What are the principle achievements of Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry in the last three years?
The decisions of HRD Ministry impacts about half of the total population of the country: 26 crore school-going students, three crore college-going students (which makes a total of 29 crore), and their parents. Besides, there are one crore teachers whose fates are associated with this Ministry. So this Ministry has a huge responsibility. Our government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken path-breaking initiatives aimed at overall development of every citizen of the country. It is national integrity at the top of our agenda, and the HRD Ministry's slogan is 'Sabko Siksha, Achi Siksha'. The objective behind the slogan is to improve the quality of education in government schools which was 'dismantled' in the tenure of previous Congress-led UPA government.
We have taken several corrective measures. We allowed states to detain students if they fail in their examination till Class IX. It was the Congress government that had allowed students to move to next class even if they don't pass, and it deteriorated the standard and quality of education.
We decided to put in place posters defining learning outcomes in the schools. We re-introduced board examination in Class X and overhauled the teacher training module.
In foreign countries, schools have parenting courses to groom their kids in better ways. Is there any proposal to start such courses in India too?
We want to start parenting courses in India too as it would help in honing the core skills of kids. It can be done with the aid of different non-government organisations. I want to convey this message to parents that they should first understand the interest and need of their kids before imposing their own ideas on them. Parents always aim to make their kid the best in every field, which is not possible as every child cannot become Sachin Tendulkar or Shankar Mahadevan or a good scholar. The parenting course would help parents better understand the aptitude of their kids and groom them accordingly.
I also want to tell parents that English medium schools are not the final thing, so they should just get out of this mindset. There are several other good institutions in different regional languages. Also, parents should know that English is not the only suitable medium, private schools are not the only good institutions, and expensive education does not guarantee quality education. It's the talent and quality education that make a child successful in his/her life and not the medium or type of school. There are several examples of students becoming icons after receiving education in their own regional language and government-aided schools.
In the BJP's 2014 manifesto, the government promised to increase the spending on education up to 6 per cent of GDP, but it's just 2.9 per cent of the GDP at present. What are your remarks?
We are progressing well in this direction. If we calculate the expenditure on education by both the Centre and states, the spending amounts to 4.5 per cent of the GDP, which is much more than what the Congress government had ever spent. If we calculate the expenditure on the basis of our economy, we are in a very comfortable situation. The spending on education will keep increasing as our economy gains momentum.
Why has the Ministry not yet brought out the New Education Policy despite the exhaustive policy process followed by your predecessor in the last two and a half years?
We are working towards bringing out a robust New Education Policy. In the last 2 and half years, we have received suggestions from across the country, and those recommendations have been compiled. The secretariat work of the New Education Policy is complete and in the next few days, the Committee to draft the policy will be announced.
What about making NCERT books mandatory in all schools? And why is CBSE doing publishing work?
No doubt, the quality of NCERT books is unmatchable. We have asked CBSE-affiliated schools to use NCERT books. About 2,500 schools have started using NCERT books, which is proving to be a great relief to parents as they are now buying all books for their children at just Rs 500 against Rs 5,000. The government has made a decision on book publishing rights to CBSE as from now on, the CBSE would not publish any book. All the books will be published by the NCERT only.
What is the government's stand on the use of books of private publishers in schools? Will that trend end?
No, it will continue. We are trying to publish quality books and increasing the volume so that private schools would not find any excuse of unavailability of NCERT books. The government is making sure that all NCERT books would be available in enough quantity from June onwards until February and when the NCERT books would be available in open market, schools cannot 'force' parents to buy books from private publishers.
Questions arise that your government is appointing RSS functionaries in different institutions of HRD Ministry such as Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), etc. What are your comments?
We are appointing intellectuals with good academic records, and no one has ever raised any doubts over their appointments. All selections are based on merit and not on their association with any group.
What is the status of the National Academic Depository?
It is ready and will be rolled out this year. We have asked the universities, colleges and other different stakeholders to deposit all certificates, degrees certificates, mark sheets on the national depository. No fee will be charged for two years and after that nominal charges will be levied for availing the services. This data is secure. School boards such as CBSE and others have started depositing their data, and in three years, all academic records will be in digital form. It will end the trade in fake degrees.
What about reforms in regulatory powers of University Grants Commission?
The AICTE Bill is a step in this direction as the proposed bill will eliminate overlapping of regulatory powers between AICTE and UGC. The bill would provide graded autonomy to institutions, and there will be no role of UGC in it. The IIM Bill has also been brought to give autonomy to management institutions. We have provided greater autonomy to proposed world class institutions also. These are the major reform moves made by our government to change the regulatory powers of the UGC.
What is the update on Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA)?
It has already started. The loan-seekers have started coming. The disbursal of loans would start from this month. The loans would be provided for institutions such as IIMs, IITs, etc. promotion of research work and strengthening of infrastructures. In the next three years, an amount of Rs 20,000 crore would be disbursed to different institutions.
(Dhirendra Kumar is Special Correspondent, Millennium Post. Views are personal.)