Project Based Learning and its Impact on the Design Education Sector

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Project Based Learning is critical to making India future ready and IIAD’s pedagogical leadership implementing the same is slowly enhancing its credibility in the design education sector.

In 10 years, economic forecasters predict that India’s economy will climb to the third largest in the world, behind only the U.S. and China. It is estimated that there will be 104.62 million fresh entrants in the labour market by 2022. India will need to create 8.1 million jobs annually, against the 5.5 million created in 2017, to keep employment rates constant between 2015 and 2025.

How will India achieve this even when an increasing number of young people are entering the labour market but industries continue to complain of unavailability of appropriately skilled manpower? The answer is simple – skill development is critical to enhancing employability.

Taking a step back, it calls for a reassessment of parental mindset and the prevalent education system in India.
Immediately after post-graduation, a close friend had married and settled in the US. She was thrilled with the prospect to study further and did enrol into a college but quit soon after. Even though she was a merit holder here she was unable to cope with their teaching methodology and found herself unprepared for the rigours of research. Another friend wanted to be a criminologist but following her parents’ wish, completed her MBBS instead.

These examples highlight two key aspects:

The innate need for a structure that most parents crave for.

    • Some do break away but sooner or later most fall back into the safety net of a “structured format.” Parents consider a school “good” if it imparts the traditional form of education and showcases toppers in school board examinations. It’s their unerring belief that such education leads to a good job and stable income which they define as a successful career.
  • Lack of awareness and risk-taking ability when it comes to children’s education.
    • Do parents find comfort with this modality because of their own experiences? Are they unaware of the future possibilities of alternative education because they don’t fully comprehend it’s true meaning? Or do they feel that their role and responsibility as parents dictate that they provide a stable foundation and an equal playing field for their children in this competitive world?

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Education in India is provided by both the public and private sector, with control and funding coming from three levels: central, state and local. School boards set the curriculum and conduct board level exams mostly at 10th and 12th level to award school diplomas. They include NCERT, CBSE, CISCE, NIOS, IB, CIB among others.

There are divergent opinions about the advantages of each and many base their decision on either their personal experience or of those they know closely. Some seek alternative teaching methodology including homeschooling or schools that encourage interactive learning beyond the academic.

A peer who homeschooled her children says, “structure is good for children but within that structure, there must be the flexibility to allow them to grow at their own pace.” Similarly, parents who have educated their children in alternative schools agree that emphasis on individuality allows children to follow their curiosity, explore their own thinking, and behaviour thereby laying the onus of learning on the learner.

Finland is the first forward-thinking country in the world to announce the removal of all school subjects, a new system that would commence in 2020. Dr Marjo Kyllonen, head of the Department of Education in Helsinki reasoned, “children were being taught based on a style that was beneficial in the beginnings of the 1900s but is no longer relevant. With changing needs it is necessary to adapt teachings to match with this new way of thinking and developing.”

This emphasises the need for the education system and syllabus to keep up with fast-changing business needs, especially those that are interlinked to soft skills, advanced technology adoption, and even the flexibility to re-skill for emerging opportunities.

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Back home, the higher education institute, Indian Insitute of Art & Design (IIAD) has been doing just that for over three years now by encouraging project-based learning (PBL). PBL is defined as an active, inquiry-based learning. It is a student-centred pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which it is believed that students acquire deeper knowledge through the active exploration of real-world challenges and problems. They learn about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge, or problem. PBL contrasts with paper-based, rote memorization, or teacher-led instruction that presents established facts or portrays a smooth path to knowledge by instead posing questions, problems or scenarios.

This is achieved through student immersion in real-life based projects, live-projects with the industry, independent commercial projects and community development initiatives.

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For example, the Denim Project encouraged Fashion Design students to explore, research and understand denim as a textile, garment and work of art with support from Korra Jeans, 11.11 and Arvind Limited.

Community Development Project with ModSKOOL inspired Interior Design students to develop a prototype of a low-cost classroom ceiling that was easy to build and dismantle. According to Dr Chadha, Founder Director of IIAD, “this live project not only helped students to learn the practical aspects of Interior Architecture and Design but also encouraged active engagement with the local communities and realise their social responsibilities as designers.”

Mohini Bothra, Communication Design student designed a braille book for visually impaired children titled ‘A Visual Narrative For Blind Children by Mohini Bothra’ as a part of her Capstone Project while she was in the Foundation Year at IIAD. The book includes letters and visuals for the children to understand and experience the intricacies of a beautiful narrative that they often miss out on.

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The impact of PBL at IIAD is aptly explained by Utkantha Chugh, Fashion Design student. She says, “Studio-based learning helps us to understand design from various perspectives and apply the best fit. Simultaneously, it helps us to understand ‘ourself’ better. There’s an emphasis on ‘individuality’ with the belief that every student is unique in their own beautiful way.”

It’s evident that this approach is gaining momentum amongst the students as it strengthens the exploration of their creative self and belief that there are no right or wrong answers and neither is there only one right answer to every question. It motivates them to learn and enhances their future employability as innovative and critical thinking citizens.

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