“Education Is More Than Just a College Degree” - Khushboo Soni




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1. Tell us more about your experience as an educator.

I formally began my teaching career in 2016 as an assistant professor, teaching English Literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University. However, I have been teaching informally for a decade now. 

I have taught a wide variety of students across disciplines – including sketching to 5 years old children, to Mathematics and Accounts to 12th standard students while in college first year, to English Literature to Masters students while doing masters myself.

For the past 3 years, I have been exclusively teaching English Literature working as an assistant professor in various colleges of Delhi University – including Miranda House, Shyam Lal College, Atma Ram Sanatan Dharam College and Shivaji College – for the past three years. I have also been a Fulbright fellow at University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA, and as part of my Job, I have taught Hindi to American graduate students there. 

I have been an educator all my adult life and this has been the most fulfilling aspect of my life and career. In my experience, I have learned more as a teacher from my students and their unique perspectives that they compelled me to think from, while I consider my role to be more of a facilitator in their own learning rather than an imparter of knowledge.


2. What is your opinion of the Indian education system and how would you like to change that?

My idea of Indian education system stems from and is shaped by my experience of studying and teaching in the two best central universities of India – Delhi University and Jawaharlal Nehru University. As an undergraduate student in Hansraj College some eight years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best professors and had a wholesome learning experience in my formative years.

I found both DU and JNU excellent for undergraduate and postgraduate studies, respectively, as a student. However, in the past few years as a lecturer in these very same universities, I have been witnessing a downfall of not just these universities in particular but Indian education in general. There are clear attempts to push for privatization of higher education in India.

One can already witness a number of private players in the field of higher education (Amity University, Ashoka, O P Jindal and the nonexistent ‘institution of excellence’ JIO institute  – which caters only to the wealthy and the elite by their exorbitant fees etc) and a well-planned attempt to commodify education. 

The proposal to make Delhi university colleges autonomous and as a result suspend government funding to these institutions which would result in enormous fee hike for the students seeking admission in these colleges to hiring teachers on a contract basis instead of on ad hoc and permanent basis and by doing so making educators dispensable and constantly insecure about their job. This would be the model followed in every government-funded universities of India sooner or later. 

In my view, we are witnessing what we can term as a ‘downfall of the university’ with an attempt of vilify students dissenting and participating in democratic activates like peaceful protests (the kind we witnessed in JNU and the attack on the students, beating of Jamia university students to tear-gassing AMU students) to cutting funds, what I can say is we are going back to a more unequal world where education is selectively accessible to the privileged leave negligent space for social mobility to the underprivileged students. 

As the government herself is hell-bent on destroying the government universities, my hope for the future lies in the young of our country and their spirit to fight for an equal opportunity for education. In December 2019, teachers at Delhi University went on a strike to protest the contractual hiring of teachers. I was part of the protest. 

Almost at the same time students in JNU were also protesting against the fee hike. As a student, I was part of that protest too. Both students and the teachers are significant for education to work and the Indian education system as of now is failing both.

What is the solution, you ask? My vision is, more protests, more resistance and more awareness about the crumbling state of the university, only then anything substantial is possible to happen.


3. What changes in the teaching methodologies have you seen in the recent times?

My answer to this question would have been drastically different had you asked me this three months ago. In the context of the current COVID 19 pandemic, when we were challenged to rethink and reorder the entire world order, teaching methodology has also turned around on its head.

In the past decade, I have seen a slow increase in the use of online tools to impart knowledge. While back in my college days, we used to spend hours waiting at the crowded and always busy photocopy shop at the college to get our notes and other reading material almost every day. 

As a teacher for the past few years, I found myself emailing and whatsapping e-books and pdf files of reading material to my students. Trips to the photocopy shop have reduced. I have also seen a shift towards flip classroom method and the use of the projector has definitely increased. But the drastic change that the last three months have brought to the teaching methodology is incomparable.

Just like thousands of teachers, I also shifted my classes online. I have taught students via pre-recorded videos, audio lectures, Powerpoint presentations and live online classes on Zoom etc.I think this adaptation to the online mode as swiftly as it did, is there to stay.

It was going to happen soon or later, the pandemic only gave digitalization of the education a push. As an educator, I am open to adapt these novel changes in the teaching methods while keeping the limitations of these new approaches in mind and working towards minimizing them in the coming years.


4. How does education help one do well in their career?

Well, as clichéd as it may sound; education does play a significant role in their career. However, I do not equate education with earning degrees alone. Getting college degrees is one of the most common ways of getting an education but it is certainly not the only one.

We have ample examples of highly successful people who never went to college or dropped out of college without completing their college degrees like Bill Gates, Deepika Padukone, Oprah Winfrey, Lilly Singh, Ellen Degeneres, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, etc.  As an educator, I obviously do not support dropping out of college.

There are highly successful people who completed their higher education like Indra Nooyi, Tim Cook,  Michael Bloomberg, etc.  With the technological advancement and the possibility to create opportunities on your own, thanks to the internet, there are a plethora of ways for creative, hard working people to make money and carve their own careers even without higher education. 

However, the answer to this question lies in what we consider ‘education’.  For me, education is more than just a college degree; it is the ultimate shaping of one’s mind and character, the ability to think independently, creatively and critically, to develop a sense of ethics and social responsibility.

University is that space where these developments in a student take place usually. Rot learning and bookish knowledge with no practical implication of that is not education and it needs to change. The chances of advancing in one's career are higher with education, however, it is not impossible to self educate oneself and make a career.


5.Do you think teaching as a profession is viewed at par with corporate jobs?

No it is not. Not at least in terms of compensation given to teachers for their services. However, I hope the world will wake up to the importance of the role that a teacher plays in building nation. Bhutan is a good example to learn from.


6. How can we adopt technology to make teaching more effective?

From my experience of teaching online and other teachers' experiences as well, I can say that the younger generation is more advanced and comfortable with using electronic gadgets and learning online. However, most of the teachers find it challenging to adapt to technology.

I believe, extensive teacher training programs focused on familiarizing teachers with the online teaching tools will definitely help.


7. Why does India need more educators like you?

India needs more educators like me to rejuvenate its rotting and declining higher education institutes. India needs more and more young educators who understand the problems and issues of the youth and are open to new ways to learning and transforming education from its traditional mode where the educator plays the role of the ‘provider of knowledge’ to the ‘facilitator in learning’. 

The hierarchical teacher-student relation belongs in the past and it needs to go. India needs a revolution in its approach to learning and educators like me can be the much-needed change.

- Khushboo Soni

Interview By - Akanksha Gupta



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