Time to learn to work WITH machines, not away, or in spite of them

A session on Edu-Novate for Education Sector Transformation unlocked many insights as experts galvanised thoughts and ideas in the DataQuest T-School 2021 DataQuest Higher Education Conference – the big signs – pay attention to communication, to co-existence with machines and to relevance as an educator

It’s a brand-new world. And newness can be scary. Is that something that worries an educator today? How to be future-ready?

As moderator Prabhu Ram, Head, Industry Intelligence Group at CyberMedia Research started asking in the right direction, there are new trends in technology education landscape which can be good signs of what to do next. 

“There is an unprecedented opportunity for higher education,” argued Dr. Vinnie Jauhari, Director, Education Advocacy & Skills Lead, Microsoft. She spelt out many trends like a stronger realisation among institutes to align with industry requirements, and need for up-skilling and tapping industry-relevant curriculum in areas like Cloud, AI and ML. But we have also witnessed that institutions struggle to understand how to leverage technology meaningfully beyond conducting online classes and leveraging technology for better governance. But overall there is a great opportunity for partnership, she surmised.

The biggest concern for the industry is talent-scarcity. Kirti Seth, CEO, IT-ITES Sector Skill Council, NASSCOM avowed that vacancies and salaries are growing but there are not enough people in the realm of technical education. “We have over a thousand universities and over 50,000 colleges in India. We need to look at transformation at the majority level and not at the chosen-few. So clearly, something has to be done. There is a typical feedback on lack of learnability, communication skills and industry-alignment gaps. Those are generic issues. But we also need to confront communication in a big way – specially in STEM education. Now the situation has changed completely when we are in an era of machines and low-code. How will we work with machines? If you cannot express something, persuade something – then your brilliance and that of your solutions will stay hidden. Most students get rejected not because of technical skills but because of communication.” So communication in the context of technical education is so so important – she underscored this part here.

This concern was strongly seconded by Sundara Rajan, Founder and Director, Thomas Assessments India and Market Search India. He added what issues come up as students step forth from initial years to advanced years. “When you are not able to express your thoughts in a cogent way, there is a gap between people who create solutions and who consume solutions. You do not have to be an orator but one has to be able to communicate your thought clearly.”

“Also, we need capabilities and confidence to apply knowledge in areas where India has a challenge – like agriculture, education – that would be great. We need to encourage real-life projects that way.” He suggested.

Sahil Aggarwal, Co-Founder and CEO, Rishihood University expanded on the aspect of technology as a means of transformation. “Think of when the first time paper was invented. Today, we are doing something similar with digital tools. But we did not just focus on paper then. So similarly, we should focus on how to ignite curiosity in students, in order to encourage communication, collaboration. That can be done with a sense of purpose. They should be oriented towards big questions that inspire young talent for solving problems like well-being, loneliness, ecology, healthcare etc.”

These experts also poured in many ideas and tips to elevate the overall readiness edge.

Investment in cloud labs, allowing access to software available in a flexible way, creating mentorship for students, giving customised career choice-guidance, enabling connected experiences – these are areas where technology can be used brilliantly and easily. Today high-level compute and storage infrastructure is available easily and not restricted to a high-end R&D labs. We need to prepare our students to be in this world – where so much is available out there. We need to be enablers, as educators. More so, as the world is completely transformed.

Our role, as an education system, of providing information has changed because information is available everywhere and easily. We are in an age where students can design their own curriculum. We need to accept these shifts, repurpose our roles and add value to the lives of students. We need to be mentors. We need to create new learning experiences.

We have to live the digital life, learn the digital life – because the future is digital.

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