Dr Madhukar Angur: On the Mission to Highlighting and Erasing the Evolving Pervasive Educational Dichotomy 

Dr Madhukar Angur

The most dynamic leader in the education sector has the most precise solution to the most significant challenge faced by all: educators, students, schools, universities, administrations, and societies. Meet Dr Madhukar AngurFounder and Chancellor of Alliance University.

According to Dr Angur, the first obvious answer to the question of major challenge would be the emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its impact on education. “However, I would like to explain, in simple terms, the biggest challenge facing us is the pervasive dichotomy evolvingparticularly in higher education,” he states.

He furthers that, on the one hand, we have the traditional brick-and-mortar, students-in-the-seats experience; going to a classroom for lectures or labs is a long-established tradition. In-class exams, eye contact with your peers and professor, and, most importantly, co-curricular and extra-curricular experiences are enormously important for a student’s education and development. The traditional campus will survive indefinitely. There will always be a market for the Ivy Towers.

Recognizing the Core Issue

On the other hand, there is online education, where a student can receive an entire degree remotely without ever stepping on campus. Highly recognizable universities worldwide provide such degrees and traditional campus programs. Online degree programs also have little or no physical campus structure. In either case, can online education’s quality, experience, and final product be equivalent to traditional educationMost emphatically—NO.

Enter the prospect of AI in education. AI can bridge the gap between traditional and online education by providing personalized learning experiences, automating administrative tasks, and offering virtual tutoring. While AI cannot replace the value of in-person interactions, it can enhance online education and make it more competitive with the traditional campus experience.

Even though they are often priced identically, marketed to leave an impression that the degree is equally recognized, and even using the same instructors, the results of the two differ. The traditional campus, with all the incremental experiences, provides a far superior education. A sizeable majority of professors will agree with that assessment. This is despite dedicated faculty creatively employing the most current online technology, methodologies, and AI-based tools.

The Irony of the Contrast

Many traditional campuses are faced with declining enrollment because of demographics. There are real budgetary crises, especially if you must keep full-time faculty employed and the research wheels greased. Picture the empty hallways, classrooms, and coffers, all the ingredients that necessitate the big store revenue. “Please note, my comments are not about the emergency COVID-19 education measures taken these past few years and are likely to repeat themselves if another wave of something like COVID-19 comes through. We are discussing the persistence of online degree education and the incorporation of AI to enhance the experience.”

The irony of this dichotomy is that the target often does not know they are finagled. There will likely be sizeable income and societal differences between the two groups. The online student may not recognize that they are being paid systematically less, advance more slowly in their careers, and generally not appreciate the benefits of a broad education. Will there be exceptions? Of course, yes. However, eventually, the market segments, in terms of long-term earnings and success, will appear. The complexity of the data may mask the online statistical underperformance, and this dichotomy may not be fully detected. It could also be when repaying student debt with less income capacity.

In the Blissful Disguise of Half-Knowledge

Any perpetrators of this dichotomy ought to have a cast of players. First up are the university administrators. Budgetary issues have driven them, with the allure of easy online money and the promise of AI-enhanced learning. Of course, students will be happy with these courses; they grew up in the electronic information age. Administrators have a variety of sanctimonious rationales for these programs that no one seems to challenge. For instance, they claim that distance learning increases student diversity, especially in geography.

Another player is the federally/state-sanctioned accreditation agencies. Regional accreditation agencies evaluate the entire university and accreditation for programs like business, law, engineering or nursing. People generally do not know that the accreditation process and reaccreditation reviews are peer-conducted by administrators and faculty from other universities/agencies. One of the unsung reasons for their existence is that they provide (minimum) assurance of quality. Their regulatory oversight helps to prevent state officials or university boards from delving too deeply into questions of quality or relevance. Admittedly, they have been active in raising questions and providing standards regarding online learning and the integration of AI.

However, just a few decades ago, a main campus might have had accreditation issues if they started an off-campus site on an obscure facility a few hours away, with some classrooms and instructors but no library or lab facility. Now, anything goes with distance learning and AI-enhanced education.

The students themselves are players, too. Many students have little choice but to opt for online programs because of various circumstances. Even if they realize the program is second best, they must choose online. However, a large portion also select online simply for convenience. Some are merely interested in picking up a diploma/degree (wall art). It is not uncommon for students to select online classes even when living in hostels/dorms. Like a double-edged sword, the internet allows homework and term papers to be outsourced at reasonable prices.

The Cost of Systemic Ignorance

Ultimately, do these students realize that the online experience, even with the support of the most sophisticated AI, does not provide the same experience and results as the traditional program? Has anyone informed them of these costs? Perhaps the online advisor when they register online for the first time? The dean or the department chair? Is it commonly discussed in the media, providing not so much a warning but simply information? Can incoming students, often first-generation college students, and their parents be that naïve? Apparently.

After all, look at the massive gaps in employability across disciplines, even for students with regular college degree(s). This gap is multiplied manifold for students with online degrees. Despite this, students can naively grasp the online degree program and assume it provides the same ultimate benefits as the traditional degree.

As decades pass, this will create a segment of society that will be disillusioned by never achieving their dreams or full potential. They have the best intentions. This online education, even with AI’s potential to enhance learning, will leave a significant portion of their generation a lost generation, and no one will know what happened.

EdTech Enhanced Wisdom

India has been inundated with Education Technology (EdTech) platforms, which mushroomed over the past decade and grew in size, particularly during the pandemic. However, the teaching and learning that supposedly occurred during the hay days are still questionable. Distributed learning and blended learning methodologies are being experimented with mixed results in various institutions of higher learning.

No matter how sophisticated AI gets with any degree of AI-enabled integration occurring in distance or distributed learning, it cannot replace face-to-face learning completely. Yes, AI will make a select group of jobs obsolete. However, new skills and enhanced adaptive skill development will evolve, and universities and higher education institutions must always be cognizant of this regarding knowledge creation and dissemination.

While AI has the potential to improve online education and bridge the gap between traditional and online learning experiences, it is essential to recognize that it cannot replace the value of in-person interactions and the overall campus experience. As higher education continues to evolve, universities, administrators, and students must know the differences between online and traditional education and make informed decisions about their academic pursuits. The integration of AI in education should be approached with caution and a realistic understanding of its limitations, ensuring that the technology serves as an enhancement rather than a replacement for a well-rounded education.

The Profoundly Wonderful Philosophy

This is where Dr Angur’s approach makes all the difference: to foster and promote a culture of innovation and adaptability in the education sector. Dr Angur says it is important to revisit history somewhat (Freire, 1968). Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher, advocated a collaborative approach to education—wherein both the educator and the learner contribute to the learning process. In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, there is a quote viz., “The teacher and the taught together create the teaching” is so profound that even today, this wonderful philosophy, if used in its truest sense, can create a strong culture of innovation and significant adaptability in education at all levels.

The emergence of AI has brought together educators and others from all walks of life to explore perspectives, provide deep insights and reflections not delved into prior, examine implications on teaching and learning, and share fears, hopes and apprehensions. Hence, innovativeness has to become so glaring in collaborative learning and teaching that adaptability becomes a natural outcome with such innovations.

Therefore, promoting and fostering a culture of innovation and adaptability in the education sector involves a combination of organizational strategies, pedagogical approaches, and an effective integration of technology. As a developing country with a significantly higher GDP growth index, India will certainly want a higher Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education. Presently, the GER is approximately 27 per cent, which is much less compared to that of developed countries.

Providing Voice and Choice

It is a challenge to promote a culture of innovation in the higher education sector, and educational institutions may want to consider incorporating some of the following guidelines, which include,

(a) Encouraging a growth mindset–that embraces challenges and sees failure as an opportunity to learn and improve and promote the idea that intelligence and abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work;

(b) Professional development by investing in continuous development for educators to keep them updated on the latest pedagogical approaches, technological advancements, and educational research;

(c) Flexible learning environment created for handling different learning styles, which embraces more project-based learning and interdisciplinary approaches to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving, among other skills;

(d) Effective technology integration into the curriculum to enhance teaching and learning experiences and explore emerging technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, machine learning aspects and artificial intelligence to engage students in innovative ways.

Additionally, building on collaboration and networking among educators, students, and industry professionals, using a student-centred approach wherever possible that allows students to take ownership of their education, thereby providing opportunities for students the concept of “voice and choice” in the learning process.

Data-driven decision-making that enables tracking student progress and adjusting teaching methodologies accordingly is yet another way to promote a culture of innovation. Finally, the all-important community engagement involving parents, caregivers, and the community in the educational process provides the undisputed overarching mechanism for fostering and promoting a culture of innovation and adaptability in the education sector.

Education is not only about disseminating knowledge but, more importantly, about creating knowledge or knowledge discovery. Hence, staying abreast of the latest trends and research in various walks of life is absolutely crucial for making informed decisions that benefit educators, students, and the larger knowledge community.

The Absolute Essential

Dr Angur further adds that ‘Holistic education,’ which encompasses the development of intellectual skills and emotional, social, physical, and ethical dimensions, among others, can contribute significantly to the personal and professional development of students/graduates. In the current scenario, it has become even more necessary for educators to focus on curriculum development and inculcate ethics and overall human values among students. Hence, holistic education continues to be an absolute necessity now and in the future.

In simple terms, holistic education contributes to broad skill development among students, builds adaptability and resilience, develops well-rounded individuals, enhances the overall ethical and moral development among graduates, and provides a lifelong learning orientation.

Thus, holistic education contributes to graduates’ personal and professional success by providing a comprehensive and balanced approach to learning. Graduates are not only academically competent but also can become equipped with the skills, values, and mindset needed to navigate the complexities of modern life and succeed in their chosen careers.

An Integrated Academic-Industry Curriculum

Dr Angur also believes that integrating academia with industry is highly important for the overall development of all the players —the taught community and the teachers. This collaboration between academia and practice obviously brings several benefits that contribute to the players’ holistic education and future success. For instance, an often cited but extremely relevant example is that of Silicon Valley in the USA, which is a result of its “geo-academic” location surrounded by several world-class universities, thereby fostering mutual growth and innovation.

Some of the key reasons for this integration include Real World Relevance, Skill Development, Networking Opportunities, Exposure to Current Industry Trends, Enhanced Employability Skills, Innovation and Research Opportunities, Applied Research and Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Start-up Culture exposure to diversity of Perspectives, and Global Competitiveness in programs.

Integrating academia with industry is a powerful strategy for preparing students for the challenges and opportunities of the professional world. It enriches their educational experience, equips them with practical skills, and enhances their overall development, making them more adaptable and valuable contributors to the workforce.

Fostering a Mindset of Growth via Adversities

According to Dr Angur, various strategies and programs are designed to help students overcome challenges and foster a mindset that views failures as opportunities for growth. These initiatives often fall under Promoting a Growth Mindset and Cultivating Resilience (PGMCR). Many programs/interventions are being introduced and practised, including Growth Mindset Interventions, Social and Emotional Learning Programs, etc., that focus on developing students’ social and emotional skills, including self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and interpersonal skills.

Other programs under the PGMCR include Mindfulness and well-being programs; Failure–Tolerant Programs, Incorporating Failure Narratives; Project Learning, Feedback, and Reflection; Peer Mentoring and Support Programs; Goal Setting and Progress Monitoring; Character Education Programs; and Community Involvement and Service Learning, among others.

Implementing a combination of these strategies within an educational setting can create a supportive environment where students feel empowered to face challenges, view failures as opportunities for growth, and develop the resilience needed to succeed in their academic, professional and personal lives.

A Diversely All-Inclusive Leadership 

Dr Angur also believes that leadership styles prioritising inclusivity and diversity are crucial for creating a positive and equitable environment. Some key elements that one can incorporate to promote inclusivity and diversity in an academic setting include a commitment to equity, faculty/employee governance, open communication, diverse representation, cultural competence, equitable policies and practices, professional development opportunities, intersectionality awareness, accessibility and inclusivity in the curriculum; data-informed decision making; and of course intensive community engagement.

It’s important to note that promoting inclusivity and diversity is an ongoing process that requires continuous reflection, learning, and adaptation. Effective leaders in all sectors, and surely in the education sector, ought to actively work towards creating environments that embrace and celebrate the richness of diversity among stakeholders comprising students, faculty, staff and the larger community.

Dr Angur’s leadership encapsulates education and academia and engages with the community at a wider scale. He ardently believes that educational leaders play a crucial role in extending the influence and impact of a university beyond the campus and into the larger community. He says, “In my personal experience, some of how this can be achieved include nurturing community partnerships with businesses, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and community groups.”

Constant Community Engagement

These partnerships can lead to collaborative projects, shared resources, and mutual support. Additionally, service learning and civic engagement must be widely practised, as is being done at some renowned US Universities. Universities engage themselves in solving the problems of the neighbouring communities scientifically. This is popularly known as the “Road Scholarship” program. Other forms of community engagements also include public events and outreach, educational programs for the community, and research and innovation transfer, usually referred to as the “LAB to LAND” policy.

Serving on community advisory boards, providing accessibility to university facilities, and having initiatives that promote health and wellness programs that contribute to community well-being will go a long way in establishing the university as a positive force in the region.

These community-based engagements’ tangible and intangible impacts significantly enhance public perception and increase community support, attracting diverse talent. Stronger alum engagement and strategic partnerships with key entities can position the university as a valuable contributor to community development.

Effective leadership approaches that extend beyond the campus and engage with the broader community can significantly impact the university’s reputation, contributing to its overall success and influence.

The Nectar of Learning 

In his advice to the budding aspirants entering educational leadership roles, Dr Angur says that education leadership is a dynamic and evolving responsibility that requires, among other things, adaptability, empathy, and a commitment to continuous improvement. One of the fundamental covets of leadership requirements is to embrace lifelong learning. It becomes absolutely important to stay curious and committed to ongoing learning. The field of education is continuously evolving, and effective leaders are willing to adapt, learn from experiences, and stay informed about the next best practices.

Among other leadership qualities required in any individual, it is particularly important to cultivate emotional intelligence comprising empathy, self-awareness, and effective communication for building positive relationships and fostering a supportive environment. It also requires prioritizing inclusivity and diversity, recognizing the value of diverse perspectives, and creating opportunities for all individuals to feel heard, respected and included. Another important aspect of being an efficient leader in an academic environment is to develop stronger community engagement.

Leadership is a journey of continuous growth and development. It’s important to be open to feedback, seek mentorship, and remain committed to the core values guiding leadership. Education leaders have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on individuals and communities, and embracing some key principles of leadership can contribute to positive outcomes for all stakeholders.

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