Learning through transitions
The College on Wheels initiative of the J&K government presents an opportunity for girls to gain experiential learning and assimilate with cultures across the nation
When Gandhi returned from South Africa to take part in the Freedom Movement, his mentor, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, advised him to travel the length and breadth of the country before participating in any socio-political activity. Gokhale told Gandhi that this country is too large, diverse and complex to lead any movement. To be able to decide on anything, one must travel extensively and meet people, so that one can understand the Indian psyche. What Gokhale advised Gandhi is a long-established pillar of good education. In good academic institutions, we take children on tour so that they can visit places and get exposed to the best practices, and also meet students, teachers and others to be exposed to different ideas, cultures and beliefs. The activity is expensive but pays dividends more than the expenditure.
A decade back, the University of Delhi, under the leadership of its dynamic vice-chancellor Professor Dinesh Singh, had taken up an innovative project by the name ‘Gyanodaya’ (during 2012-2015). The university selected girls for the first Gyanodaya in 2012, who were in the NCC and NSS, from 32 colleges, to be part of the innovative ten-days maiden trip. The objective of the trip was to expose girls to the major establishments of national importance. Later, Gyanodaya also encompassed boys, and the trips were of different duration. The aim of the unique second venture was to “expose, enrich and provide an insight to the students to the Indian Army’s equipment, capabilities, operational preparedness and the way of life to include spirit-de-corps and camaraderie”. Similar other trips were undertaken in the later years till 2015. The last one in 2015 was a visit to the North-eastern states of India.
One needs to understand the educational relevance of travelling, especially for youth pursuing courses in institutes of not only higher education, but also school education. Educational trips are not just a source of entertainment, but also an important learning experience. Those who are widely travelled often take very informed and democratic decisions, for the simple reason that they are exposed to varied points of view.
Professor Dinesh Singh is presently the Vice-Chairperson of the Higher Education Council of Jammu & Kashmir, which is headed by a highly qualified IITan, Lieutenant Governor of J&K Manoj Sinha. The J&K Higher Education Council, with the support of the Government of J&K, has once again conceptualised the first ‘College on Wheels’ for the girls of the J&K, to be implemented by Jammu University. It’s a coincidence that the person in-charge of Gyanodaya was Director of South Campus of Delhi University, Professor Umesh Rai, who is now the vice-chancellor of Jammu University. This time, the initiative will have 800 girls from different colleges of different universities of Jammu as well as Kashmir. One hundred teachers will accompany the girls on the College on Wheels journey. The girls are selected through rigorous competition where they had to submit proposals for study during their journey. The projects, obviously, have components which require field work and exposure to the world outside J&K.
One can see many innovative ideas in the experiment. Girls from different communities, cultures and regions will mingle and study together during the visit. On return, they will form a homogenous group. Two coaches will be converted into library cum classrooms where the girls will discuss in groups and also work on the projects, while the train is on the move. The vision of the National Education Policy 2020 to make graduates self-employable can be realised when the girls with wider exposure to the world outside the classroom and their own milieu return with business ideas as well as ideas of national integration. The train will move through places like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Goa, Bengaluru, Wardha etc., where they will visit places of national pride like Sabarmati Ashram, Indian Space Research Organisation and many others.
After the 2015 visit of Northeast by DU students, they had come up with research papers based on their first-hand experience of the field in the form of papers like ‘Exotic Cuisine of Nagaland: Methods of Cooking and the Medicinal Value of their Edible Flora and Fauna’; ‘Declining Population of Phabou Nga (Puntius Sophore), A Stable Dietary Fish in Manipur: Ensuring Concerns’; ‘Traditional Gender Roles and Changing practices in the State of Meghalaya’ and others. The vision behind the visit to North-eastern states was to bridge the gap between students of different parts of India in DU to the North-east. The planned visit is likely to reap better results as the teams are already created wherein students have identified their topics, and are selected through a competitive process. Another very positive sign one can already witness is that different universities of the state, which normally work in isolation, are collaborating with each other, with Jammu University being the nodal point. Not only the students, but the faculty will also come closer to each other and form interdisciplinary faculty groups which will fulfil the dreams of the NEP 2020 and our Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and help institutions gain better scores in the global higher education ranking framework.
Travelling is a proven academic activity. One will have to wait to see the outcomes of College on Wheels, but it is definitely commendable that the J&K Higher Education Council and the University of Jammu are experimenting and giving opportunities to girls, who often are discriminated against, and the teachers who work in isolation. The potpourri the groups will make will definitely create a homogenous Kashmiri society by the time they return. One of the important ingredients of a good academic institution is interaction with faculty from other institutions and this exercise will definitely promote that. The J&K Government deserves standing ovation for this initiative. Well done!
The writer is Professor of Education at IGNOU and a Trustee of the India Policy Foundation. Views expressed are personal