From Morung Learning to Smart Classroom: Education among the Nagas have come a long way since its inception in the traditional learning institutions like Morung. Reflecting the journey over the years, The Palm Leaf Centre (left) designed in the shape of a traditional dwelling adorns the NECU campus, reminding, among others, the hard works done by the ancestors for education. (Right) A smart classroom where the teacher uses the screen board to enhance learning is the fruit of past hard works.
In a meeting of the Principals of Theological Seminaries under the Council of Baptist Churches of North East India (CBCNEI) held in March 2010, it was unanimously agreed that the time was right for the Baptist Churches to establish a full-fledged University.
A bill was passed and approved by the Nagaland State Legislative Assembly [The North East University Act 2012 (Act No.4 of 2013)] to set up the North East Christian University (NECU). With Nagaland Governor’s assent on May 10 2013, the University formally came in existence with power to grant degrees under relevant University Grants Commission Acts.
Currently NECU has a City Centre at Burma Camp, Dimapur and a plot of land at Medziphema for its permanent campus.
During a Question and Answer session, the present and first Vice-Chancellor of NECU, Prof. Darlando Khathing shares the university’s inception, vision, activities and future plans.
Q: Prof. Khathing, what is the basic foundational principle of NECU?
A: NECU is a Secular University and is open to all faiths. Since the vision and mission was formulated and framed by Christian Ministry workers and organizations with the motto, “Truth and Liberty,” the expectation is that the foundational principles of NECU would be based on Christian principles where the fear of God is basic, and the theory as well as practice of compassion, care, respect, dignity and uprightness, strong moral character, humility and honesty would be stressed. NECU aims to fulfill an essential necessity of offering higher education in the North East.
Q: Over the last ten years, Nagaland has witnessed the inception of several new universities and colleges with PG programmes. What is the distinctiveness of NECU’s liberal/secular education?
A: Each university caters to the needs of people to be further educated. NECU focuses on enhancing the employability skills of learners irrespective of degrees they earn with special emphasis to personality development and internship programmes. NECU would, in addition to accreditation by NAAC, seek accreditation to international bodies so as to ensure high standards of education. Then, our students would be able to seamlessly transfer their further studies and become employable citizens across the globe.
The university tries to give importance to project work, community work, moral integrity; and other extracurricular activities are also part of learning. Teachers and mentors guide the students for majoring in a particular discipline, according to their aptitude and interest. Therefore, students become aware of the quality and actual relevance of such education. In the liberal arts approach, students are taught on a wide range of subjects covering religious studies, history of science, international relations and English (TESL) among others.
From media reports, we see less than 20% of Engineering and Management graduates get employed. A national daily on August 30, 2018 reported that there were 3,700 PhD and 28,000 post graduate applicants for a job that required only primary education. Therefore, in this competitive world, it is not only the textbook knowledge but one needs to be equipped with the employability skills (critical and analytical thinking skills) to counter with the fast changing world. Today, NECU is in a mission to enhance the necessary skills for learners to earn a living out of it.
Q: NECU is reportedly one of the first universities in the Northeast India region to have a smart classroom. What made NECU opt for the smart classroom over the conventional ones?
A: Smart Classrooms are neither new nor unique. Many refer to classrooms having projectors as “smart” classrooms. The NECU Smart Classroom does not have screen projectors but a podium with a touch screen monitor where text and illustrations are projected on a large interactive screen broad. One of the effective ways of teaching in a smart classroom is called a “flipped classroom” method, where a teacher sends lecture notes in advance, through software to students to read ahead. The classroom contact period is used mainly to clear doubts and to explain through illustrations or discussions. So, even if a student misses a class, the lecture can be accessed anytime. The smart classroom has both online as well as video conferencing facilities. This would facilitate lectures and lessons delivered by experts from any part of the world. A course on Public Administration can be delivered online from the United States of America.
Q: Are there provisions for scholarships for students coming from an economically weaker section of the society?
A: As of now, there are no set guidelines. Merit cum means would perhaps be the criteria. NECU, however, has been able to obtain sponsorship towards tuition fees for its students and in its inaugural year, all the admitted students would not be paying tuition fees in the first semester. For many, even the second Semester is being paid for.
Q: As the VC of a new university in Nagaland, what are the immediate problems which need to be addressed?
A: The immediate challenge is having wide publicity about the University. The University is the outcome of the resolution of the CBCNEI with all its conventions and associations. Since the establishment of NECU, less than 1 (one) % of member Churches know or have heard about the university. Sponsorship and support was apparently expected from the member Churches but one cannot blame them if they are not aware of such a project. Resources, both financial and in kind are limited and one cannot proceed in starting programmes even if they have been approved in principle.
NECU would lay stress on contextual areas namely tradition and culture, as well as bio resources. NECU has initiated the process of being recognized by the Quality Council of India (www.qcin.org) as a Certifying Body for Traditional Community Healthcare Providers. Through an internationally accepted and recognized system of assessment, selected traditional healers who are very competent and skilled and who have been rendering effective healthcare to society will be certified to give them national and international recognition. NECU has applied, with the recommendation of the Government of Nagaland, to NEC for support in establishing a Centre of Ecotecture– architecture based on traditional techniques and sustainable technology.
NECU is drawing out a plan to develop a North East Village on its permanent campus where cottages representing each of the North Eastern States will be built. Seminar rooms, food courts, hostels too would form part of the village where retreats, conferences, events can be held. These are just a few examples of the initiatives NECU has taken. The challenges are there but we are firm in our belief that things will work out well even if slow.
Q: Lastly, what are the upcoming certificates or diploma courses which one can apply in NECU?
A: The immediate upcoming Certificate Course is on TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) where NECU in partnership with the Asia Center for TESOL, Chiang Mai Thailand, will be offering a five week intensive training from October 15- to November 16. NECU also has an English Language Laboratory for spoken English. As and when it gets persons to teach other languages, using the same lab facilities, NECU will offer other spoken language courses. The “Smart” classroom is a part of the Capacity Training Centre, where many short term courses ranging from Computer applications to Management will be offered.
NECU will lay stress on skill development whereby its graduates will have the confidence for self employment and not necessarily pursue the elusive “government” jobs. Even in its curricula for religious studies, NECU is framing the syllabus such that potential pastors would have had training in community development and leadership and would be able to actually generate jobs based on skills in rural development and livelihood.
(Morung Express Feature)