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Building the New Education Policy’s argument for a liberal arts core in Indian undergraduate education to increase critical inquiry and employability, and towards building a broader thinking on the role of the Humanities in the non-West, one of the grandest challenges the Humanities face in India is a pedagogical one.

Undergraduate education is too often assumed to be irrevocably set in its structures of dividing Engineering from Medicine (such that one cannot even take Biology with Math in class XI and XII) and the further division of the “arts’ from much else.  Such thinking has not only outlived the Macaulay like instrumentalism of an industrial age, but in an era of AI and ML we will continue to ignore larger humanistic questions in general education at our own peril.

An education that provides a scaffolding for inquiries on our specific contexts and the greater human condition will be possible if other conditions are in place: curricular innovation, inspired teaching and in an age of blended learning, a maker culture that lets the student lead the learning journey. To my mind there is no question that a large part of our to-do list is generating resources that can enable learning for students at their own pace, but also in embedded communities of context. There are two direct means to achieve this: 1. Digital Resource Creation for Pedagogy, and 2. Student Research

  • In India, the issue of the digital humanities is related to public humanities work, and the public's access and this often relates to the question of archiving. The digital humanities are as much a function of open access to information as they are to a public demand for the right to know. The archives of the state opening up --such as the Films Division, All India Radio, Open Government Data (OGD), to name a few-- have democratized access to state-controlled information and invite public reflection. Such an engagement is enabled by the digital turn and asks that institutions also re-configure their engagement with this new form of access. 

Emphasis on the need to build archives, and generate digital repositories begs for the need to engage a research corps who will undertake the scholarly labour for not only scholarly but citizenship interest. In institutional terms the digital humanities offers archivists the “past” in several senses--sounds, maps, stories, images etc.  As the National Museum in Delhi and the National Film Archives in Pune embrace a new digital public form, sites like P. Sainath’s People Archive Of Rural India (PARI) and the Indian Memory Project also support popular efforts at archiving private memories. These new ventures underscore the need for improved catalogues to enable easier access and several efforts are ongoing to using online subscription bases toward improving access to information for all in India.

In addition to this, a specific digital pedagogical resource on Indian intellectual history across the ages would serve a crucial need to repair gaps in undergraduate education on the topic of Indian history. If such a course could be mandatory across all disciplines (in the way that the Supreme Court mandated Introduction to Environment studies across all undergraduate offerings and Constitutional Law is taught in several Engineering colleges), a much needed update on citizenship education would also find a place in the curriculum.

  • Since the possibilities to unite inquiry and digital scholarship are indeed immense, my specific interest in digital scholarship is informed by the possibilities afforded by new technologies. Digital archiving is labour intensive and affords opportunities for research. It is an amazing opportunity for higher education in India, as we are collectively engaged in the collaborative production of knowledge, for the demographic dividend in India to be put to work in the name of undergraduate research. I am a total advocate for recognizing the need to fund and encourage undergraduate learning by including research components to change how higher education promotes co-operative learning and the public humanities. Academic development is greatly impacted by experiences in the field, archives, seminars and fora for sharing what has been discovered. In reconfiguring higher education into inquiry-based learning over degree seeking, we will re-create human relevance by driving inquiry in a digital age, when repositories and scholarly annotations are still being created. It is imperative that we not assume interest only from graduate students and instead mobilise the general curiosity of the young, bright undergraduate student to generate new experiments in our time to creating an equitable global commons.

In my own teaching, I engage diverse constituencies from a belief that the undergraduate curriculum is in dire need of a new relevance made manifest through experiential learning and through doing. Towards this end, I have been teaching with digital pedagogical and participatory practices-specifically through the collaborative teachinghumanrights.org and the “Archive and Access” portals online. Through both of these resources, I endeavour to help students engage and shape public debates and to use the transcribed histories to develop a common understanding. We have consequently created online directories of cookbooks, NGOs, children’s literature, Slam Poetry in India and more. Fueled by student interest, we organized a colloquium on digital archiving across institutions in India, which involved the National Museum, National Film Archives of India, Asian Art Archive and many other stakeholders. To our utter amazement no one had ever asked them to engage across institutions though they were all involved in generating digital archives and could have learned from each other’s experiences.

Furthermore, digital humanities pedagogy has a special resonance in postcolonial classrooms. Where on the one hand these classrooms necessarily confront western models of learning, they now also have to engage digital modes of learning. The coming of new online resources and digital platforms has fundamentally transformed traditional classroom approaches and research hierarchies. In several cases, today, researchers expand the scope of the traditional realm curriculum by adding ‘digital’ components and this alters methods of top down teaching. It also creates opportunities for researchers to push the boundaries of their pedagogy and has encouraged students to create ‘live projects’ with the aid of digital platforms. Collectively then we can enhance our insights into different models to generate effective action.

Finally, we need to envision a platform or strategy for bringing together the diverse resources and research materials available in different locations to enable access for teachable and directed inquiry. Also by identifying effective online tools and methods for teaching and learning, and emphasizing instructional design and education technology it is possible the a national re-think away from disciplinary discretion is achieved.

- Prof. Maya Dodd, Associate Professor – Literary and Cultural Studies, FLAME University, Pune

*Views expressed are personal.