New Strategies for Higher Education and Research for New India needed – Prof PB Sharma at AIU VCs Conference
“With all pervading nature of technology and mind-boggling innovations unleashed by the genius of man in the new age of hyper connectivity and knowledge explosion, coupled with the ever-rising concerns for wellbeing of humanity and protection of environmental health, newer models of higher education for the learners of the new age are needed for the New India. The new age offers great opportunities but also monumental challenges, that include major disruptions caused by technology innovations on one hand and the rising needs for compliance to sustainability in all walks of human endeavors. The universities in India, and across the globe are required to gear up to respond to this dire need and shape themselves as the universities of the new age to contribute effectively for the creation of the New India of our dream. New Strategies for transformational reforms in higher education and research in the universities of today are required to greet the new age challenges and make higher education and research a major game changer for creating a new world of blissful engagement and happy living on planet Mother Earth”, said Prof PB Sharma at the AIU VCs Conference held recently at University of Science and Technology Meghalaya. The AIU Conference was inaugurated by former President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind in August presence of Dr Ranoj Pegu, Minister of Education, Govt of Assam, Dr Suranjan Das, President of AIU, Dr Pankaj Mittal, Secretary General of AIU, Shri Mahbubul Hoque, Chancellor USTM, Dr GD Sharma Vice Chancellor of USTM Meghalaya and large number of Vice Chancellors from all over India and also by representatives of Apex Bodies including Association of Commonwealth Universities, AICTE, NAAC and ICAR. Large number of students and faculty also attended the VCs Conference. The Valedictory function was graced by the Governor of Assam Shri Gulab Chand Kataria and the Minister of Education of Meghalaya Shri Rakkam A Sangama, Education Advisor of Govt of Assam Dr N G Mahanta and Shri Atul Kothari, National Secretary of Siksha and Sanskriti Utthan Niyas.
During the last two years, the world has witnessed a devastating impact of the Corona pandemic. Covid-19 that forced nations around the world, without exception, to take force measures including prolonged lockdowns and acknowledge the fact that the power of the microbial kingdom is more lethal and devastating than the power of guns and missiles invented by man so far. It forced businesses and industries to close and left out countless workers to lose their livelihood, and in a country like India even the means of transport came to a grinding halt. It also forced the migrant workers to walk empty pocket with their family to their native places in rural India, that once sent them to the towns and cities several hundred miles away from their natural habitat in search of jobs and livelihood in modern metropolises.
As per the World Health Organization, Corona Virus dashboard, as many as 758.4 million confirmed Corona cases were reported from around the world, that resulted in an estimated 6.86 million deaths attributed to Corona virus. The devastating impact of corona virus on human health was, however, not restricted to deaths alone as its continued influence on human immunity and the threats arising out of the mutations of Corona Viruses are still a matter of grave concern and their impact is yet to be more accurately assessed. But one thing is clear, the pandemic had a pronounced effect on the mindset and the attitude of people towards their life as well as their livelihood. The COVID-19 has also impacted the social life of the younger generation and their aspirations and ambitions.
The universities were shut down and were forced to reinvent the way education is to be imparted to the tech-savvy, new age learners, who embraced technology and tech innovations with ease and speed. These new age learners belong to the 21st Century, a century of people that thrives on the capabilities of its people and on the power of their ideas. For them, PCM does not only mean Physics, Chemistry, and Mathematics but also People’s Capabilities and their Maturity. What more, they belong to an age that offers a smoother and a level playfield, when it comes to acquiring education in the digital age and with the vast body of knowledge being easily accessible to anyone having connectivity and digital devices like laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.
But then Covid-19 was not just to force the businesses, corporates, industries and the universities to shut down but also to send a powerful message to our minds that the way we have decided to develop this world of ever rising consumption, increased pollution and ruthless onslaught and exploitation of nature would not be allowed to continue, as the Nature knows how to herald man’s quest for escalating greed and exploitation of Mother Nature. But then, the lessons learnt during pandemic were swiftly forgotten as life returned to almost normal after the prolonged pandemic. The care and concern for the environment as well as the well-being of the people at large once again became secondary to the urgency of rapid recovery of economy from its deep downfall during the pandemic days.
It is also important to note that the post pandemic world is witnessing global recession and job losses besides causing monumental challenges of reviving the global economy. But one thing is clear that the post Covid world has resulted into ushering a new age, a new world order in which the all-pervasive nature of technology and mind-boggling scientific advancements and technology innovations are forcing us to reinvent the transformative reforms in all sectors of human endeavor, including the way education is imparted and research is carried out in universities and institutions of higher learning., said eminent academician Prof PB Sharma who is the past President of Association of Indian Universities, AIU.
In this new age it is important to focus on creating new avenues for blissful engagement of the vast humanity that includes around 600 million youth below the age of 25 in India alone. These new age learners are looking for a learning environment that make them capable of greeting the new age challenges, capture great opportunities that the new age offers and shape them as outstanding human beings deeply caring and committed to creating a peaceful and compassionate world. The education for the new age must therefore go beyond creating a hype of ML and AI and configure ways and means to create outstanding human beings capable of creating and sustaining a new world order of happy and healthy living on planet Mother Earth in peace and harmony.
In this new world order, education, especially higher education and research in colleges and universities is being increasingly recognized as a major game changer to empower the youth of the world with human capabilities and technologies to sustain our continued march on pathways of human excellence and assure higher levels of sustainability in production systems and services. But then, education cannot and should not merely be focused on economic growth, it should alongside build a caring and compassionate humanity and responsible citizenship that is so essential to create peace, harmony and happiness around the globe, opined Prof Sharma.
New Age- The Age of Uncertainty but also Innovation Infinite
It goes without saying that the new age is the age of uncertainty but also of great opportunities to create a much better world than the world it was in pre-covid times. At the same time, it is also an age of great disruptions caused by rapid growth of innovative technology platforms, but then here it will be important to realize that innovations are a great power to create and create faster and better than the disruption it causes. Hence, the focus of innovation should be to utilize the power of innovation to create a new world in which technology innovations create employment, new demands for energy efficiency and environmental compliance but also great gains for accelerated economic growth and development with sustainability and inclusiveness.
Digital technologies are to be perceived as being a great friend of humanity at large as they promote transparency and trust so vital to create a fair and just global society. But for every great good there is a great threat of misuse and misguide. It would be prudent for the higher education in the new age to pay a greater attention to aspects of cyber security, information integrity and social media responsibility, else the digital technologies assisted by the newer tools of machine learning and AI shall create more misery than the comfort and efficacy they intend to create.
Integration of Ethics and Morals in Smart Machines and Systems Needed:
It is here we need to foster in our universities new tech innovations such as ‘Technologies of Conscience’ for smart machines and systems. We need to develop new, smart, and intelligent devices with embedded technologies of conscience that besides creating the ease of doing business also positively impact the human behavior to protect them and the planet from the misguide and misuse of the enormous power of technology and pave the way for increased sustainability, empathy and compassion, so important for a blissful life on planet Mother Earth. Special attention is needed for development of new tech innovations in the campuses of the universities where the younger minds need to be sensitized about their importance at an early stage of their life.
The new age demands a caring and compassionate leadership that cares for its people, and settles the disputes, if any, by dialogues and coming together with its opponents on a common table to negotiate. War is no solution in this new age of transparency and easy access to technology integrated and smart warfare devices such as smart and intelligence drones and smart surveillance systems capable analyzing and assisting modern warfare. The new age higher education in business schools and management institutions need to focus on creating such a new age leadership that cares for the planet and the people and nurtures the world as one global family akin to Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam, the motto of G20 Presidency of India this year in 2023, said Prof Sharma.
Higher Education for the New Age Learners:
The new age education is to be more about capabilities to assimilate the existing knowledge, cause deep learning and critical thinking to utilize it for performing the work activity most efficiently and most effectively. The education of the new age should be largely about nurturing creativity and innovativeness that people have in their genes as also to provide them with an environment of bringing out their very best and manifest their innate potential of nobility and character skills.
UNESCO at the early dawns of the 21st Century had outlined the need for transformative reforms in education to foster an environment for not just ‘Learning to Know’, but also ‘Learning to Do’ and ‘Learning to Live Together’. The UNESCO report of the International Commission on Reimagining our Futures Together: A new Social Contract for Education (2021) strongly argues that ‘Since wars begin in the minds of men and women, it is in the minds of men and women that the defenses of peace must be constructed”. Naturally, where else other than in educational institutions, we shall have the opportunity to construct such defenses in the minds of our students to avert war and its agonies and create peace loving communities and nations.
Curriculum for Peace and Harmony:
It may be worth realizing what the Nobel Laureate Albert Einstein had said “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.” This tells us about the need to educate youth about the importance of peace and the benefits that come with it. We need to make them understand during their studies in the universities and colleges how to nurture a peace-loving society and practice peaceful coexistence. After all, much of the attitudinal and behavioural transformation takes place in students during their studies, more during their college days when they have an environment of autonomy and freedom to shape themselves the way they wish to be in future. The new age education has thus to, from now onwards, necessarily take on board and that too in substantial manner the education for peace, inclusivity and above all integrity and sustainability. The curriculum for peace, inclusiveness, integrity and sustainability needs to be configured with its universal appeal and it is to be effectively integrated into the overall framework for the new age curriculum. This will also pave the way for designing the strategic framework for education for the new India of our dreams and the new world in which we wish to live as global citizens of a peaceful, happy and a prosperous world.
Research for Inclusive and Sustainable Development
The new age research, like new age education, also need to undergo a transformative reconstruct in its focus and in its goals and objectives. For the last many decades, the university research has been focused on strengthening the industrial revolution and creating mega corporates, in turn, creating great economies. But then economic development alone cannot be the objective of university research. The university research needs to serve the larger objective of creating a fair and just society free from inequality and disparities.
It is here, a renewed focus is needed for research for inclusive and sustainable development. Research that supports the growth and advancement of green technologies and makes circular economy a reality for achieving great goals of net zero emissions and zero waste discharge. Unfortunately, after the Second World War the research in science and technology became more heavily aligned to the needs of the industries and corporates and less towards the needs of society and the calls for protecting the health of the environment and the people on the planet.
Compared to this, the scientific research and technology innovations in ancient India were focused on science of life and technologies for human health and well-being. Ayurveda was the science of healthy life, and the food technologies were a guarantee to nourish a healthy body, a healthy mind and undoubtedly a happy soul. The focus on food and food products was so well integrated with natural medicines and nutrients that formed the basis for good health and well-being for a good 100 years of lifespan for humans. The care and concern for nature and the protection of environment was deeply integrated into education and research in ancient India. We need to go back to these basics and thus reinvent modern science and technology-based tech savvy education and research for the new India and the new world of peace and prosperity. Let the hype of automation, machine learning and AI assisted smart devices and systems not sway away our attention to education and research for good health and well-being for the new age developmental goals.
Our age-old traditions of living a life full of divine bliss and happiness were intrinsically related to paying our greatest attention to regular practice of yoga and meditation, consume sattvic plant and cereal based diet value added with cow milk and milk products, further supported by natural medicines integrated in our food as herbs and spices. These together with righteous conduct and a self-regulated lifestyle created an inspired humanity devoted to cultivating human excellence and utilize human life as an opportunity to serve, innovate and excel. We need to integrate such an emphasis on life sciences in our curriculum for education for new India and research for development of a healthy and happy society.
Today, it is all the more important for us to make our soul happy and obey its commands for leading a happy and blissful life. The soul within us guides us to do good and to remain on the side of a heart full of compassion for others and a mind devoted to innovating and exceling in service of man and Mother Nature. You may ask, in what language does the soul communicates with us? The soul is our best friend, and it communicates to us through feelings and expression of our emotions. When we listen to our soul and follow its commands of righteous acts and good deeds, happiness glows from our face. However, when we act against our conscience and disobey our soul, we feel guilty, and our face reflects that guilt. In the famous Bhagwat Gita, we are ordained to regulate ourselves through self-discipline, “Aatmasanyam”. A happy soul also inspires us to devote our time for classical music, classical performances, prayers to divine and connect with empathy, Aatmiyata with the diversity of the beautiful world around us. A mere walk through the green, in a park enables us to make our soul happy and mind refreshed from all the worries and tensions.
The yoga and the meditation were not merely gymnastics of body and mind but in true sense a time-tested scientific system of creating a healthy mind and a healthy body, as also to cultivate Aatmasanyam, the self-discipline, which holds the key for a happy and blissful life. The Asthanga yoga of Pantanjali Yogsutras, further inspires us to observe and practice Non-violence, Ahinsa, Truthfulness, Satya, Sustainable consumption, Aparigriha, Containment, Santosha, maintain purity of mind, a mind free from ego, yet fully committed to serve the society and Mother Nature. The university education and research should create a profound understanding of the time tested life sciences such as yoga and meditation and should create our abiding faith in the satvik, the righteous way of life that revolves around purity of mind, simplicity of means, integrity of actions and sustainability of systems and processes employed for a happy and healthy construct of a peaceful, compassionate and a developed human society, said Prof Sharma