This to my mind is a fallicious argument because decent is the essence of a good academic system. The fact that faculty is independent and can think and work autonomously makes this person uniquely different from others.
Hence one change that I wish to see in our education system is institutions being given autonomy in the true sense of the term, where the institution is sovereign and the faculty is independent and free to decide on his own reason workloads and even student selection.