Why Interdisciplinary Approach is important for 21st C Education?

Our education system works in silos; be it subjects, departments ,teachers or thought processes. There is a tendency to focus on disciplines separately. It has its advantages and value. However today we live in a global, dynamic and   integrated world .The problems and challenges we face are not classified as mathematics ,science or history. They require drawing knowledge that cuts across subject areas and provide an integrated perspective. Therefore, interdisciplinary education becomes very relevant. Individuals who have a background of interdisciplinary education, who are fluent in several disciplines and   adept at moving among them are going to be successful in the current century. Employers are also looking for individuals with a holistic education who can comprehend and solve complex problems that transcend disciplines. With the advent of Artificial intelligence a lot of jobs are going to disappear, what we have to focus on are skills exclusive to human beings like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity ,communication. And, interdisciplinary approach is crucial in developing these skills.

What is  Interdisciplinary approach?

It is an approach to curriculum integration that leads to an understanding of themes and ideas which cut across disciplines. It generates an understanding of  the connections between different disciplines and their relationship to the real world. Interdisciplinary teaching is a method of educational instruction whereby a student learns about a single topic or issue from a variety of different viewpoints or multiple perspectives. for example; Tourism can be theme for interdisciplinary teaching; In math class students analyze graphs and look for  trends in India’s tourism pattern. In social studies, they study geography of popular tourist sites, history of tourist sites and how travel has changed over the century .In economics they find the revenue generated through this industry and impact of tourism on local, regional and world economy .The impact of tourism on environment is relevant in science class .In English or media literacy class they design campaigns and advertisements to promote tourism. Thus interdisciplinary approach enables students to take insights from different disciplines, synthesize information surrounding a topic and, ultimately, offers a more complete and deeper understanding of an issue.Through interdisciplinary education  students;

  • Develop a holistic  perspective
  • Develop ability to deal with ambiguity and accept the unknown
  • Develop  ability to think creatively and critically and make decisions
  • Develop ability to transfer information needed to solve new  problems
  • Have a chance to work with multiple sources of information, thus ensuring  a more inclusive perspective (Wood, 1997).

Interdisciplinary education creates innovators as they are able to join the dots across various disciplines, form new associations and come up with innovative solutions to existing problems. Many successful people like Nobel laureate Dr. Ramakrishnan , Indira Nooyi former CEO of Pepsico  have background of multidisciplinary education.

Research has also shown that this approach leads to increased attendance rates, and improvement in standardized test scores (Bolak, Bialach, & Duhnphy, 2005).It also leads to positive work climate,  higher job satisfaction amongst teachers and higher  student achievement scores (Flowers, Mertens, & Mulhall 1999).

How to implement interdisciplinary teaching in class?

There are number of ways that this can be achieved in class;

  • Interdisciplinary team teaching – Two or more faculty from different disciplines come together to teach a module or certain topics in the module together. For e.g. Joint teaching by Business and biology teacher on the development of a community composting network.This increases students  appreciation of diverse viewpoints and solve a real community problem.In team teaching assignments can either be assessed by both instructors or by each faculty independently .The presence of more than one instructor in the classroom increases the occasions for student-teacher interaction (Wadkins, Miller, & Wozniak, 2006).
  • Common projects or assignments where students use strategies and concepts that transcends the subject area. Here two or more academic disciplines are combined in one project. For e.g.project on river systems would cover both science and social studies . In science students research about the life systems existing in the river and in social studies they study and research the local history and people who have used the river for food and transport.
  • Identifying common themes for focused interdisciplinary instruction for e.g. Food . In Sociology students explore how individuals and culture decide what to eat and how to prepare it. In economics one can study the production, distribution, marketing, sales, trade, and prices of food. In Political science ,examine the government food policies such as taxation and regulation .In chemistry and  biology study aspect of food like health,  nutrition, chemical composition, production, and preservation. In social study, find about food and its place in social class, religious practice, immigration, urbanization, technological change and the growth of food industry over time.
  • Using common resource material across subjects- Readings, videos or case studies can be identified which cover more than one subject and can be used across two or more  disciplines. For e.g. the top coffee case study can be taught in marketing,operations and strategy classes.This would give a holistic perspective about the coffee industry to the students.

Today, we do see a increase in interest for more holistic and integrative approaches in education. It goes by many names, such as “STEAM” (with an “A” for “arts” added to the standard STEM acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). National Education Policy 2020 for India also highlights the importance of Art integrated teaching. One of the challenges of implementing this approach is that it requires teachers from different disciplines to work together and identify points of integration, which is time consuming. Schools and colleges that emphasize teacher collaboration and teamwork are well-positioned for integrated studies.

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