Colleges have to bring academics back into graduate programmes.
One is either an outright optimist or self-deluded to affirm that all is well with our college education. The young student after a protective 12 years in school comes to college expecting it to transform him or her into a new human being, capable of experiencing life in all its vitality.
The vivaciousness of youth spans a whole lot of mental and imaginative activities. It is a time for learning and absorption, for involvement and enjoyment, for the carefree interplay of intellect and imagination. Unfortunately, most colleges offer nothing to refine their tastes, sentiments and interests other than preparing them for 'a job'.
In the end, they are let into the world without knowing the relevance of their studies to the life ahead of them.
The disconnect between life and education is never more poignant than in today's college education. The crisis in college education is mainly a crisis in liberal education. This manifests itself in not understanding academics as a composite of Sciences and Humanities, thus depriving education of all sense of unity and wholesomeness.
College education consisting of parts and not constituting a whole turns out students as cogs in a wheel incapable of visualising its full circle.
What we need is interdisciplinary studies towards a wholesome understanding of life. Colleges have to bring back academic studies from narrow specialisations and job-specific courses to broader studies to provide students a glimpse into rarer higher alternatives. Colleges must provide a transforming experience and inculcate in the students a passion both for knowledge and for life. The core curriculum should include the best things that have been said or written to help students develop openness and a deep appreciation of the world in totality.
Apart from academic studies, the colleges should arrange two general lectures everyday by eminent professors and scholars as a part of the teaching curriculum. The topics of these lectures have to be announced every day, enabling interested students to sign up for them. These lectures should relate to ideas and concepts found in outstanding books on Art, Literature and Sciences to give the students profound reflection about man and his world, enabling them to see the unitary wholeness of knowledge.
The curriculum has to be more inclusive, raising fundamental questions that do not belong to a single domain, but integrative of multiple domains, looking at them from different perspectives.
The faculty should be encouraged to design their own syllabus and provide the students with a reading list of books and journals to follow up. By giving this freedom to the faculty to design their own curricula, the colleges will promote in them a sense of ownership of the academic process.
The teacher designs the lecture series to complement classroom instruction. History studies can be linked to lectures on Art and Museology, Literary studies to Music, Theatre and Art and studies in Science to Psychology, Environment and Philosophy.
The idea of liberal education is the cultivation of the whole human being for the functions of life. It involves developing in the students the ability to see oneself as a part of humanity.
Teachers should regard themselves as missionaries of culture to make students the future citizens of the world.
The author is former Dean of Students' Welfare, University of Delhi.
Photograph: Courtesy Careers360 Magazine