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Can we save Architecture Education System from failing?

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid” – Albert Einstein

“Everyone should come up with a concept by tomorrow!”

This sounds pretty familiar if you are a student or were a student in an architecture school – a generic architecture school that runs on standards set up by a group of people – believing it is in the best of interests for everybody.

The Result?

Colleges sprouting up like a weed in a jungle with same syllabus, similar teaching methodologies and same output in the form of young architects, it delivers to the profession.

These young architects devoid of individuality and half-baked knowledge in every aspect of the profession, fail to deliver what the industry expects of them – resulting in anxiety, depression, demotivation, low confidence, etcetera.

And I am one of them. A nervous, often timid and scared if I know enough to have a job, let alone practice. So, who do I blame? My lacking confidence or the system? I don’t know.

 But I often imagine myself to be a completely different person had I not been part of the crumbling education system – a possible catastrophe shortly.

I often picture myself going back in time and being reintroduced to architecture course not as the last bits of the cake – full of science fondant and math sponge – but as a separate tier with its unique flavour.

What if my school had gone an extra mile and asked architects or designers to conduct workshops so that I’d have known that good drawing skills are not the criteria to pursue architecture 

– visualisation is. 

If only furniture and model making workshops weren’t limited to posh private schools – but part of an overall curriculum applied to public and private schools, construction classes wouldn’t have been such a nightmare.

But then, we never had construction classes – they were mere ‘copy from that 1000-year-old, out of context construction manual’ studio.

 And then I read about Escuela Libre de Arquitectura a school with a much radical approach towards experimental design and urging students to build what they dream – and I imagine if two young architects could take a leap to make a school out of scratch, can we not fix the already existing?

This might sound weird, and especially coming from someone who makes comics – but what if we developed the entire course around an open curriculum model? 

This model is designed to promote students to build their own curriculum models as per their learning capabilities and professional goals and have been utilised by a few universities in the best interests of the students. And imagine, giving a student – a naïve one – freedom but also a set of responsibilities which will only push him/her to act, fail and try again.

Some might bemoan the idea of open curriculum model to be too liberal. But that is exactly the point – why are we dictating education in the first place?  And if we look back in history, we find traditional gurukul systems to be focused towards holistic development of a kid and student-centric – a metamorphosis of sorts. A student would not pass or fail rather be ready for the real world. What we see today are a far cry from these indigenous systems, all designed to help kids join the slave clan – a head nodding, no questions asked clan. 

So, can we not think of a middle ground where both tradition and modernity make amends?

This here reminds me of an interesting conversation with some of our architect friends from Kasa, a small village in India. “This year she is learning from our master mason”, our friend exclaims and we all sigh to not have had that option that our friend’s niece has. 

So apparently, finding that modern architecture education system would not suit her learning capabilities, our friend decided to take a rather radical approach – 5 years of mentor-student learning, with mentors from different fields including social work, finance, farming and arts. She would then go ahead to intern in a big city to learn how commercial projects take life, modern construction methods and technology – all hands-on, real-life experiences.

But even if this is too utopian for the uni’s, can we not introduce some level of customisation – especially for a course like architecture?

I significantly remember – the only ‘different approach’ my college took was introducing a handful of ‘electives’ which sadly weren’t chosen based but mandatory.

How am I then expected to find interest when I am not given an array of choices. We are howled at – “Architecture is the mother of all arts” or “To learn architecture is too learn many things” …where are these ‘arts’ hiding at? What are these ‘things’ that I could have learnt?

Such simple steps like accommodating varied electives across 5 years that involves both theory and fieldwork could work better in favour of students – also not to forget bringing in more experts and mentors across the world – other than the regular faculties. And while we do it, we should try and shift our focus from architecture. Bring in mentors who can talk about ecology, disabilities, regionalism, gender and human studies, animals, social studies, psychology, liberal arts or pandemics!

One can only learn and get inspired even if colleges could dedicate weekends to subjects other than architecture and design.

And now with COVID and e-infrastructure stepping in, it should become more accessible for the college managements to support teaching staff and students to learn from mentors across the world.

But even after all these changes, one thing that defeats the very core of learning is the evaluation standards that our college set up – forcing some students to become robots and some to feel like a failure. While few radical and experimental schools like the Free School think of entirely dissolving the idea of marking systems and evaluation – I think we need to find a mid-way if we require our modern-day schools to run – and parents to actually send students to these schools! 

While I am not an expert to write on this area, I can only remember this article – unfortunately, which I can find nowhere in my plethora of links – a reading which I had my ‘woke’ moment. 

Beautifully written by an IIT Madras professor, it stated the difference between evaluation and unit marking systems and assessment and how it has acted as a virus to the present education system. And while evaluation forces faculties to mark students based on a single criterion, the assessment allows a more customised and personal critique based on his/her performance.

But while we dream of a place which is kind of a respite from the modern-day schools, we see today, there is only so much they can do. The managements want to make it a business, the mentors and faculties aren’t remunerated enough to put their hearts and souls into teaching, and the young suffer to become a part of this vicious circle over again.

I time and again wish if I could go back in time and study architecture again – all over again! Because it wasn’t the architecture that failed me, it was the SYSTEM! So today, if you think you have failed, you probably haven’t.

And here is your chance to ask all the questions you didn’t, and do your bit to save the failing architecture education system.

Written by:
Shreya Khandekar
Images Provided By:
Anuj Kale

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