From Information Provider to Information Processor

Reflecting back on my college days, I sometimes begin to wonder as how much transformation has taken place in our education system. The thought that dominates is always related to the fact that our Universities and the teaching community are frozen in time and not much is taking shape towards reform. Back then the information was scarce and the means of transferring information from one generation to the other generation was from father to son and from teacher to the students. This was good in view of the fact that we did not live in the information age as we do today. Computers were just beginning to come and they were mostly mainframe computers. Desktops were not to be seen and laptops were only being thought off during those days as research fields.

The World Wide Web was not the norm of society as an information source. The dominant role of our University System was to produce babus and clerks for the administrative services. This was a legacy from the British Raj which setup the Indian Universities for the purpose of producing talent for the administration of their Empire in India. Following the exit of the British, the Indian government continued the same philosophy but times were changing and our education system was not keeping pace with the transformation of the world economy. This transformation required a new kind of knowledge for the new generation to be successful in the market place. In fact, every generation requires a new knowledge base to be successful in a changing world. We did not keep pace with the changing times and lost ground.

The role played by teachers, parents and grandparents in the transfer of information is now being played by the world-wide-web. Have we as teachers ever thought that anything that we can teach the student in the classroom in the form of lectures is now readily available on the internet? All that is required is the student does a Google search and he will have all the information at his fingertips. The million-dollar question then becomes “what then is the role of a teacher in higher education?” It cannot be an information provider anymore. Since as teachers we are still driven by the philosophy of providing information, the new generation is lacking the knowledge that is required for success in the current economic system.

So, as teachers in higher education how do we transform our self to be relevant in the current context. I believe that the first most important change will require us to shift from the role of information provider to information processor so as to help in converting information into knowledge and then to wisdom. The ability to translate information to knowledge requires that the focus should be on the applications to real-world situations. This is what I call the movement towards discovery. Moving from knowledge to wisdom will require us to create new knowledge. This is what I call as the movement towards inventions.

The second shift that is required is to gain the understanding that you cannot teach anything to student anymore. As a new age teacher, our role is to help students engage in a learning process and focus on creating knowledge and understanding relevant to the current world order. This can be done by ensuring that all the key senses of the body that help in the learning process are fully utilized. These senses are hearing, seeing and touching. We thus need to shift gears and ensure that our methodology incorporates all these elements.

Of the above three key senses the “touching” is the most critical one as it ensures learning by doing. Focus on this element also ensures that students will not be dependent on their memory but will be focused on understanding by doing things on their own. I suggest a combination of 20 per cent of learning by hearing, 30 per cent learning by seeing and the remaining 50 per cent learning by doing.

Thus, to me personally, there is a major transformation that is required as a teacher in higher education. Maybe, we are not able to go through such a transformation as we are frozen in time and not able to look beyond what and how we were taught in our days of college. It is time to rise and find new ways of doing things as a teacher. One other aspect that has had a bad influence of teaching in higher education has been the fact that teaching has become just another profession, it is just a means of livelihood. We are not the role models that used to be before and there is a need for new thinking on this profession. I hope that we will all give some thought on the subject and start making a difference.

Prof Kamlesh Misra