ANYA stared desperately at her physics exam as she couldn’t remember much of what she had studied the night before. She struggled to make sense of the questions and wondered how the information would be useful. Many students are under the pressure of exams every year, stuffing content without meaning. Much of what needs to be learned to make it through life is not taught within the confines of a classroom. Millions of students who do not perform well academically could do much better if the learning environment were to change to meet their needs and give meaning and purpose to their learning.

The concept of experiential learning took root over 50 years ago, but few of our universities have adopted any semblance of it. By the time students reach university level, they need preparation for careers and life in general. Most life skills require hands-on learning; after all, who can learn to pay taxes or file taxes without trying? Driving, budgeting monthly bills, conducting innovation experiments, entrepreneurial ventures, etc. are all life skills that require experiential learning. Research shows that children retain more through hands-on learning, implying that we can provide a more productive education and achieve better results if we pave the way for it.

We may want to push the boundaries of our education to make it more holistic and relevant to life experiences. Many students leave school or college without learning about other cultures, especially marginalized ones. Yet most graduate without any citizenship experience or knowledge of human rights, which constitutes a peaceful society and conflict resolution. It is tangible needs in the chaotic maze of consumerism, pandemics and wars that are the driving force behind our world today.

How many of our local colleges help students develop their networks while studying? How many put them in touch with industry experts so that they can learn from mentors or get involved in meaningful projects? Traditional internship opportunities are generally rare and reserved for the most upscale universities in our country. The boundaries between industry and academia need to be blurred even more, to allow for a fluid, symbiotic relationship where opportunities arise naturally and not for the privileged few at any given time of year.

How many of our local colleges help students develop their networks?

The present times have seen a massive transformation of organizations, and higher education institutions across the country will be called upon to act to prepare students for the challenges that lie ahead. The role these institutions will play, and the extent to which they respond to the economic and social needs of society, depends less on budgets and infrastructure than on their vision, planning and initiative. Since the 1980s, the internal governance of higher education institutes in Pakistan has been characterized by bureaucracy leading to backward accountability, lack of ethical practices and archaic mechanisms.

The creation of HEC promised to change all that but, as we go through a new shock wave of economic upheaval, it has become clear that our higher education is plunged back into the depths of regulatory constraints. For example, students who could have virtually taken open-book exams – just like the rest of the world – did not have the opportunity here, but were held up, forced to waste time and wait until the end of the course. lockdown until they return in person. exams. As we take our time to meet the need for change, lagging behind the world as we resist the opportunity to evolve, students are wasting precious time.

However, there is a flip side. This time around, the students are much more independent than in the 1980s – they are aware of their own potential autonomy as agents of change and of the possibilities that the virtual world has opened up. Institutes of higher education are not the only canopy in which students thrive – they have borders extended far beyond their country and culture and can now study, live and work in a parallel system. , and sometimes in multiple worlds, where they can connect, collaborate, learn, and earn money from sources other than their own physical environment.

21st century university students are part of a more diverse international community than ever before, and they can leap social hierarchies more easily than their parents’ generation. They are more likely to break away from teacher-centered approaches to interacting with, learning and making a socio-economic impact in their communities, and often through a larger audience and context. There is a lot to be learned from what works in higher education around the world. We can only hope that it will not take us another decade or two to get on the bandwagon.

The author is a Senior Manager, Professional Development, Oxford University Press Pakistan and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK.

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Twitter: @nedamulji

Posted in Dawn, October 31, 2021

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