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March 06, 2018 Tuesday 03:17:32 PM IST


Rajagiri Round Table

How do we as  a community break that eternal binary, that of the either Engineering or Medicine dyad that most parents typically put their children through regardless of the latter’s aptitudes, aspirations, or capabilities, often to disastrous results. Of course, it would be overstating the case if it were to be asserted that such is the societal more.


There are admirable exceptions to the general rule, yet there is inarguably a near-virtuous obsession with putting children through what adults assume ought to be the ‘right’ path when it comes to making educational choices where the young might want to have a say.


The 33rd Round Table looked at ideas that could potentially help our young build fruitful and satisfying careers, often in unconventional and creative enterprise, not only benefiting themselves but also the community by generating fruitful employment and creating an ecosystem of enterprise. They are the code breakers, setting inspiring examples for others to follow.


The Round Table also looked at the systemic issues at the heart of education in general, with particular emphasis on higher education.


The 33rd Round Table was dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased Dr. P. C. Alexander, a founding member of the Rajagiri Round Table and an eminent Paediatrician, who was described as one of the foremost “champions of the rights of children”. Pallikkutam pays homage to the Departed Soul.


C. Balagopal, former IAS Officer, Investor & Consultant: The problem is far more fundamental and is a question that is being asked the world over. What is the purpose of higher education? The current system was built to produce a set of skilled manpower for the erstwhile colonial powers. So, it meant producing a standardised set of people meant to cater to the needs of a colonising industrial power. Unfortunately, the core of the system remains largely unchanged. We need to rethink our model of education. It isn’t carved in stone. Access to education also lies at the heart of the issue. Most importantly, our education system needs to eschew cultivating the fear of failure in our children, for evolution has programmed us to understand failure.


Sijo Kuruvilla, Founder, Rethink Foundation, and formerly Founding CEO, Startup Village Kochi: While we need to rethink the fundamental assumptions about higher education, I believe it still serves a purpose, it isn’t entirely a failed project. Its effectiveness could be one of the key questions. Today educational institutions need to leach ‘learning to learn’ where learning becomes an activity of deeply enriching fun. In fact, we are natural learning machines. Google, for example, gives 20% time to its employees to do creative stuff. In our daily lives, do we get to spend a fraction of it to engage in creativity? There are fabulous new opportunities for the young today where they can pursue their creative ambitions. Passion   needs to lead to some form of meaningful revenue. Finally, aspiration needs to be part of the body and soul of our education system.


Dr. Sindhu Nair, Regional Director, IGNOU, Kochi: The question of the ‘binary’ has been one of an enduring dilemma. There was, of course, a demand-supply dynamic that drove this binary. Today, however, the situation has changed. But what has gone wrong and why do we have such a large number of institutions coming up in the same academic areas? So, there needs to be a need assessment backed by robust thinking. It isn’t surprising that a large number of such institutions are shutting down. The other key question is that of aptitude — what do we do to discover the true aptitude of a young learner? So, there are no methodologies for aptitude mapping. There is considerable peer pressure that skews our choices. Besides, there is hardly any feedback mechanism from say our alumni on the effectiveness or usefulness of what they studied in school/college.


Ramesh Menon, Owner, Dal Roti, Kochi: I believe it is a question of choice when it comes to what academic or career option our young make. In fact, parents need counselling in this area. Aptitude mapping should ideally begin at around Grade VII where the child is empowered to make a choice as regards what he or she would like to pursue in the coming years. Alongside they should be given creative vocational training to help them develop their passions and work towards their dreams.


K. L. Mohana Varma, Writer & Commentator: Change is of the essence. Today, it’s the inability of the parents to respond to change — be it scientific, technological, or cultural — that has brought things to such a pass. Children deserve that freedom to choose for themselves what they would like to pursue in order to help them build meaningful lives and not live through the drudgery of choice made by someone else. Times are changing rapidly and ten years from now our landscape would have changed beyond recognition. Already that change is visible. Who knows our working week could be reduced to three-four days. So, what do we do for the rest of the days? So, the question is how do we empower our young children to comprehend and cope with that change that is already visible in the horizon.


Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran, Director, Rajagiri Media and Professor of Engineering, RSET: Higher education is in essence a training of the mind. That ought to be the ideal. The training of the mind is important because it is that alone which shall give our young the essential perspective to comprehend change that can be overwhelming and exponential. Central to the debate is indeed the question of aptitude. So, our young should be empowered to be able to identify what interests them the most, so that they can contribute meaningfully to community and society.