Where knowledge and economy meet

Tags: Op-ed
Where knowledge and economy meet
Biplav Banerjee
LEARNING CURVE: The quantitative development of higher education is an accepted reality in emerging economies. This has given rise to general educational universities instead of focused research institutions
In the 21st century, the education sector faces many challenges never ever encountered by previous generations of teachers and managers of education. The principle reason being knowledge which is at the centrestage for development of any nation. In order to lead successful life in this century, youth now need three new skills — the ability to learn, the ability to change and the ability to accept — to stay ready for the challenges ahead.

The young generation must learn how to learn so that they can manage the ever-increasing body of knowledge. It must also develop skills to adapt to change because the 21st century represents change and what is demanded now is not only being able to adapt to change, but in turn, become agents of change too. The youth need to accept their role as citizens of a global society, which is a reality of this century, thanks to the technology revolution.

Advanced societies are in the process of transforming from industrial to knowledge societies. This means that social realities are now being shaped by knowledge-based processes and reflective enlightenment. The society and the economy are concentrating more and more on knowledge. Reflective enlightenment is evolving from the principle of unchallenged feasibility held by traditional rationalist enlightenment to a questioning of feasibility characteristic of post-modernity, which as yet only knows what lies behind, but not what lies ahead of it. A new relationship has emerged between knowledge and economy. A nation that has the capacity to generate new knowledge and skilled human power to convert knowledge into a useful and value added entity is going to be a wealthy nation.

This is possible if the nation has a well-developed education system, a system that creates ‘knowledge workers’ at various levels of skills and expertise through impartation of pertinent and quality education. The education process is not fully nation-specific confined to its geographical boundaries but has traces of internationalisation too. The system is undergoing a structural, and more predominately, a disciplinary change.

The delivery of education itself is now different mainly because of enormous influence of technology in teaching and learning processes. Today, it is seamlessness, which means abandoning the boundaries in every facet connected with education. It is the intertwining of the disciplines to make learning process more akin to expectations of knowledge linked work and social scenarios.

Even though the term ‘education’ per se has been around since the 15th century, terminologies such as ‘higher education’ truly became more dominant in the second half of the 20th century. Since the late 1950s and early 1960s, nations started talking of economic growth — a conviction that got further momentum in the past two decades. It became a wise thought to create structures that support diversity within the educational system.

Altogether, we note a move away from relatively extreme structural alternatives of the 1960s wherein the ‘one subject, one discipline’ approach was replaced by more moderate alternatives in the 1970s, when the range of models could be named the ‘diversified model’ on the one hand and ‘integrated model’ on the other hand.

According to the former, which became more popular, differences in quality, status and content should be substantial, whereas according to the latter, which did not gain popularity in many countries, those differences ought to be kept in bound. But today, a consensus seems to have emerged that borders between the fact that various sectors of the higher education system ought to be blurred and that a certain degree of permeability of educational ladders ought to be ensured.

Such blurring of boundaries between core subjects confined to a discipline to multiple core subjects from different disciplines and the possibility of creating permeable opportunities between fundamental knowledge-based and application-oriented skill education has brought in new dynamics in the structural format.

Today, one easily talks about a credit-based modular structure that allows greater flexibility both for academic development and for students to be a part of knowledge revolution. Such a “functional approach” in no way undervalues prime attributes of universities — a centre for learning and for expansion of boundaries of knowledge — but rather brings in more ‘internationalisation’ promoting larger global cooperation and mobility, both of experts and students.

The quantitative development of higher education —more popularly used term is ‘expansion’ — is now an accepted reality in emerging and developing economies. This has given rise to exclusive educational universities instead of focused research universities. It is the clever, innovative and effective use of technologies to bring in the so-called “uniform spreading of rich contents that retain a quality and rigour in learning processes to each student” has brought in concept of “anyone, anytime and at any place” at a global level.

This transformation, in no way, reduces the importance either of teaching or that of research. Indeed, in knowledge-linked economies, both these aspects are so important for enhancing social uniformity that one must cultivate the culture of research with a strong linkage with learning processes.


(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)


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