In an exclusive interview with Higher Education Review, Dr. Lilian I Jasper, Principal & Secretary, Women’s Christian College shares her insights on the Indian higher education landscape, the growing significance of student- centric learning, the increasing importance of research in science education and more.
Offering hands-on training still remains a primary challenge in the Indian higher education system which has resulted in more students going abroad to pursue their higher studies and in 2022 alone over 1 lakh Indian students took this route. In light of this, how do you view the Indian higher education landscape and how can Indian colleges reverse this trend?
As of now, colleges are keener on thrusting knowledge into students through conventional teaching methods. These methods have limitations and what we need now is students doing mandatory internships in at least one semester. This will help students understand what they should expect from the workplace. Providing skill-based and value-added courses to the students is also crucial. Now, both the central and state governments are encouraging such programs. Cross major electives can also help students to hone their latent skills and explore more opportunities. Apart from this, foreign language programs should be an area of focus as it will help students expand their horizons. For many students, after they start learning these foreign languages, they start to see new possibilities and opportunities for development.
It is important that teaching pedagogies evolve with the changing times to nurture skilled talent. In your opinion, what are some of the most innovative teaching pedagogies Indian higher education institutions can adopt to increase the employability of their students?
Offering more activity-based learning is the need of the hour. This will help the students to gain valuable hands-on training which many higher educational institutions in the country fail to offer. Give them opportunities to apply what they have learned in the class room and this will not only help them get practical training but this will also help the teachers to create a more interactive learning environment. Another unique initiative is - learner-designed courses which allow students to explore more opportunities and gain more knowledge in an area which they are interested in. We at Women’s Christian College have been experimenting with this for a long time and it has helped many of our students to gain knowledge in different subjects which, in turn, makes them more versatile.
The importance of student-centric learning programs still gets overlooked in many Indian higher education institutions. How can science colleges deal with this issue?
For undergraduate students, asking them to submit online assignments or prepare effective power point presentations will help them to gain basic technology skills and understand how to prepare a proper paper. Both these are skills which many students lack now and with ample support from the teachers, they will be able to acquire these skills. Also, at present, in many college classrooms in India there are 70 to 80 students but when we look at western higher educational institutions we will see 20 or fewer students in a classroom. Having less number of students mean that the teacher will be able to offer a much more personalized learning experience to the students. Classes with fewer students will also promote individual participation from each student which makes classes more engaging and interactive. For this to happen in India, more private colleges offering top-notch science education should come up. This will also help in enhancing the overall quality of science education in the country.
"Now, both the central and state governments are encouraging such programs. Cross major electives can also help students to hone their latent skills and explore more opportunities"
Lack of research has been plaguing the Indian higher education realm for many years now. Taking this into consideration, how do you view the growing importance of experimental research at an institutional level and how can science colleges in the country nurture the culture of research in their campus?
I believe that improving the quality and increasing the interest of teachers in taking up research projects will go a long way in nurturing the culture of research in a campus. Educational institutions should give incentives to teachers for good research projects and this can have a positive influence on the students and motivate them to take up research projects of their own. After completing their PhD, many believe that their research work is done. People should change this mindset and view research as a lifelong activity. I take part in minor projects regularly and I involve my students in it as well. This has made many of my students keener on doing research works of their own. Lack of funding has also been adversely impacting research in many higher educational institutions in the country and we need more funding to improve the research infrastructure in campuses.
What are some of the major changes that you foresee happening in science education in India in the future and how can educational institutions prepare themselves for these changes?
Industry-institute partnerships will grow in the coming years and companies will encourage more research projects done by students. More educational institutions would start prioritizing on research and innovation and I believe that the New Education Policy will accelerate this trend. Better industry-institute tie-ups will also help the students to gain more hands-on training and increase their employability. Nurturing students with a global perspective will also become more significant in the coming years.
Dr. Lilian I. Jasper, Principal & Secretary
Dr. Lilianis an academician for 26 years before she became the Principal of Women’s Christian College, Chennai. She had also served the college as Value Education Coordinator, Caretaker Associate NCC Officer, Dean of Residents & Internal Quality Assurance Cell Coordinator and in many other committees.