Schooling India for success: DNA examines Ministry of Human Resource Development

The Ministry of Human Resource Development's bid to promote education through e-learning, to crack down on fraudulent BEd teaching colleges, and to discard the UPA's policy of automatically passing children till Class 8, has been met with a mixed response. DNA examines the results

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Schooling India for success: DNA examines Ministry of Human Resource Development


Ever since the Modi government took office in 2014, education has been a topic that has generated headlines. Critics and some educationists charge that the government's push to "over-promote" Sanskrit — a language already taught in schools — and yoga in school and college curricula is resulting in the "saffronising of education" while ignoring real issues.

Emphasising Indian culture and e-learning

Responding to such charges, the government counters that its vision is to provide quality education to all while making students proud of their heritage. In their manifesto released in 2014, the NDA stated, "Education in India needs to be revitalised and reorganised to make future generations proud of their culture, heritage and history and also for creating confidence in the vitality of India." Such confidence, the government feels, goes hand-in- hand with the Prime Minister's 'Digital India' vision and will enable more students to learn through e-learning.

In line with this Digital India vision, the government has pushed its initiative, "Sabko Shiksha, Achchi Shiksha (Quality Education For All)" through SWAYAM, the country's first online learning platform. Announced in 2014, the e-platform offers higher education courses from institutes such as JNU and Delhi University among others. The government claims that not only will SWAYAM courses help students who have dropped out of higher education but those who are already studying in such institutes.

Scrapping the no-detention policy of UPA govt

Apart from the online initiative, there are a number of initiatives the government has introduced in the education sector – the biggest one of them being the scrapping of the no-detention policy. Introduced by the UPA in 2010, the policy ensured that students were passed automatically till Class 8. However, under the NDA, the education ministry has allowed schools to conduct examinations for students in Classes 5 and 8 which will allow them to hold back students who have not passed.

Class 10 Board exams are back

Another move by the government has been to reintroduce Class 10 board exams. Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar who introduced the initiative last year said that it would introduce a "level playing field" for all. While this decision has been accepted on the whole as a necessary precursor to the Class 12 Board exams, what has been a cause for concern is the recommendation by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on the existing three-language formula.

Currently, under the National Education Policy, students who study in CBSE-affiliated schools have to study Hindi, English and another Indian language till Class 8. The CBSE proposal wants the teaching of three languages to be extended to Class 10 and that students be required to get at least passing marks in the third Indian language.

Focus on Indian languages

While the proposal is lying with the ministry, there is concern among educationists about its implications. Currently, schools teach a foreign language and by making an Indian language compulsory, students who do want to study a foreign language will have to study four.

Though the ministry has taken great pains to assuage concerns stating that no changes will be made till 2019-2020, critics say the idea does not take into account practical concerns. They say that in today's world a foreign language would be of more use to a student; there are limited number of quality teachers in some Indian languages and the lack of demand by students would lead to wastage of resources. Teachers claim that due to these problems, the language most likely to be offered would be Sanskrit.

Shutting down BEd colleges

Training quality teachers have also been a priority for this government. In 2014, just after taking office, Prime Minister Modi spoke about the introduction of a five-year training course after schooling which would better enable those aspiring to take up teaching as a career. The PM also spoke about his vision of not just seeing quality teachers in India but ensuring that the country exported top-class teachers to the world.

The government is acting on its bid to ensure India's teachers are of the highest quality by scrutinising BEd colleges. Earlier this year, Javadekar stated that he would not allow "shops" being run in the name of BEd colleges. To achieve this, the government has declared that no new BEd colleges would be allowed to open in 2017-18 while all existing colleges have been asked to submit affidavits to justify their functioning. Speaking to DNA, officials at the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) said that they found that one-fourth of the colleges that were audited were fly-by- night operators, and the council is likely to shut these colleges.

Ranking of top institutes

Apart from trying to improve the quality of teachers, the government has also introduced other initiatives to improve the quality of education. Smriti Irani, when she was HRD minister, announced that the government would make public its own rankings of higher education institutions. The announcement was made in 2015, following which the first rankings were released in 2016.

Since then, the rankings, called National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF), have become an annual affair. "NIRF has created a sense of competition among institutions to perform better. They will perform better and in turn we will reward them with rankings. These rankings will be taken seriously by the parents and students as well," said Javadekar while launching NIRF 2017 earlier this year.

Creating 'India's Harvard'

Taking this one step further, the government has also decided to create "India's own Harvard" by establishing 20 educational institutes of national eminence – 10 of which will be from the government sector and 10 from the private sector.

These institutions, which will be selected by a panel comprising five members who will be selected by the Cabinet secretary, UGC Chairman and Secretary Higher Education, will have no more than 15,000 students, a student-teacher ratio of 1:20 and perhaps most importantly, they will be freed from UGC guidelines. As a result, there will be no UGC inspections and regulatory control over fees and the curriculum will be taken out of the UGC's hands. Government sources add that only those institutes who appear in the Top 50 of the NIRF would be allowed to apply.

Despite so many initiatives being pushed forward by the ministry over the past few years, there have been mixed feelings about just what the government had accomplished in education over the last three years in power. Javadekar though has no doubts. "We have followed our motto to provide quality education for all and improve the quality of education, in these three years and will continue to do so," he said.


Opening of new IITs & IIMs

What Happened: Seven new IIMs have been opened at Sirmaur, Nagpur, Sambalpur, Amritsar, Bodhgaya, Jammu and Vishakapatnam. Six new IITs established in Jammu, Bhilai, Dharward, Goa, Palakkad and Tirupati

Analysis: The number of IITs and IIMs has gone up with the new government, but the infrastructure and faculty available to them is still lagging and will take some time to match up to the level of existing ones. The government has been criticised for opening new institutions without thinking of their future, but it has defended the move saying every new initiative takes time.

Project Vishwajeet for old IITs

What Happened: Government had launched Project Vishwajeet last year to help the older IITs come up to the level of world-class institutions. The idea was to provide extra funding to the institutions to help them build on faculty, infrastructure and research.

Analysis: The IITs had asked for Rs 7,000 crore for the project, but the ministry agreed to a much smaller budget. This was also not given to the institutes, as the proposal was junked by the finance ministry. So HRD ministry had to pull the plug on the project which had been announced to catapult the IITs to world-class institutions.

Changes in NCERT books

What Happened: Right from the time the NDA government has come  to power in 2014, there has been criticism that the government is trying to “saffronise” education and “change history chapters”.

Analysis: Critics claim there have been constant demands from the RSS to make changes in the syllabus, but the government claims that whatever changes it made are for the benefit of students. NCERT textbooks have recently been revised with issues like Goods & Service Tax (GST), Clean India campaign and other government schemes included in the syllabus.

What the govt promised to deliver on education

On the no-detention policy

  • What the minister said
    “We defined learning outcomes, earlier learning outcomes were mentioned in the Right to Education Act but not defined. Now schools would know what students should know in which class in a particular subject. This will fix accountability of all stakeholders. We also gave the decision to scrap no-detention policy to states.”
  • What happened
    When the government first decided to do away with no-detention policy, it received a mixed response from academia. However, when it defined learning outcomes to access how much a child has learnt in what age, through exams, it seems to have won the game back. Even critics contend that a child needs to be evaluated more thoroughly before he or she reaches Class 10.

Reforming the University Grants Commission

  • What the minister said
    “We are going to completely reform UGC. We had announced this in the budget as well.”
  • What happened
    Plans to reform UGC and replace it with a single higher education authority have been discussed since the time of the UPA when Kapil Sibal was the Minister of HRD. However nothing concrete has happened on this so far.

Replacing engineering tests with NEET-like exam

  • What the minister said
    “We are planning to replace the engineering exam with a single entrance test on the lines of NEET.”
  • What happened
    The government had plans to replace engineering entrance exams across the country with a single exam like NEET for doctors. They argued that this would ensure a level playing field, as currently each state holds a different exam with different criteria. The plan was approved by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) but the Union HRD minister held the idea back, saying that they want to first see how admissions happen under NEET. The plan has now been postponed.

Prakash Javadekar, Union Minister for Human Resource Development

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