The Center for Neural and Cognitive Sciences (CNCS), School of Medical Sciences, University of Hyderabad (UoH) organised a 2-day international symposium on “Innovations in Cognitive Science Curriculum” on August 26th and 27th, 2021. The symposium was organised as part of the Erasmus+ iBrain grant on  “Capacity building in higher education” of which Prof. Ramesh Mishra, Head, CNCS is one of the international partners representing the University of Hyderabad. The symposium was  inaugurated on August 26th 9.30 AM in a ceremony presided over by Prof. Prakash Babu, Dean, School of Medical Sciences, UoH. The convener of the symposium Prof. Ramesh Mishra gave the opening remarks outlining the objectives of holding this symposium and re-evaluating the cognitive science curriculum being taught across different institutes in India. Cognitive Science has been formally taught for more than a decade in India and he stressed the importance of bringing parity across courses in different institutions. Prof. Prakash Babu reviewed the history of cognitive science at UoH and remarked on the innovative nature of cognitive science as a discipline and appreciated the efforts to improve teaching and research in this field. He welcomed all the speakers and participants from all over India and wished success for the symposium.

The speakers included Prof. Bhoomika Kar (CBCS Allahabad), Dr Kamal Choudhary (IIT Ropar), Dr Amitash Ojha (IIT Jammu), Dr Ark Verma (IIT Kanpur), Dr Samar Husain (IIT Delhi), Dr Pratik Mutha (IIT Gandhinagar), Dr Veeky Baths (BITS Pilani, Goa campus) and Prof. Ramesh Mishra. The speakers were representative of all major institutions in India that have a running cognitive science program. Apart from them, there were two other speakers involved in international cognitive science programs from institutions outside India: Dr Daniela Czernochowski from the University of Kaiserslautern, Germany and Prof. Vasily Klucharev who is the scientific supervisor of the MSc program at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia.

All speakers gave an overview of the curriculum being used in their respective institutions and the challenges faced by them. Some of the common themes across the talks were: What courses are offered as “core” and what are offered as “elective”? What are these decisions based on? Are the cognitive science programs running in India truly interdisciplinary? What courses can be added to make the program interdisciplinary? There were also theoretical discussions on the definition of “interdisciplinary” and the importance of understanding the evolution of cognitive science as a discipline. These discussions are necessary to gain clarity on the mandate of the field and to evaluate whether the current teaching and research programs fit within this mandate.

All the speakers agreed on creating a policy document mentioning the most critical, relevant courses that must be part of any cognitive science program. Such a document can be useful for institutions starting new programs. There was also discussion on the need for greater mobility of students within different intuitions in India and for joint PhD programs. Some speakers also stressed the importance of having a strong research program in order to facilitate a strong teaching program by attracting competent students and new faculty. Prof. Klucharev mentioned how many of the challenges facing India and Russia were similar and remarked on the possibility of learning from each other. There was a panel discussion on 27th August, 2021 where the speakers and the participants discussed ways to move forward.

The symposium was attended by faculty who are either teaching cognitive science elective courses in their respective institutions or those who wish to start full-fledged cognitive science programs. Many students pursuing cognitive science were also in the audience as many of the discussions were directly relevant to the courses being taught to them. The symposium generated a lot of excitement and initiated much-needed conversations on re-evaluating the current teaching methods.

Contributed by Dr. Seema Prasad, Senior Project Associate, CNCS.