FLAME in the news | March 15, 2021

Today, it is important for students to develop transferable skills along with foundational knowledge in multiple disciplines to bring those perspectives to bear on various issues

Until the onset of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the world barely changed over decades, if not centuries. However, the technological advances of the past 50 years have been so rapid that, from a historical perspective, it can only be described as explosive. These advances include the Internet, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, the continued miniaturisation of devices, biotechnology, material science, non-conventional energy sources, and electric cars, to name a few. The concomitant effects are only too obvious.
Given the rapid pace of change, it is only fair to ask: what educational avenues should one pursue to lead successful careers? The enormous complexity of systems today points to the critical importance of having deep expertise; the sooner one acquires this, the better. On the other hand, because of the substantial years of training required to become an expert, there are natural apprehensions concerning the contemporary relevance of one’s knowledge as what is acquired in college could be outdated by the time one graduates. This dilemma is confounding to not only students but to educators as well.
Holistic view

But there is growing evidence now that specialising too early in a narrow field may be beneficial in the short-term but is detrimental in the long run. As David Epstein explains in his book, Range, successful people with deep expertise have in their early years “sampled” a wide range of fields before they choose their calling. Therefore, not only do they draw upon their knowledge in a specific area but also borrow ideas and perspectives from other spheres of knowledge. Because of their wide exposure, they tend to a take a holistic view of issues and are in a much better position to find innovative solutions to problems.

The skills that are valuable in the 21st century are not just technical. While machines have automated repetitive and predicable tasks, what is critical in today’s age are transferable skills such as critical thinking, oral and written communication, risk-taking ability, teamwork and leadership, power of analysis, to think from first principles and solve complex problems. This has to be coupled with foundational knowledge in multiple disciplines and bringing their perspectives to bear on the issue at hand. This education is liberal, multidisciplinary and holistic and focusses on preparing students for life rather than narrow careers that may disappear in a few years, or months. This is not to say that one only has to be a jack-of-all-trades but to recognise that the route to mastery comes from exploring many paths and learning from each one.
The conventional Indian education system has relied on training people in narrow specialisations. The National Education Policy 2020 rightly recognises that, to succeed in this century, one requires an educational framework that places equal importance on transferable skills that can be applied across multiple careers and that, in this highly interconnected world, humanities or social sciences cannot be studied in isolation from science and technology, or vice-versa.

- Prof. Santosh Kudtarkar, Dean and Associate Professor – Physics & Statistics