“Some kind of magic should be offered to students in class”, says Dr. Vijay Joshi, Principal of K J Somaiya College

Dr. Vijay Joshi, Principal – K. J. Somaiya College of Science and Commerce, Vidyvihar, tells Shraddha Kamdar in an interview on student engagement.

He is patient and kind, and personally knows all the special cases of the students who came into the college for admission and have been waiting. He patiently advises the students and parents, and offers his blessings to those pursuing higher studies and asking permission to use the library facilities. He is equally patient in offering the information to his non teaching staff, and does not like anyone waiting too long outside his office. Dr. Vijay Joshi, Principal – K. J. Somaiya College of Science and Commerce, Vidyvihar, an educationist  with lots of experience, has a lot to teach, not only his students, but our readers as well. Excerpts from an interview.

Is there anything that teachers can do within the classroom to reflect the changes in the world, since the syllabus cannot change so often?

Ours is an autonomous college, and to keep our syllabus dynamic and relevant, we review and change it every six months. In the initial stages of setting up, there was a lot of discussion back and forth, but now we review every six months. There are certain aspects of the modern corporate world that the syllabus should look into. For instance, e-filing of taxes has been going on for a while, but the BCom syllabus does not look into it. Similarly, the syllabus does not factor in the popular accounting software ‘Tally’, which is common practice in real life practice.

What else can teachers do?

You see, the teacher is the ‘boss’ or the ‘king’ in class, and they should use that position well to engage the students. Students are often disillusioned because they are not offered anything relevant. That magic should be offered to them by the teachers.

I say that no one is stopping teachers from going beyond the syllabus. The syllabus only guides the topics, but there are no rules for teachers to bring in the current practices. Teachers should use this flexibility to talk about the cutting edge in class and then go back, dwelling on the evolution of concepts. Many teachers are creating that magic, and that’s why you see that their classes are always full, the students do not have to be compelled, they do not ever have any attendance issues.

Do you think that today’s students need that kind of intellectual stimulation?

Students always need stimulation. Today’s students are savvier with the internet, and that’s why they need to be taught differently. I believe that there is an ongoing ‘black market of teaching’. By that I mean that if we don’t teach the students, then they will learn anyway on their own from the net or other resources. That’s why, I think we need to be ahead of that.

As part of this thought process, we have brought in MOOCs as part of the course credits. Students have to mandatorily take up at least one MOOC for three credits. These MOOCs are pre-screened. They are also assessed and given certificates on it. You will be surprised to know that students have gone way and beyond and how! We have a few students who have gone up and learnt from as many as 27 MOOCs. It is like they have discovered a new treasure. The facilitators need to do this. They need to offer options to learn and use every opportunity at flexibility that they have.

How do teachers create constructs of learning?

If I don’t construct an experience of learning and look at only papers and marks, where will there be a moment which touches their heart and teaches them? My job as a teacher is to create intelligent avenues to create the experience where I don’t have to teach them, they learn. For instance, among the many courses that we have on offer, we have a three-credit course where the students have to just go and be with a cancer-patient family at a hospital. They don’t have to offer help or advice, they don’t have to write a paper on their experience, just be there. No matter the student’s background, such experiences, when they see the struggle, are going to touch their hearts. Students see that families at the hospital are from such diverse financial backgrounds. Some are so wanting that they have no choice but to take the family member home, even though they know that the member is going to die. On the other hand, there are families who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and sell away everything to save the patient’s life. You tell me, does this need any syllabus? Not really, only a thought. It is an experience that needs to be constructed.

Can you offer us some other examples?

A simpler example would be to put them in teams and let them figure out how to respect each other and put the team goals ahead of their individual goals. Harvard University is constantly pushing the idea of such peer learning, and we should adopt it. We have a group in college called ‘Saptak’ which unravels a new raga every two months for the audience. But they do it in such a different manner that the students in the audience are engaged, because they gradually take the Bollywood route to explain the ragas.

The youth is the future, why then are youngsters always being panned down by elders?

I have 100% faith in the youth. All they need is a direction to the correct route. We have to keep patience to see that they will achieve their best. One needs to understand from their viewpoint as well, they are under a lot of pressure and stress.

One of the factors of the stress gainful employment after education. Does this trickle into your placement process?

One thing I have done consciously done is stopped inviting BPOs to recruit from our college, so that the students are not attracted towards the pay packet only. I do not want to send a bright student into that rut. Even if my placement numbers dwindle, I am okay with that, as long as I am not a party to ruining the career of a bright student. The other thing that I push after graduation and post graduation is that students should remain with their fields for at least two years after education, even with low salaries. If they stick it out, the higher salaries will follow. I am proud to say that about 80% of our students are still working in the field in which they graduated. I have to tell my students only one thing. I am not here to give you a job, but I will give you the passion with which careers are made.

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