Education not merely a job-guarantee scheme; Teach students about sustainable development too: Experts
Dozens of higher education experts met at the Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham to brainstorm ways to design a curriculum focused on sustainable development.
A national seminar titled “Design of Curriculum for Sustainable and Societal Development” was held at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, Coimbatore campus on 12th and 13th August, 2016. Over 150 higher education experts from all over India participated in the event that was sponsored by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC). They discussed and showcased various strategies and success stories that can enable institutions of higher learning to develop a curriculum focused on sustainable development and needs of the planet.
In her inaugural speech, the Chief Guest Dr. Sheela Ramachandran, former Vice-Chancellor of Avinashilingam University for Women, said: “While ancient India promoted learning for life and sustainability, modern education is merely an employment guarantee scheme. The challenge before educators is to face the innovative disruptions and technological infiltration which wean students away from sustainable development needed for a meaningful life. Educational institutes need to develop a curriculum which encourages students to use their head (cognitive), hands (skills) and heart (values).”
Dr. K. Sankaran, Registrar of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, said: “In higher education, it is important to focus on sustainable models that consider the delicate balance between the environment, society and economy. Students need to be educated in technologies that protect the environment. For example, the problem of global warming can be overcome through the use of solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and wind energies. These are sufficient to meet all our energy needs. Planting more trees may be good to consume carbon dioxide, but what happens to the trees after their lifetime? If they are burnt as firewood, the trapped carbon is back into the atmosphere. Even if the wood is buried, microbial action sets in and carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Therefore, new technologies in preserving carbon in the wood are necessary. Also, there are reports of scientists combining carbon dioxide of atmosphere with silicate on the earth's surface to make cement rocks. If this technology is developed, it will be a breakthrough.”
Speaking about the need to include 21st century skills in the curriculum, Prof. Bhavani Rao, Director, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, said, “There is much debate on what skills are required for the 21st century where education and development are defined and directed by sustainability. Most educational think-tanks recommend core competencies like critical thinking and problem solving skills with character qualities built over the basic functional literacies across all verticals in education and training. Studies conducted by the world Economic Forum show that skill gaps are especially pronounced in low-income countries and recommend the use of technology to overcome these. Our pilot work of conducting 50 workshops for 1,200 students in Andhra Pradesh addresses these recommendations. The results have been outstanding. Our key takeaways in designing curriculum for 21st century skills are the intelligent and effective use of technology, along with a multi-disciplinary approach in both the content and pedagogical approaches. We now hope to scale our efforts to 40 schools in Andhra Pradesh as well as 60 CBSE schools in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.”
Dr. Sriram Devanathan, Head, Center of Excellence in Advanced Materials and Green Technologies, Amrita School of Engineering, Coimbatore, highlighted several successful innovations in sustainable development that have been evolved and implemented at Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham. A course on Environmental Studies has been mandatory for all undergraduate students. The institution is also putting emphasis on project-based learning, rather than relying solely on classroom lectures. It offers an elective course called “Live-in-Labs” in which a team of students develops technological or social solutions to problems in rural areas after spending significant field time in villages. There are also summer village internships where students spend two weeks in a village and help solve priority problems related to income generation, sanitation and hygiene, education, agriculture, and water.
Subsequent sessions involved focused presentations (via invited talks) on broad orientation towards sustainable development by Dr. Nikhil K. Kothurkar, Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Amrita School of Engineering, Coimbatore; Innovations in education technologies for enhanced outreach by Prof. Kamal Bijlani, Director, Amrita E-learning Labs & Chief Architect of A-VIEW; United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by Prof. Anju Bist, Program Coordinator, Amrita Self Reliant Village; a creative course on Environmental Management and Sustainable Development by Dr. Sanjay Banerji, Professor Emeritus, Amrita School of Business, Coimbatore as well as numerous contributed papers.
The talks were followed by interactive Q & A sessions, which facilitated development of greater clarity for evolving action items - for design of content, design of pedagogy, alignment with SDGs, incorporation of field work and practical components, sensitization of students and faculty, and holistic perspective to create awareness and knowledge catering to the triple-bottom-line (ecology, economy and equity) - which would then ensure that development addresses all the required dimensions: social, technological, political, cultural, ethical and economic. The seminar was organized under the aegis of the Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) of Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham, by the institution's IQAC Coordinators, Dr. Sriram Devanathan and Prof. Prashant R. Nair.