Unifying knowledge through multi-disciplinary and holistic education

Multi-disciplinary education will be offered to build character, persona, intellect, physique, positive insights and outlook of learners, transforming them into versatile and well-rounded individuals
"Education must create all-rounders who serve like champions in every walk of life." [Representational Image]
"Education must create all-rounders who serve like champions in every walk of life." [Representational Image] Flickr [Creative Commons]

National Education Policy (NEP-2020) seeks to bring a paradigm shift and a revolutionary change in the way education is being imparted in the country.

It envisages to promote multidisciplinary education at all institutions of higher learning including universities, colleges, standalone educational institutions like IIMs, IITs, NITs etc.

Main aim behind converting all streams of education into multi-disciplinary form is to produce multi-dimensional well-rounded individuals equipped with all types of knowledge, skills, competencies and know-how about life, people, places, arts, sciences, languages and technologies too.

Apart from building capacities, enhancing abilities, shaping attitudes, promoting aptitude and proficiency, improving motivation and efficiency, multi-disciplinary education will be offered to build character, persona, intellect, physique, positive insights and outlooks of learners and transform them into ethical, rational, compassionate and caring citizens, while at the same time preparing them for rewarding and contributing employment that enables them to leave a rich legacy behind and pay back to the society in one positive form or the other.

Education must create all-rounders who serve like champions in every walk of life. That is the aim and objective of multidisciplinary and holistic education that will be offered in the NEP-2020 era.

Multidisciplinary and holistic education aims to develop diverse capacities of human beings including intellectual, aesthetic, social, physical, emotional, interpersonal, humanistic and moral capacities in an integrated manner.

This type of education will help develop versatile and well-rounded individuals who are well-equipped with twenty first century skills and capacities in diverse streams including arts, humanities, languages, sciences, social sciences, professional, technical and vocational fields, who nurture an ethic of social engagement, who possess foundational soft skills like communication skills, work and life skills, quantitative aptitude (numerical literacy), language and IT proficiency (digital literacy), ability to discuss and debate, capacity to critically analyse things, orientation to think creatively and innovate, apart from obtaining specialization in their chosen field of study.

This type of multidisciplinary and holistic education will in due course of time be adopted in all undergraduate and post-graduate programmes, including those in professional, technical and vocational disciplines.

Some people raise a question as to how it is practically possible for a person to be an expert in each and every field, fearing that it might lead to an overlap of multiple disciplines causing some kind of confusion and chaos.

Here it needs to be clarified that essentially there are five stages of skill acquisition viz., novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and an expert. Multidisciplinary and holistic education does not envisage to make everyone an expert in everything.

Rather it aims to make the learners understand and know something about everything, many things about something and everything about one thing.

It envisages to make them knowledgeable and competent in several areas but proficient and expert in only one of their chosen areas of specialization, by making a choice of one major and two minor subjects with honours or research at undergraduate level followed by one or two-year post-graduation programme with research.

Such type of multidisciplinary education will steer the learners through a lifelong, continuous and an ongoing process of self-awareness, self-discovery and self-actualisation.

Many of the social, cultural, economic, demographic, ecological, environmental and geographical problems existing in the world at present require multi-disciplinary approaches.

As per NEP-2020 there have to be no hard separations between arts and sciences, between curricular and extra-curricular activities, between vocational and academic streams. In order to eliminate pointless hierarchies among disciplines and dismantle silos between different areas of learning, NEP-2020 promotes multi-disciplinary and holistic education with a broader aim to foster unity and integrity of knowledge besides duly recognizing, identifying and nurturing the unique capabilities of every student, by sensitizing teachers as well as parents to promote each student’s holistic development in both academic and non-academic domains.

By the year 2040, all higher education institutions shall strive to become multidisciplinary institutions, each of which will have 3000 or more students. There shall, by 2030, be at least one large Multidisciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERU) in every district of the country.

It seeks to convert all standalone educational institutions including IITs, IIMs, NITs into multidisciplinary educational institutions by the year 2035. As per NEP-2020 document “yet another aim of multidisciplinary education will be to inculcate a sense of deep rootedness and pride in India through an understanding and appreciation of its rich culture, ethos, traditions, diversity and contributions to the world of science, mathematics, literature and knowledge. It will promote quality education through personal accomplishment and enlightenment, constructive public engagement and productive contribution to the society.”

While stepping into the domain of multidisciplinary education and research we need to demolish the compartments in which academicians have been working so far and dissolve the compartments in which knowledge has been constrained. Knowledge is an ocean that knows no boundaries and hence cannot be confined into compartments.

Rising above their subject specific domains and discipline-specific empires, academicians need to intermingle and come up with integrated, collaborative, trans-disciplinary research problems and collectively devise holistic solutions to those problems with a view to simultaneously address multiple dimensions of the problems being faced by the human kind, resolve them and make this world a better place to live. It is said that narrow disciplinarians often commit errors that can be best detected by people familiar with two or more disciplines.

Therefore, “undisciplining of knowledge” is a need of the hour and churning out “undisciplinarians”, who don’t follow only one discipline of knowledge throughout their life, is what NEP-2020 intends to achieve.

Even Vedas and other ancient religious scriptures, Hadith, verses of Holy Quran profess and preach unity and integrity of knowledge and beseech us to explore nature holistically and seek knowledge of all kinds.

There are several levels and forms of multi-disciplinarity including trans-disciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, cross-disciplinarity, pluri-disciplinarity and multi-disciplinarity depending upon the balance of influence, degree of communication and cross-contact among the collaborating departments.

It should not be merely a juxtaposition of diverse streams but an effective, meaningful, productive and fruitful integration leading to synergistic accomplishment of goals and targets.

From sociological perspectives ‘transdisciplinarity’ is a better term to use than ‘multidisciplinarity’ though both of them more or less mean the same.

Those colleges having multiple departments and teaching faculty belonging to diverse streams at present can swiftly evolve and emerge as multi-disciplinary educational institutions whereas those colleges having fewer departments and lesser diversity in subjects can form clusters and collaborate to offer multidisciplinary education to students provided their geographical location and distance from each other favours the idea.

In the event of distant locations of such colleges, schedules and time tables can be framed in a manner that support learning from different colleges on turn-by-turn basis completing one subject at one place at a given point of time and then switching over to the next institution.

It is said ‘where there is a will there is a way’. Every hurdle in its implementation can be overcome provided we have the will and motivation to do the same.

At present we are in the implementation phase of NEP-2020 and the time for its criticism is over. At this stage only scope for discussion is in relation to the ways and means by which we can implement the policy.

As per the conceptual framework of policy implementation any discrepancies or shortcomings of the policy that might emerge during the course of its implementation can be addressed during the terminal phase of policy review and revision that follows its implementation and continuous monitoring phase.

Therefore, at present we all need to pool our collective wisdom and sincere efforts to chalk out an action plan on how to successfully implement the policy.

All higher educational institutions need to prepare their Institutional Development Plans (IDPs) for identifying their areas of change, prioritise them, undertake their needs and constraints assessment and strategize their policy implementation through well-defined short, mid and long-term goals.

They need to fix their targets, devise their own target indicators and milestones, fix timelines for achievement of those milestones and assign roles and responsibilities to their staff members for timely implementation of the policy.

Every institution needs to undertake its SWOC analysis in order to be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges in implementing this policy.

They need to put forth their requirements vis-à-vis infrastructure, manpower, funding, statutory approvals etc before the concerned departments and authorities in order to get going with the implementation of the policy.

Though it might appear a bit difficult at this time, however, by dint of our hard-work and determination we will surely achieve our targets.

Based on the excerpts from a talk delivered by the author during two-day National Conference on “NEP-2020: Preparedness and Implementation”, organised by the Higher Education Department of J&K at Govt. College for Women, M.A. Road, Srinagar on June 27, 2022.

Author teaches at the Dept. of Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Kashmir)

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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