Youngsters are helping colleges upgrade syllabi, make them more relevant

Curriculum consultants bring a mix of industry experience and fresh perspective to subjects ranging from marketing and sports to media studies.

education Updated: Apr 18, 2018 19:08 IST
Prakruti Maniar
Prakruti Maniar
Hindustan Times
St Joseph's,Bengaluru,Facebook

In the 17 years that span the life of a student, there will likely be a point at which he or she will feel the syllabus is restrictive. Every student, at some time, has wondered whether all that reading and memorizing has amounted to them actually learning anything.

Educational institutions know this as well. One of the ways they’re opening up the syllabus is by getting youngsters from diverse educational backgrounds and work experience to offer perspective on how courses should be taught and what materials to use.

“Curriculum design is a big challenge,” says Fr Daniel Fernandes, principal of the St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Bengaluru. “Often, senior faculty get fixated on the theory they have worked with so far.” It makes for disjointed learning – frustrating both student and teacher. The college has been advocating for younger, professional voices on academic councils for existing courses, introducing new electives and other academic inputs.

Sanjay Ranade, 51, who heads of the department of communication and journalism at the Mumbai University, echoes the point. “Older adults do not have the mental agility to adapt to the digital space as quickly as younger professionals,” he says. “I am on Facebook and Instagram, but I don’t get it, and I cannot keep pace with the many changes.”

The voices

When Bhushan Kumar, 28, started working after completing his BCom in 2010 and chartered accountancy (CA) in 2011. He began in the finance department, in a manufacturing company, and moved on to strategy, over the next five years. He found that there would often be a discord between how management made decisions and how juniors executed it. “I realised that’s also what happens in education,” he says. “I wanted to help, in any way I could, for higher education to keep pace with changing trends,” he says.

In 2016, Fr Fernandes asked him to come on board as part of the academic council, at a time when the college was already looking to add a new elective. They collaborated on an International Business elective for the last year of BCom graduates. “I bought in aspects of finance and supply chain from my own experience in a pharmaceutical company when Brexit happened.” He also recommended that the syllabus have suggested readings from outside the conventional idea of a syllabus, such as Thomas Piketty’s book Capitalism.

Last month Varalakshmi S, head of department of mass media at Jai Hind college approached 25-year-old research fellow Kashish Parpiani for help. Parpiani was a research fellow in American foreign policy at the think-tank Observer Research Foundation and Jai Hind, which is expecting to go autonomous soon, was looking to update its curriculum.

“Several professionals, from film-makers to photographers, are on-board to bring perspective,” he says. “In the two meetings I have had with the college so far, I suggested including International Relations, an emerging area of social sciences in the paper called journalism and public opinion.”

The move, he says will help students understand how statesmen around the world use social media to influence public opinion. He also recommends that Indian classrooms get used to the concept that the America-led world order is changing. “Students should be talking about how China and India are playing a bigger role in the world,” he adds.

Junior inputs

At the MU, Ranade contacted Prateek Singh, 26, for the module on digital media marketing, towards the end of December 2016. “The challenge with anything to do with social media is that even if the syllabus is up-to-date today, it won’t be two years later,” says Singh. The trick was to include current trends that had a basis in historical concepts.

Singh suggested that students read French sociologist Jean Baudrillard to understand what the philosophy of hyperreality, a phenomenon played out in social media. Drawing from his recent experiences designing brand campaigns, Singh set an assignment in which students had to read the terms and conditions of the social media app they use the most, and simplify them. “A syllabus cannot be fixed, but certain reading patterns and habits can be made mandatory,” he says.

Harsh Desai, 24, an advocate at Bombay High Court who also owns an advertising company, took an interest in academics after working on a play about India’s teachers and teaching schools in 2012 and 2013. He researched education theories for the school-level and realised that there was scope for change. He took a class in creative writing at the Harkisan Mehta Institute of Media, Research and Analysis.

Then, in 2016, when the National Academy of Sports Management (NASM) introduced a UGC-recognised bachelor’s and master’s in sports management Desai was one of the people who helped them draft a robust, local curriculum. “I used my background in education to determine what should and shouldn’t be taught,” he says. He included examples such as how Brazil hosted FIFA in 2014, and how it impacted the economy. “Such case studies expose enthusiasts on how sports affect a nation’s fortunes, and how they can find a career in it,” he says.

A win-win situation

Antara Sengupta, education research fellow at ORF, says that as colleges go autonomous, involving ex-students, who have had some industry experience serves two purposes. “It creates a strong alumni base, which will then help create an ecosystem of knowledge transfer,” she says.

She cites the example of IIT-Bombay, which does this with some success. “Whether it’s help with start-up incubation or academics, alumni are very involved, helping and guiding students.”

Fr Fernandes says that more than anything, it is your own expertise in the field of study that helps. “This expertise should rest on your ability to analyse the future, to spot trends, patterns and be able to give inputs on those lines,” he says. Recent experience is a great complement to established theories in a subject. “Do some research on schools of education, to understand what approaches have been introduced, what has worked and what has not,” adds Desai.

First Published: Apr 18, 2018 19:08 IST