Prof. Suhas Pednekar, Principal – Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga East, talks of the importance of team skills among other things in an interview with Shraddha Kamdar
He is as calm as he is dynamic. That his leadership has brought so many laurels to his college, is just the mark that shows he means to reach those heights that benefit his students. Apart from winning laurels and grants at various levels, the college has its own position among students who want to excel in academics in the science and arts streams. Such is the dynamism of Prof. Suhas Pednekar, Principal – Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga East.
Prof. Pednekar emphasizes that as far as Ruia is concerned, the imparting of education has always been student-centric. “It is multidimensional, holistic and inclusive,” explains the experienced educationist. He says that the numerous options (more than any other college) available to students in the fields of science and arts make the college multidimensional. Talking of holistic development of the students, he emphasises on the development outside the classroom through associations and activities, over and above academics. “Ours is the first college to establish a Centre for Mindfulness and Well-being. The idea is to organise innovative and insightful programmes to impart valuable life skills to the students. The programmes work to create a better inter- and intra-personal harmony through enhanced emotional and spiritual intelligence,” he says. Apart from that, the college also promotes the study of foreign languages, with the French Department of the college and the foreign language centre which offers open courses in Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and German. The academician feels that keeping in mind the global nature of business, being adept at a foreign language could certainly be an advantage for the students.
Moving on to explaining the inclusive nature of education and systems within the college, Prof. Pednekar says that it is not merely limited to following the resolution policy to accommodate students from all strata of society. The college has gone beyond that and established special facilities for different students. In fact, Ruia was among the foremost colleges to set up infrastructure for visually impaired students and has also a fully functional slum study centre. “In fact, we have instituted a scheme called ‘Each one adopt one’ for the economically disadvantaged students,” he explains.
As we talk of blending the aspects of academic and personal development of the students, the Principal talks about the research thrust of the college, which is rarely seen among many undergraduate colleges affiliated to universities. “It is a differentiating factor, since undergraduate colleges are supposed to focus on the academic part, that is, study and exams. But we at Ruia have a strong research culture in both streams. Currently, we have 29 research supervisors and over 120 registered PhD students. Over the past years, more than 650 candidates have successfully earned their PhD degrees with Ruia College. The support from the Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India in the form of the Star College Status and the grant that goes with it has helped a long way in this achievement,” he says, adding that 12 departments in the science stream are offering doctoral degrees whereas three departments in the arts stream. Another three in the arts stream have applied for sanction for offering PhD degrees. It is indeed quite a remarkable feat to have so many candidates in the arts stream opting for research in a country like ours. In fact, a professor from the US has instituted a scholarship for the Ruia students which will cover all the expenses of a PhD student to present a research paper anywhere in India, which provides a clear incentive for the students to work harder towards their research.
Prof. Pednekar is of the opinion that one of the major lacunae of our education system is that it is unable to provide a proper blend of knowledge and skill. According to him, the skill component is lacking a lot, and has affected the number of opportunities that students have after they graduate. “We are making an effort to bridge this gap in our own way, by tying up with industry partners to provide the skill component. It can be done through a series of lectures as well as the internship component.”
On the same lines Ruia is the only college in Mumbai to have set up the DDU Kaushal Kendra, the flagship programme of the prime minister. The college has received a substantial grant from the UGC to introduce three new programmes leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and even going up to PhD, if the students are interested. These include Bachelor’s in Pharma-analytical Sciences, Bachelor’s in Green House Management and Bachelor’s in Tourism and Travel Management, which are now running as full-fledged programmes in the college.
As a logical next step, Prof. Pednekar explains that in the quest for better higher education, the college has now signed an MoU with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania State in the US, and last year 20 students and six faculty members including him visited six universities in Pennsylvania state in the US. “The idea is to look into student exchange, teachers’ training, teachers’ exchange add after we attain autonomy, we are also looking at introducing 2+1 twinning programmes with these universities.” The process for autonomy for the college is already initiated and in place.
When I ask him for a few everyday pointers for teachers in the classroom, apart from the initiatives set up by the college, Prof. Pednekar says that the teacher now has to be a facilitator rather than a dictator. Teachers have to now make an effort to make the classes more interesting and figure out how to teach the same things differently. It could be learning through ICT-enabled techniques, simulations, quizzes or role plays, but something has to be different to attract the students to the classroom every day. “I know it is a challenge for a college in general since all teachers may not be able to implement this for all subjects, but we can try to do our best,” he says.
To enhance the understating among students, the college is now looking at using the senior (master’s level and PhD students) to mentor the undergraduate students. “Teachers of course serve as mentors, but the camaraderie between students is quite different. This kind of peer mentoring yields different perspectives altogether,” Prof Pednekar says.
Moving on to saying something to the students, the professor stresses the need for students to pick up skills hands on via participating in activities and clubs, of which Ruia has 35. Students pick up different skills, like taking on and fulfilling responsibilities, leadership qualities and working harmoniously within teams. “Coexistence or no existence is the mantra,” he says, talking of how in the industry professionals need to work in conjunction with colleagues. He emphasizes that there is something much more beyond classroom teaching and students need to realise that. His message to the students is to reach out to society and understand the common problems and working towards solving them. “You need to be proactive and build a sense of belonging towards the institute, the society and the nation,” he tells our student readers. He says that education has two purposes – one to discover ourselves. The other, to transform a mirror into a window. “When you look into a mirror, you see yourself. When you look out of a window, you see the world around you. You realise that you are not alone and that you need to give back to society.”