Inquiry-based learning involves the study of concepts and theories and enables students to become solution seekers through an exploratory approach. Compared to a rigid textbook-based style that encourages rote learning, this puts the student at the center of learning. John Dewey’s Project Approach, Jean Piaget’s Constructivist Theory, Maria Montessori’s Playful Approach, Jiddu Krishnamurti’s Inquiring Mind Approach are early examples of 21st century versions of learning based on research.
The 21st century has forced a global shift towards research, creativity, critical thinking, green inventions, passion, communication skills and leadership. Inquiry-based learning triggers the development of these qualities by transforming the learner from passive to active participant in their developmental journey. Raise questions, seek solutions, discuss, debate, formulate hypotheses, test hypotheses, test theories and principles, collect data, effectively communicate ideas, draw conclusions, engage in research activities, learn various research tools and techniques and engaging with senior faculty are some of the ways to trigger research instincts in a classroom.
The greatest disservice our country’s education system has done is to deprive students of the right and opportunity to have personal experience with the subject. The 21st century demands that learners move from information consumers to information producers.
All of life is learning and learning lasts for life. Therefore, students should be encouraged to appreciate the correlation between a scientific temperament and quality of life. A research-based mind is an active mind eager to unlock and understand unknown areas of life.
Two elements that distinguish school education from the university level are an increased degree of independence and freedom in the process of learning and research. If an institute of higher learning has failed to transform into a mode of autonomous exploration, then it has failed to rise above the level of school. Differentiation is about integrating research into teaching and learning.
Research in India
According to National Institutional Ranking Framework, Ministry of Education, Government of India, 2020, some of the institutes listed in the top 20 were Indian Institute of Science, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Banaras Hindu University, University of Delhi , the National Homi Bhabha Institute, Vellore Institute of Technology, Aligarh Muslim University. In the top 100 are Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Amity University, Shiv Nadar University and Lovely Professional University. However, the metrics used to assign the rankings were devoid of considerations such as employer reputation, student-faculty ratio, academic staff involvement in active research, student engagement in active research, facilities of research, research centers and frequency of articles published. This methodology shows a complete disregard for research as a tool to trigger knowledge acquisition.
On the other hand, according to the Center for World University Rankings, 2021-22 edition, Harvard University was ranked first in research, followed by Stanford University. The University of Oxford was ranked No. 4 and MIT No. 8. Criteria included quality of teaching, quality of faculty and teaching qualifications of faculty, employment ranking alumni and search performance ranking. This clearly shows why the average Indian student aspires to study abroad.
The road ahead
The needs of students in the 21st century are learning, literacy and life skills. Systems, government regulations and mandates must be in place to ensure that university students actively participate in departmental research and complete mandatory research training modules. Universities should facilitate many sector-specific internships and fieldwork and have dedicated research centers in each department. Classroom instruction should be linked to research and application of concepts. The UGC must ensure that the teaching staff is well qualified and act as research guides and mentors for the students. It is also important for university departments to establish international relationships with their global counterparts.
Opinions expressed are personal
The author is an educator who documents her observations of children’s play and learning experiences.