NEP 2020 And The Online Platforms For Interdisciplinary Learning

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Much has been written and said about the ideal kind of education. Of late, we have begun to hear the words multidisciplinary learning, and interdisciplinary learning. This has become current all the more so as the NEP 2020 (National Education Policy 2020) brought these up. But what really is meant by interdisciplinary learning?

Let's begin with the first step.
A discipline.

A discipline is not a subject like calculus or history. An academic discipline refers to an entire branch of knowledge like social sciences. Under the main discipline, we study subjects like anthropology, political science, sociology, geography, and law. As and when a learner begins to explore subjects under various disciplines, he begins to create new connections, understandings, and inferences. This is the beginning of interdisciplinary learning, a learning across disciplines which complement each other.

Studying mathematics and statistics, along with geology, creates a specialist who can predict earthquakes, specifically: seismology. Did you know that the colour blue doesn't really exist naturally? Except for a few stones that create the hue, hue is usually an effect of physics. A student who studies this idea, across the two disciplines of art and physics, begins to understand how and why the colour blue is used in solar cells and solar technology. Looking at it another way: when your education covers one topic, or idea, from various angles, across various disciplines, it integrates various subjects.

The current education system does not allow multiple interests to develop. Most of the time students study subjects in siloes. The National Education Policy 2020, has suggested multiple entry and exit points during the learning curve. According to it, "Students will be given increased flexibility and choice of subjects to study, particularly in secondary school". This is another step that will help them "design their own paths of study and life plans". Additionally, there is a greater stress on vocational learning, and not just theoretical knowledge. These three suggestions will help learners to create a learning environment for themselves according to their internal and circumstantial requirements. STEM subjects will connect to humanities and art in this new system. All of this however, in NEP 2020, is still in the planning stages. As of today, the policy needs to be worked out as schools have not yet begun to implement any big changes in their courses.

The current education system focuses on a summative assessment style, which means evaluating the level of the student after a chapter, or after a course, or after a semester

And so, going forward, it still remains to be seen how interdisciplinary learning will be implemented in a digital, or even a physical, environment. The biggest strength that anyone can prepare for this program to be successful is a team of facilitators. A facilitator, or a mentor, is essential for the success of an interdisciplinary education so that he may guide the learners on their journey. The learning is dependent on the interests of the learner, thus making it learner-driven. In such a scenario, the facilitator is not someone who needs to have an expert knowledge of one topic. In fact, it should be someone who has a wider knowledge of many different disciplines and can mentor the learner to make better choices. The one field which would begin to shine here is the Liberal Arts as it encompasses learning across many disciplines and can produce facilitators best suited for this education system. The learning journey itself can happen on a digital platform, or even physically, but what is critical is to have a well-versed mentor guidance.

The next most important aspect of this education system is the content. A narrow, single pointed interest or subject cannot help the student move forward. The internet is definitely a rich trove of knowledge that students can explore. But leaving a student to learn on his own is as unrealistic as asking a child to find his way out of a forest with a 1000 different paths. Access to such a vast multidimensional bank of knowledge is critical, but it needs to be curated by experts. The subjects should be across disciplines and also across various mediums. Learning from a book alone is again a uni-dimensional learning. Audio, video, written, and experiential learning and content combined together in a narrative form would help give a global education.

Another critical aspect is the experience of learning. It should be connected. The barriers or strict boundaries of subjects which alienate one from another are a hindrance to interdisciplinary learning. According to NEP 2020, STEM subjects should be connected to humanities and art in this new system across various topics and ideas. Once the thinking process is connected to different disciplines, the thoughts discover new areas of exploration. The same topic is understood from a different perspective and sparks new creative exploration. This interconnectedness is key to the "inter" in interdisciplinary learning, and this is what sets it apart from "multidisciplinary" learning.

Lastly, the assessment of the learner has to change dramatically. The current education system focuses on a summative assessment style, which means evaluating the level of the student after a chapter, or after a course, or after a semester. A more productive assessment is one that evaluates the commitment of a student to his mission. Of course this is contrary to the current idea of grading students on their marks and percentages in an exam, and might even be impossible to implement on a large scale in the education system in India at the current stage. For students who do choose interdisciplinary learning however, this is probably the only way we can create a holistic assessment of their learning. The end project created by a student across multiple disciplines cannot be graded in a marks-focussed system. It is the commitment to the mission, it is the methodology and the processes that the student followed which must be evaluated, and not the end project.

These changes are probably going to take a long time to be implemented. These are however the right way forward for an interdisciplinary learning. As of today, not many digital platforms, leave alone schools and education establishments, can claim to have the wherewithal to provide such a calibre of education to a vast population. Some startups and edtech firms have however made inroads into this field, and these are the ones that will show the way forward.

How can it be implemented in a digital or physical context?
· It is context agnostic to the extent
· Facilitators / mentors are very important
· Understanding of liberal art
· Someone with a narrow understanding will not be able to merge disciplines together
· Content· Should be multidimensional
· Subjects
· Forms - Video audio written

Student learning should be connected.
· Should help a person flow through the different disciplines /
· It should inspire
· Across multiple thought process

· Should not be summative
· Dialled around commitment of an individual to a MISSION
· In that zone of inspiration which this interdisciplinary education system should lead to.

How to assess commitment:
· Process
· Adherence to his own interest.