Date(s) - 05/10/2020
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The webinar aimed to decode the national education policy in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Prof. Dr. PR Sodani (officiating), President, IIHMR University, Jaipur initiated the webinar discussion, delineating the objective and vision of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. Session Chair, Prof (Dr.) SD Gupta, Chairperson IIHMR University provided opening remarks, stating that the NEP 2020 was truly transformative. It has emphasised on primary and secondary education, and allowed us to redefine education including vocational education. It has aligned itself with SDGs by aiming to prepare the younger generation to become global citizens. It focusses on lifelong learning and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) have a big role to play for making the same a reality.
Dr. Rajesh Tandon, (Founder-President, PRIA & Co-chair, UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research & Social Responsibility in Higher Education) discussed ways in which higher education can contribute to SDGs within the Indian and global context. He addressed specifically, ways of fostering social responsibility and community engagement in HEIs in India and emerging global approaches for the same.
The first network of higher education which began to engage in SDGs was the Association of Common Wealth Universities in 2013, two years before the SDGs were signed. We have 17 SDGs, and any of these cannot be addressed independently. Looking specifically at SDG 4, the Pandemic taught us two lessons- how poor our health infrastructure was in urban and rural areas; and demonstrated that only local action within local communities by local leaders made a real impact. SDGs can only be implemented locally and it is only the cumulative effect of locally achieving SDGs that the nation or world as a whole can achieve SDGs.
In order for HEIs to contribute to implementing SDGs, they must start from rebuilding and reassessing their curriculums. They must modify curriculums to make them multi-disciplinary. To provide new knowledge solutions for SDGs, it is important to grapple with local realities surrounding students. UGC framed a policy in 2019 which took the approach that in order to teach in a socially responsible manner, teaching must be undertaken in an engaged fashion. Practical solutions can only be found in interaction with local knowledge, and by bringing in different perspectives to address the challenges at hand.
Speaking of the purpose of higher education, Dr. Tandon stated that in recent years, there has been an attempt to treat investment into higher education as a private good, not public good. If we don’t invest public resources in education, it will be disastrous for countries and communities globally. He recalled Mahatma Gandhi’s words on the purpose of higher education, which emphasised the integration of educating body, heart and mind. We often forget the heart and the body, while focussing on the mind. Education systems must integrate all three elements for students to successfully participate in ‘lifelong learning’ at universities in the true sense.
Panellists spoke about the ‘text-context’ relevance in achieving the SDGs. The ultimate goal of education is empowerment. It is not only important to assess the gross enrolment ratio but also the gross success ratio to evaluate how many students meaningfully engaged with the society through their academic courses. Individual excellence must be converted to institutional excellence to achieve the SDGs in totality. The 4 Es- Expansion, Equity, Excellence and Employability are critical for HEIs, as is autonomy which must percolate to the individual teachers within the institutions. Finally operationalising global alliances; more funding for human and physical infrastructure in the education sector; and responsible, ethical research are the foundational blocks on which HEIs can base their actions to achieve SDGs.
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