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Hands-On Learning – The common foundation for education and learning

hands-on1A common debate, in both academic and business circles, is about the value of formal business education compared to that of real-world experience. While there are both staunch supporters and detractors of B-school education, the positive value-add that work experience brings for any professional is well acknowledged by all. The significance of first-hand business experience is something that even the most meticulously crafted theoretical models in business education cannot dismiss. As a result, industry internships during business education have gained substantial importance.

The message is clear: Work experience counts. And this statement is not in conflict with the stand taken by advocates of formal education – as education imparts the skill set that enables an individual to contribute productively to the professional world, and subsequently acquire the experience that is intrinsic to their development.

However, the context of this largely agreeable concept of ‘experiential learning’ is often limited to the professional world, even though its universality makes it applicable to many other aspects of individual development including school education. It’s not the case that the hands-on approach to education is a recently discovered methodology in pedagogical science; the practical aspect of learning has been part of school curriculum from the very beginning, but its role has been relegated to secondary contributor to learning in mainstream education. As mainstream education centralised, hands-on learning saw a diminished level of involvement from both schools and students. This unfortunate trend may be attributed to the established structure for measuring a student’s ability – with performance in theoretical exams largely governing the final measure. Especially in the context of Indian education system, the hands-on approach to education (often labelled as ‘practical exams’) has not been effectively implemented.

Now that there is renewed focus on the importance and necessity of hands-on learning in professional life, the time is ripe for reforms in the education sector, too. The transformation is not as straightforward as a government directive to change the merit system – giving higher weightage to practical exams. That may be a well-intentioned change, but its impact may not be as positive as anticipated; many stakeholders (students, teachers) may perceive this as a knee-jerk reaction that is not well aligned to rest of the ecosystem related to education – the ecosystem that includes later professional career. Such apprehensions can’t be ignored, and demands a more inclusive approach to bring about the required transformation in education system. To start with, the whole perception of a merit system needs to lean more towards learning than term examinations. It is only then that a natural need for project-based learning/hands-on learning will emerge, and will be more willingly embraced by schools and students. Such attitudinal change will require sustained and collaborative efforts from multiple influence centres – government, educationalists, media, NGOs, etc.

The encouraging news is that the establishment is keen on transforming the education system for the better, and there are already some reforms – like going from a marks-based merit system to a boarder grade system for primary school. Even though these initiatives have been started with a different intention (keeping stress in check for young students), they can be linked to the larger transformation programme, and more such measures can be initiated.

‘Learning’ by ‘doing’ – a generalisation for ‘learning on the job’ – is as important during the prime learning years of an individual, as it is in later work life, to set a secure foundation of learning and progress.


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