I know that your first few days in the job have been taken up in a controversy around your qualification and also the fact that you mis-represented under oath in the affidavits. However, I am not going to get distracted from that and will hope that you come out with your clarifications and find a way to settle the issue. My personal opinion on these issues is also not of concern and so will move on to highlight some of the challenges before you as a Minister.
HRD Ministry has had a mix of good and bad leadership in the past and we have experienced fair lethargy on part of Mr Arjun Singh and Mr Murli Manohar Joshi but all that seemed to change in more recent past. We can criticise your predecessor but it is also a fact that HRD Ministry was amongst the few where there was some “action” happening and hence am impressed by your cautious statements on the first day of assuming your role though pledging to formulate polices based on BJP manifesto, which in my opinion spells out some very good directional points. If we can achieve what has been promised there, we would have done well.
Times of India provided a list of priorities and I have added some comments to them:
Strengthen the Right to Education. The Vajpayee government had made education a fundamental right in 2002.
- The first task should be to help states with funds so that trained and qualified teachers are recruited.
We are producing thousands of educated youth who are not employable. To make education in line with the requirements of the job market, a big push is required in skilling.
- Bulk of the new jobs will be in industry (manufacturing, particularly) and in the services sector. We need to produce an army of skilled personnel for them. Hence an urgent need to re-launch the drive for polytechnics across smaller cities as well.
There is a need to reverse BJP’s opposition to allowing foreign universities to open campus in India.
- Even if Ivy Leaguers are not interested initially, many A-grade institutions like Caltech and Duke are keen. The bill is pending in Parliament. Once legislation is in place, FDI would flow. Already, 100% FDI is allowed.
A quality audit of IITs/IIMs needed.
- IITs should be asked to pay attention to research. It has become a factory producing engineers. IIMs should be given deemed university status so that it attracts genuine research in the fast changing economy. Despite expansion, there is a scope for more IITs/IIMs. Also a need to fill up vacancies which is largely caused due to lesser number of researchers and the lower interest in academia of our bright students. Change the mindset.
The syllabus of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the vehicle of RTE, should be recast.
- Top priority should be given to teaching English. Across India a new aspirational class has emerged that feels constrained by the lack of knowledge of English.
Mid-Day Meal needs a serious revamp. HRD ministry needs to get into a mission mode to ensure hygienic food reaches children. Cook-cum-helpers should be given better and regular remuneration.
- Add to this the improvements required to bring incentivise the students to attend school. Bihar’s government scheme of giving cycles to school girls was very successful. The PM has talked of ensuring toilets for girl students at schools and that is a must. If the states don’t listen to your recommendation, encourage the MPs to use their fund allocations for this.
UPA’s promise of 6,000 quality schools the district level, 2,500 through the private-public partnership (PPP) mode, didn’t take off.
- The new government should kick start these schools with qualified teachers and syllabus that bridges the urban-rural divide. However the quality of the teachers is of equal importance.
The huge gap between central and state universities needs to be bridged.
- In this regard, UPA’s Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan should be bolstered. This is the first time that Centre is doing something for state universities. Initial response of states has been positive.
I know that the above eight points will require a bit of “academic study” and so here I “simplify” and with “example” some of the issues from my wish-list that can be considered by your august office.
We do have a shortage of teachers but a hasty mass-drive to hire teachers will not be advisable.
- In 2005, a BJP-JDU Government took charge in the state of Bihar. The focus was more on getting the village students to the classrooms. The key issue facing the schools was huge shortage of teachers.
… in 2005, the teacher-student ratio in schools was alarming, one teacher for every 300 students. The government went on a hiring spree, in excess of 2,70,000 para teachers were appointed.
“The imbalance had to be urgently corrected as a first step”, a senior officer told me. “There are issues of quality but they can wait, our first priority was to man the classrooms; who would send children to schools without teachers/ Should we have waited another decade to train teachers before we moved to primary education? A whole new generation would have gone unlettered.”
(Sankarshan Thakur beautifully described the “education revolution” initiated in Bihar in his book SINGLE MAN…)
That may have been an issue in Bihar in 2005 but in the long term, I get a feeling that without the right teachers being appointed… especially when 2,70,000 teachers had to be found quickly… we are faced with another problem…
Academician Rukmini Banerji… wrote of alarming deficiencies in a 2011 article in Economic and Political Weekly. “Perhaps the most important deficit that needs to be addressed immediately by the government in elementary education is the capability of teachers in primary schools to teach… Here is an example of a percentage problem that teachers were asked to do. The question is similar to questions in Standard 5 textbooks. The question combines a “do you know” task with a “can you explain” task: “There are thirty-eight children enrolled in a class. Of these twenty-three are present today. What percentage of students is absent today?” Only 25 percent of teachers could solve this problem. The findings from the language tasks completed by teachers are equally sobering: less than 50 percent teachers could meaningfully summarize a Standard 5 level text.” A random survey of para teachers by reporters of The Telegraph found a mathematics teacher who couldn’t do multiples of eleven and beyond. Another, who claimed to teach science, social science, English and arithmetic at the mille-school level, did not know what potato or tomato could mean. Asked to name the president of India, a history teacher said he would check and get back. An English teacher wrote “literachur” for literature and singled out William Shakespeare for sublime elevation. “Sexpeer,” he called him. If this were a spoof, it would have been possible to laugh.
The issue of filling out vacancies with quality teaching staff is an issue not just with village schools but also with the Higher Education institutions including IITs and IIMs. UPA Government introduced a number of new IITs and such institutions but that led to another problem. A friend from my college days (and a well quoted expert), Manish Sabharwal, wrote in The Economic Times (see link)
The speech by Narendra Modi that rightly put talent at the heart of greatness has got tangled with his proposal to create 13 new IITs, 15 IIMs and 21 AIIMS. People opposing say this is unfeasible because 13 new IITs won’t find the 1,300 new faculties while old IITs have 41% of their teaching posts vacant. People welcoming say this will improve youth access to the signaling value – the old age of IITs and IIMs being good places to be at but better places to be from — and the new IIT Hyderabad has managed to fill 102 of the 105 faculty positions. The AIIMS expansion is less controversial – most people agree with the insanity in producing only 37,000 doctors every year relative to 15 lakh engineers. India needs 2 lakh doctors every year and must reverse the high southern concentration of medical colleges.
Vocational Education and Community Colleges: Some work has happened in this respect and that should be continued. I also understand that several Community Colleges have recently been given a go-ahead. This can take away the pressure on Universities and also be of great help.
- However, this can only and only benefit if there can be a qualification framework that can lead to students completing the advance diplomas with the ability to articulate into degrees. I do hope I am holding your attention on this. India currently has no system of Recognition of Prior Learning and limits mobility of a student from one institution to another.
Foreign Education and related issues:
- Do reverse the BJP-RSS stance on Foreign Universities opening campuses or any operations in India. There seems to be a continuing belief amongst your party members and in the RSS that students studying abroad are resulting in a “Brain Drain”. All over the world, such notions have been rubbished a long time ago and the new term that we use is “Brain Gain”. This means that the student who has added value overseas leads to a gain for the nation. The forex used for overseas study is also not a drain on our resources when we view it in medium term. The repatriation of forex to India by students who choose to work or settle overseas far exceeds the amount that is spent on their education. I am a little concerned with the following content (full speech on the PM’s website and on this link) from the Indian PM’s speech in Hyderabad:
Friends, there was a time when the world used to come to India for education. Youngsters from across the nations of world used to come here for their studies. Friends, the figures of the Indian Government state that within last one year, Rs. 1,20,000 crore has been spent from Indian treasury for the education of Indian youth who have gone abroad for studies. Why, because they were not getting the education of the kind that they were looking for. We lost our intellectual capital and also our monetary capital..! Can’t the Indian Government arrange that the youth gets good education in India, they do not have to roam here and there..?
The data on the forex is wrong but I shall not get into that here. Lets just go by the spirit of the speech only. This is a reference to the brain drain and forex drain… Both only happen in short term and in medium to long term, the returns to the country is immense.
There is a need to simplify and fix the issue of “recognition of globally valid degrees” in India.
- The current system that does-not recognize “shorter than two years” degrees even from some of the topmost institutions (including such as LSE) and the system that just doesn’t gives equivalence to degrees that are gained by students having studied at multiple institutions carrying credits from one to another, need a full refresh of software. AIU needs to be done away with and world standards can be used instead of discovering one of our own. I have been lobbying through my blogs and articles on the issue of mutual recognition of foreign qualifications in India… Please do google.
And please don’t reverse some good decisions taken by the previous government simply out of vendetta against certain state governments. I hear that the allocation of the two new Central Universities to Bihar is being reversed as one of the early decisions… It may remain untrue.
Honourable Minister, If you do promise to look into the above, I promise not to further rake up the issue of your not having attended a college or having provided fake sworn affidavits under oath. These are after all “chalta hai” in India… and you will be judged by the body of your work and not by the pieces of paper that we hang on our wall.