What Makes Dr. Stephen Mavely, VC Assam Don Bosco University THE WISE CHANCELLOR – An Exclusive Conversation of Insights and Inspiration with Chetan Sharma, Founder Edumate.tv

In the world of education, particularly higher education, if there’s one trade required to in some way mitigate the challenges, and find solutions, and also create opportunities. It’s the trade of wisdom, wisdom, emanating from past experience, knowledge, and wisdom to be able to anticipate, embrace, evolve, expect and overall transform the future and that’s why we have a very Wise Chancellor. Today we have very special guests with us from Assam, Don Bosco, we’ve got Dr. Stephen Mavely. Joining us from Guwahati. Thank you so much for joining us, it’s a pleasure to talk to you. Talk us through your experiences of the very challenging global environment.

As for everybody else in the world, it’s been a challenging and bewildering time. But one thing I can say that as a university, it has the person who is leading this university, we have never given in to panic, because panic is unreasonable and debilitating. We’ve tried to understand what is happening against historical perspectives. As a student of history, philosophy, in my course of training, as I said, before the priesthood, read about a lot, how the world dealt with the bubonic plague, the Spanish flu, the black dead, HIV, AIDS, malaria, cholera, Ebola. And I have realised and I feel that is, that’s the message that I passed on to everyone who works with me that the intricate workings of nature and evolution are not always within our grasp. And yet, we go on pretending to be Masters of the Universe. There’s a slow evolution taking place in the thinking in this thinking. And hopefully, when this COVID scare is over, the younger generations will move strongly in that line, then people have aged them to create a more sustainable world, it gives us also, and that the impetus to get seriously into online learning. That’s what we have done here at the university. For the last 10 years, we’ve been providing online education reaching out to some 5000 or more students in about 111 countries. And we have had some commendable degree of success in that. For the last three months, we went full steam ahead with online teaching for our students. And I must say we have had varying degrees of success because internet accessibility and reach are the cause of some concern. Going forward, we are planning to provide 20 to 25% of our courses online, for our regular students, we as a nation as tremendous depth, and like many other countries, historically, culturally, philosophically. But we have never seriously tried to pull our weight proportionately, in the rest of the world. It’s a unique opportunity for us to project to the world, the depth of our culture, the springs of our spirituality, our social secular democracy, our capacity for harmonious living, in spite of all the hiccups that we are having about, I believe, this is something fantastic that we can do as a country.

Thank you for highlighting the immense opportunity which the COVID actually provides. And just your analysis has been humble, honest, it’s honorable. But most importantly, it’s heartening. And I commend you for having just thought through the entire process. These very few people have managed to do that. And it’s really very inspiring, Dr. Mavely. But the ground realities can be very different. Because all of the may desire may have practical implications, practical implementation problems, which I guess governance across the country are facing, which is leading to a lot of conflict in thought, I mean, must be sensitive that it’s an unprecedented situation for every single government as well. But there seems to be a lot of evolution in different levels at different paces, which is leading to a lot of different opinions, a lot of different trends. And there is an opposition building up for the students to pay fees and parents to pay fees, the online system with the government policies, which are conflicting between state and centre. So if I have to sum up the entire situation, at some level, it is confusing, which is the last thing that you want in a pandemic. What do you mean the institutional crisis is clarity, it may have its risks for charity is paramount, what’s your point of view?

We as a country, I think we need to take a very different look at this entire scenario that is unfolding before us if you notice, and that’s what we find in the papers, our rate of succumbing to this infection is very low compared to the rest of the world, we seem to have a lot of immunity by nature, because of the lifestyles that we leave, maybe also because of the environment, which is not always as healthy as it should be. due to which we have picked up a lot of immunity which the rest of the world to don’t have, especially the developed world should we behave in the face of this pandemic that says the rest of the world is now or should we develop our own unique models of dealing with it?

I think that that itself is also a very beautiful thought the ingenious thought, you know, particularly at a time when India is fighting hard to emerge and be recognised as a world leader, we need to charge our own costs, not just as a country, but also as an institution, you know, to be able to reflect what the correct practices ought to be going forward. So thank you for highlighting that. Dr. Mavely. But things on the ground in the education world have obviously been a little challenging and a little topsy turvy, talk us through how Assam Don Bosco has particularly overcome challenges and created opportunities and what are the challenges still, afresh with you particularly on the admission part?

Admission. So, this year, we have done and we have gone totally online, we have been doing it online earlier today. But this year, there is an added problem that a lot of persons are not able to log on, because of internet connectivity problems. But still, I can see it is going on slowly, but surely. And we shall get there the numbers that were required to keep this university on a sustainable basis. But let me perhaps talk about something that you mentioned a little while ago, about this whole idea of online education. It is already several years now started in the Western countries and it started percolating down to our own country to the better institutions, there is what is known as factorization of education taking place where a person could select whatever subjects or courses of study that he or she wanted to take and make a combination for himself or herself and ask a university to give a degree for you. But off late, that has gone further. More and more today, with the availability of courses online from the best universities in the world, from some organizations, which are not even universities. And lots of courses are available of very distinct specialisation, we might say, fractured from different subjects in their entirety, which you feel that is useful for you, which you feel is something that attracts you. And then when you have done a number of these courses, you go to a university and say I have so many credits from this university, that university, the third University, and something from your own university. Give me a degree that says that I am a graduate or a postgraduate or even a doctoral person. This has been happening and this is something that we are encouraging here.

The moment I heard the word fracture for a moment, you know, it’s only the negative obviously, but then yes, one realises that once you get a fracture, we’ve got to repair the system. And I guess you’re also alluding to that. But in the intent of me You also allude to the need for interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning, which has now become the new normal, particularly in our endeavour to have a more holistic education system and you know an entire character building and a far more empowering process. So have you been able to have you been an enabler and actor Sam Don Bosco for that as well? That’s something most universities are now offering.

In 1995, when I was the principal of St. Anthony’s college at Shillong, I was the first one to introduce a Bachelor’s course in biotechnology in the whole country. It was something new that the UGC was trying to introduce. And I met with tremendous opposition from my own college, but we went through it. And within a matter of three years’ time, it became the course that was most in demand. Here we have in Don Bosco University, the School of Life Sciences, which is again, so very interdisciplinary that you would wonder whether it is chemistry or biology or botany, or can power zoology or even parts of physics. This is a way forward today.

I am rather intrigued by your, your sense of foresight and farsight. So I need to know a little bit more about you, as, a personality, because obviously, you’ve studied a lot. You’ve done a lot of in-depth research and facts to be able to, you know, have this kind of clarity. And this foresight to talk to us a little bit about Dr. Stephen Mavely

I must say that I have been singularly blessed, and had exposure to sciences, to education, to mathematics, to mass communication, to philosophy, to theology, I had exposure to India, and probably some of the best universities abroad in Europe, and America. And I have been a key learner all my life. And when we decided as our Moscow society, I don’t know if you’re aware that Bosco society is a worldwide society, we exist in 132 countries, we are about 16 -17,000 fathers and brothers in the world. When we decided that we will start a university in India and place it here in this beautiful part of India, northeast India, we had one overarching, resolve, that is that we should be able to mold persons who are dependable human persons, and who, who can act anywhere in the world, as persons who are educated, who are socially committed, and who have something within them, that makes them people who are standard, and be a joy to have around what I have experienced all my life as a person. And the opportunities that I have been given, have helped me to create an ambiance in this university where our young people will learn to find their own dreams, move forward, and in pursuit of those dreams affect life in the world.

When we look at the sense of learning, particularly at the position at the helm, may you are we only focused on tend to focus on the students that you know, we tend to think that they’re the ones that need to learn. But we forget at times, and I’ve noticed this through my conversation with several people who are at the helm, that we overlook the teacher, our focus entirely become the student. Whereas in the challenging environment that we have, the process of the teacher’s transformation is far more critical and far more difficult. Because they have to unlearn and then learn again. So how have you approached that

Every year at the beginning of the semester, before the students come onto Canvas, we have what are called staff development programs or staff enrichment programs. And we get the best minds in the country and from abroad to give them programs for three days, four days, sometimes more than that they’re specifically geared to professional growth and personal growth. And as a result of that, we have a team that works together that thinks together. We have every month meetings of our departments or our schools in order to discuss issues that are there. in teaching and learning and in guiding students. We try to inculcate in our faculty thinking that it is not merely teaching or research that matters, but also the larger issues of life, like the environment, like community development, community engagement. We have a centre here called the Centre for developmental studies and initiatives. We reach out to dozens of villages as a result of that. And this year, we just have trained them with some professors from the University of Minnesota in what is called service-learning. Service Learning is a concept Which every student when we put through during their time in the university here, through some introduction to the underpinnings of what it means to be engaged with the community around you, wherever you are, and then to spend 2-3-4 hundred hours of real community service during the course of their stay here. And when they leave, together with a graduation certificate, they will get a certificate that says, Here is a dependable human being who has done this, that and the third thing, and was also learned what it means to be a dependable human being. These are some of the initiatives that we are taking. And we have the privilege of being situated in a tea garden, in the course of the last 10 years planted about 25,000 trees here, to being recognised by the International Association of Universities Association of Commonwealth universities, as well as the Association of Asian  Pacific universities, for our work in this regard. And so the education that we give, both for our faculty as well as for our students, is something that is, I would say, rather comprehensive, the old word we used to say was holistic. But today, I would say this much more comprehensive, it has to take into consideration the worries of the world, the concerns of the world.

You know the more I talk to you, Dr. Mavely, the more I desire to learn from you, already learned so much over these last 20-25 minutes. But not just me. I think there are lots more we need to learn from and take advice from. So I’m going to take 4 different sections of the educational ecosphere, and ask you to give your advice to them at this point in time A- the student, B- the parent, C- the teacher, and D-  the fellow Vice-Chancellor.

For the students, I have only this to say because that’s what we are doing with our students. Every challenge, as it is usually said is also an opportunity. We can either choose to be despondent or we can roll up our sleeves and say, let me find out what I can do about this, and then get together and realise the things that can be realised. Hundreds of things can be done during this time of lockdown, of the scale of protecting ourselves around students who have come up with some of the things that would be useful for the wider world. Like for instance, they have developed gloves that can automatically sanitise the things that they use sky’s the limit as far as creativity is concerned, and this is the best time to bring creative juices into play . For the parents. one thing I have noticed and I hope that will continue. Due to the forced lockdowns, they have had far more time to spend with their children than they ever had. They have created that loving relationship which probably was missing, as a result of which you find a lot of students in universities and colleges today, who are somewhat alienated from society, who do not know what a parent can actually what role a parent can play in their lives. I believe these three, four months of lockdown would have taught them that successful work, accumulation of resources, and money is not the only thing in the world, that children deserve a lot of their care and they’re concern and that would be a fantastic contribution that they can do. And for the younger generation, especially, especially in our country, I hope that the hygiene practices that we have been insisting on now will become a pattern in their behavior. That they will be far more careful about hygienic practices than we elders have been and as a country, we will become an example in the world for something that we are not known for. We are known for us slums we are known for our dirt, we are known for everything that is unsavory. I hope that will change too.

You know Dr. Mavely,  It’s not just what you say, or how you say, most importantly, why you say is more deeply in the process. And as I converse with you and conclude this conversation, and just you know, bombarded by the alliteration of eyes, when I  look at you and I  hear you incite, innovation, inclusiveness,  a deep sense of Indianness, initiative, and above all inspiration. You truly make a very Wise Chancellor, thank you for talking to us.

It’s a wonderful idea. Find the best people around the country and share their views. But I believe we need to have people who can inspire but who do not get an opportunity perhaps to do so. And in that light, this initiative of yours is totally committed.


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