Lack of vision hampers design education

Prof MP Ranjan, Ahmedabad-based independent academic and visionary, speaks to EDU about why design schools are treated like stepchildren, how the narrow interpretation of design has bogged down the education system, and what approach is needed to design curricula for schools of the future

EDU: How do you compare design education in India to that in other countries?

A: Design education inIndia started in the early 60s with the setting up of NID. It had a head start with amazing inputs from established design masters with equally amazing visionary founders who helped place Indian design education on the world map quite firmly. However, I do believe we are losing ground to many countries that have made investments and policies to support design education and practice an integral part of their national development policiessomething thatIndia is now found lacking in.

Q: What do you think are the problems that plague the successful dissemination of design education in our schools?

A: I would say lack of vision and a lack of public awareness about what design is and what it can do for a developing economy and a society in rapid transition. They are hampering design education.

Q: Please tell us about the approach followed at NID when you were associated with it.

A: In the early years, NID used an open-ended form of exploration and learning from international masters. In later years, its internal faculty innovated many courses and educational procedures that have set them apart from the rest of the great design schools. This was recognised abroad but not inIndia. The core value systems and the educational and work ethic that was embraced by NID faculty and students, opened up many new avenues for design action that the world had yet to recognise as valid areas for design.

There was definitely an ideological bias for development and socio-economic change at the grassroots level that stood NID offerings in good stead. However, in recent years this emphasis has somehow been lost and the focus seems tohave shifted to the superficial aesthetic. This is rather unfortunate.

Q: Do you think the National Design Policy, announced in 2007 to enhance design and design-related education in India, has helped further the cause?

A: The design policy is a positive move but the narrow interpretation of design by administrators is very sad. The new design schools proposed in the policy, as well as new connect with government and industry could be lost in its implementation if we lose sight of the mission and vision of the design programmes developed by NID over the past 50 years. Its alumni need to be heardall that knowledge of the Indian condition and all insights from past experiences need to be harvested as we go forward, but this does not seem to be happening.

Q: What do you feel about the India Design Council and the role it plays?

A: The India Design Council has a major role to play, but the narrow definition of design and the current disregard for social and public roles of designwhile seeing design as a tool for industry makes its possible impact rather limited in scope.

Q: What do you think is the stumbling block when it comes to design schools why are they treated like stepchildren when compared to MBA, medical and engineering schools?

A: InIndia, design schools are definitely the stepchildren of our governmental system. Look at NID and its lack of parity with IIMs and IITs; its very disheartening. This lack of parity has continued for so many decades that if we wish to bring change we must do it with a much greater thrust and with great government commitment in the days ahead. This lack of parity is reflected in all kinds of support and funding from the government and industry, and this needs to change as it has in many nations across the world. Design needs to be recognised as a core capability of a nation and we are far behind when it comes to that.

Q: What should the government ideally do to enhance the design educational experience in India?

A: The government must revamp the governance structure of its design schools, particularly NID, and make it responsive to inputs from experienced designers and alumni from across numerous sectors of our economy. It should also ensure substantial increase in funding and autonomy in operation and leave the action in the hands of able design leadership with vision and ability.

Q: What is the approach needed to design education systems and curricula in design schools of the future?

A: We need a serious overhaul of all design curricula across disciplines since we are at the cusp of great change and design deals with the shaping of this leading edge itself. We will need a special set of parameters to evaluate effectivenessand relevance. I believe the design experience in the country has the knowledge and the skills to bring about this change, provided it is nurtured and supported by government policy and sensitive industry involvement.

Q: How can educationists ensure creativity and critical thinking? What are the alternative ways of teaching and learning design?

A: We have experimented with such educational methods at NID. Over the years, some of these have been refined to a fine art. However, in recent years, under a very insensitive management and governance structure, the baby has been thrown out with then bathwater since these institutes have been asked to expand mindlessly and earn fees from students in the absence of government funding and industry vision and support. Changes in the curriculum, to meet these number games, have had a detrimental effect on the quality of education. This needs serious review and replenishment in strategy and action.

Q: Which is your favourite design school across the world?

A: It is still the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. The Royal College of Art,London, comes a close second.

Q: How do you visualise the ideal design school of the future?

A: The design school of the future will create entrepreneurs who can build from scratch and be able to think tall and act wisely in the vast political and economic space that is the future. Education in liberal arts, design thinking and action abilities along with sensitivity to social and ethical perspectives will form the core of the future curriculum. Technical and administrative abilities will be taken for granted but these are useless without the core sensibilities and abilities.

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