Webinar on “NEP-2020 and STEM Education”
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The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a milestone document for the growth and development of the nation. Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) has thus taken up issues arising out of the NEP-2020 which have a rather long-term bearing on the country’s development, and organized a series of webinars on the same.

The third webinar in the series focused on the theme NEP-2020 and STEM Education and was conducted on 18 November 2020 from 03:00 pm onwards. The webinar was initiated by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF. In his welcome address, Dr. Gupta stated how education was important not just for nation building but also for national security. He also mentioned that with the same concern Prof. K. K. Aggarwal had earlier spearheaded a report on STEM education available online on VIF website. The NEP 2020 also took some cue from the same, so now we would like to understand how the NEP 2020 policy deals with STEM education. Currently, Science & Technology is playing an extremely important role in every sector, be it health, social or economic. So to take a holistic look on national security we need to understand where we stand in STEM education and how the National Education Policy deals with the same. According to Dr Gupta until and unless we build our universities and make Science and Technology popular right from schools, it will be impossible to realise the National Education Policy in its entirety.

Dr. Gupta also welcomed the distinguished panellists Prof. K. K. Aggarwal, Chairman, National Board of Accreditation (NBA), Distinguished Fellow VIF and Former Founder Vice Chancellor, GGSIP University, New Delhi; Prof. Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, All India Council for Technical Education and Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. Dr. Gupta then invited Prof. K. K. Aggarwal to address the house with his introductory remarks. He stated that how during the last two years VIF realised that taking care of long-term national goals like national security was impossible without producing the right kind of personnel. Hence, in March 2019 VIF first brought out a publication on STEM education much before the NEP 2020 came on the scene. According to him, policies are an evolution of several years of efforts by multiple key organisations. Similarly, the AICTE and DST etc. have already started taking numerous steps for the popularization of Science and Technology across the country. Unless we bring Science and Technology into the central nervous system of every citizen, we cannot ensure holistic development of the nation. Our Constitution has also mandated the development of scientific temperament as a fundamental duty of every citizen, but sadly, our youth is far away from the same. Prof. Aggarwal also highlighted how STEM education has now expanded into STEAM where the extra ‘A’ is argued by some to be ‘Arts’ and by some to be ‘Agriculture’. However, he feels both are correct. The extra ‘A’ actually integrates the basic theme of STEM into the multi-disciplinarity of the NEP 2020. The National Education Policy has also raised many questions like: How do we expect young children to learn from computers? For this, Prof. Aggarwal stated that computational thinking here does not mean writing algorithms, it means decomposing a complex problem into simpler parts to solve it. Similarly, the concern that multi-disciplinarity will also not lead to any stream was also wrong, as the term multi-disciplinarity actually implies the platform for designing a framework for several specialised courses which may be interdisciplinary in nature.

In today's world, people are already talking about smart living through the smart cities, smart University Campuses, smart cars, etc. If we redesign our existing 4 year B.Sc programme into different possibilities it would cater to the interest of different learners thus producing much better workforce. This would also preserve many of our lost abilities like pictorial thinking, observing the nature etc. Prof. Aggarwal reiterated that implementation of the NEP 2020 will take us closer to the realities of life.

Next, Prof. Sahasrabudhe started his address by mentioning that attitude creation for STEM education was equally important for its adoption. He highlighted how NEP 2020 beautifully integrated the critical thinking and reasoning ability of the left brain with the artistic abilities of the right brain. A driving force for STEM education also actually comes from applied arts. Ancient India immensely used power of observation in the absence of advanced tools and machinery. Hence, the multi-disciplinarity in education propagated in the NEP 2020 is deep rooted into our ancient practices. It further implies that one will focus on a specific discipline while learning from others too, thus making an individual useful for the society without restricting his/her abilities. Hence, no longer will a mechanical engineer be only a pure Mechanical Engineer. Instead, with the evolution of Technology, they would possess all desirable abilities. Swami Vivekananda had also pointed that education is nothing but the manifestation of perfection already in man. This manifestation of perfection is important just like holistic education and can be attained by building the proper infrastructure for the same. To be competitive in this world the government has also propagated the idea of Atmanirbhar Bharat for which appropriate research in Science and Technology is the key to drive the nation. The actual empowerment of STEM education lies in the development of facilities like Virtual Labs etc which will create a framework for promoting research to develop India into a country that can again produce creative scientists of the level of Nobel laureates, like in the past.

The next speaker was Prof. Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary, Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. At the outset, Prof. Sharma stressed on pulling in young people into policy-making and discussion. According to him, education is the most important subject and has always been the foundation stone in our country. However, modern education is more influenced by the industrial age. Our current education should be dynamic enough to allow us to adapt to the new technological changes like Industry 4.0. Data is also the new important requirement in the present times and creation of useful data requires much more time and energy as compared to algorithm building that works on this data. Currently, research is also happening at a very fast pace and technology is the new master. We have to live with the present scenario and adapt to a lifelong capacity to learn and apply it to problem solving. With the rise of industry, knowledge got bound into impenetrable zones which further destroyed the common sense of most people. Hence, we need to be trained to solve a multi-dimensional problem maybe through an open book exam. Our present University structure is faulty and the National Education Policy will make us bold enough to face the new challenges and problems of the present times. After the Covid-19 pandemic disappears, we may still face many problems like sustainable development, individual security and global security. All these challenges will be thrown up quickly on us and our capacity to adapt to them will be important. Our higher education is also currently at its weakest. Many PhDs cannot even communicate as building communication skills was never a part of STEM. All these challenges need to be catered to effectively. We need to ingrain the problem-solving ability into higher education.

Prof Sharma also reiterated the Pareto principle which applies to every society that 20% people do almost 80% of the work. But his concern was if we are actually producing even the required 20%. Hence, education is not just taking exams and getting a job. The Science, Technology and Innovation Policy 2020 is now in the making. He further concluded by explaining how the three cultural elements of Atmanirbhar Bharat namely self-confidence, self-respect and self-introspection are also the major elements of education.

Dr Gupta thanked Prof. Ashutosh Sharma for identifying the actual maladies of our current system. With this Dr Gupta opened the house for interaction by putting forward a few questions: Who answers the questions raised about the weaknesses highlighted in the present system? What are we doing to ensure that all good aspects of the National Education Policy 2020 will be implemented? Even when India was enslaved we managed to produce Nobel laureates, which we have not produced since Independence. Will the NEP 2020 help us achieve this? The role of teachers is extremely critical but how do we ensure this? We have a huge number of students coming into the University system which is problematic in every sense as to how do we provide the required student-teacher connect and infrastructure? Formal education is a major concern but what about informal education, why is this recognition missing?

Prof. Sahasrabudhe highlighted that Prof. Sharma's three critical elements of education answer most of the queries as the individual spirit and attitudinal change in teacher’s perspective is required to properly implement the NEP 2020. The role of the teacher is more significant and the student-teacher ratios etc are immaterial. Further, with the multiple entry and exit criteria in NEP 2020, the informal education has also been taken care of. The AICTE is already providing a number of courses for teachers to improve their skills. The number of students in higher education institutes will increase manifold in the upcoming years with our growing population and our objective of achieving higher GER. Hence, socially, there are challenges but they can be effectively overcome through the proper implementation of the National Education Policy and the newly discovered digital education tools. The industry-institute connect which was missing in the conventional system is also being adopted in the present times and the government is also providing internships to overcome the gaps.

Prof. Ashutosh Sharma next highlighted that mass education though challenging is the reality of the future. The responsibility has to be shared among teachers and students alike, where students will also have to be self-learners. As learning is primarily the responsibility of the students who need to be responsible for their own actions. Further, special people should also be offered special avenues for growth. For the specially gifted people like the great Ramanujan, there need to be offered avenues because they will make actual critical transformations possible. Schemes for scouting the gifted with angularities are required. We must focus on the strengths of people rather than their weaknesses and what we can as a society offer to them for their growth.

Dr Gupta thanked the panellists for their detailed answers to the questions posed and invited more questions from the audience. Prof. Kasim raised an issue that in our country there is a complete diversity in terms of education and industry, until and unless we bring these two sectors together how can we actually realise the NEP 2020? Further, creating trained teachers throughout the country is also another challenge. In response to this, Prof. Aggarwal stressed that the teachers remain the focus point for STEM education though until and unless we change the mindset of the teachers the battle cannot be won. The teacher should be a well wisher for the student as the actual implementation will be at the hands of the teachers finally.

Finally, Dr Gupta invited Prof. K. K. Aggarwal to give his final words and close the session. Prof. Aggarwal thanked Prof. Sahasrabudhe and Prof. Sharma for their detailed deliberations. He also stated that STEM is a state of mind which we will have to imbibe. So, like Einstein said, if I am given 20 days to solve a problem, I will take 19 days to think how to solve it and present the solution on the 20th day. We also need to adopt the same ideology for problem solving rather than going the other way round. Prof. Agarwal also urged that we will have to optimistically adapt ourselves to whatever future is known to us. STEM education is something which has to grow and which will grow. The only desirability is that we should adapt to it gracefully. All current technologies like the blockchain, IOT etc are multi-disciplinary, which actually is the way real life is. Thus, the webinar shed light on the STEM perspective of the NEP 2020.

Event Date 
November 18, 2020

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