4 Things Our President Had To Say To The Indian Student Today

Posted on June 9, 2014 in Education, Lists, Politics

By Saurabh Gandhi:

Context: Every year before the Budget Session, the President of India addresses a joint session of both the Houses of Indian Parliament. Less than a month ago, the Indian electorate delivered a massive victory to the Bharatiya Janata Party led NDA (National Democratic Alliance) in the national elections. This makes President Mukherjee’s address even more significant this time around because it can shed light into the priorities of the new dispensation. Although it is called the ‘President’s Address’, the speech is prepared by the Government of the day and the President is bound to read it both in letter and spirit. So, it was no surprise to hear Prime Minister Modi’s favourite phrases like “Minimum Government, Maximum Governance” and “Ek Bharat Shresth Bharat” (United India, Best India) in Pranab Da’s Bengali accent! This piece takes a look at only one part of the President’s Address — what President Mukherjee had to say to the Indian student?

pranab-mukherjee

I was listening with rapt attention when President Mukherjee rose to speak today, waiting for PM Modi’s ‘to-do list’ with regard to the education system of India (if you may call it that). Sadly, I had to wait till the 12th paragraph of his speech. Here are some excerpts of his focus on education and certain background information along with my opinion:

1.  There was this general talk about India being home to the largest youth population and the need for reaping the advantages of this demographic dividend (the benefits of having a young population include more economic growth but only if the energy is channelized in the right direction) and then President Mukherjee fired the first salvo: “My government will strive to transition from Youth Development to Youth-led Development. It will set up Massive Open Online Courses and virtual classrooms.”

The shift from Youth Development to Youth-led Development is a welcome one, though it was unclear how that would be achieved. Would student entrepreneurs be given incentives or would the youth be included in the decision making process of the Government through some mechanism? A youth Parliament (there are a couple carried out by private channels and individuals but nothing official) which could assist the elected Parliament would be a great initiative.

The focus on e-education is not surprising given PM Modi’s internet-savvy nature. The idea of MOOC is great but it can only be termed a long term goal because for that to reach the rural areas with limited broadband connectivity would take years if not decades.

2. “It (the government) will formulate a National Education Policy aimed at meeting the challenges posed by lack of quality, research and innovation in our educational institutions. We will set up IITs and IIMs in every state.

Again, the message here can be summed up in these lines from ‘A Psalm of Life’ by Longfellow:
“In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!”

The address rightly recognizes the problem with the education sector — that of inadequate quality and lack of research and innovation – but is itself lacking in new ideas in framing the solution. According to the government, the solution is to set up IITs and IIMs in every state. No harm in that, but then out of all the students who clear their class 12, how many actually get into the IITs? A miniscule percentage. Same goes for the IIMs. We need to dare to look beyond the IITs and the IIMs (sorry Mr. Arindam Chaudhuri, I had to borrow this phrase) if we really want to re-structure the education system as the majority study elsewhere.

3. “With the motto of “Har Haath Ko Hunar”(talent in very hand), my government will strive to break the barriers between formal education and skill development, and put in place a mechanism to give academic equivalence to vocational qualifications. With the goal of Skilled India, my government will also launch a National Multi-skill Mission”.

Again, this brushes over the right issues but when it comes to the solution, it talks of a National Multi-skill Mission. This is not something different from the National Skill Development Council set up by the UPA government. Implementation would be key to watch out here.

4. “My government will launch a “National Sports Talent Search System”. It will facilitate development and promotion of Indian sports, particularly rural sports. Sports will be popularised by making it an integral part of the school curriculum and providing educational incentives.”

This is something new. Every government says that they want to encourage sports but this is the first time that a government is saying that educational incentives will be provided. It will be interesting to see how this plays out — would attendance incentives be given or separate schools would be started with a focus on sports. Also, the promotion of sports through making it an integral part of the school curriculum is a great idea. Will we finally have “Marks for Sports”?

All in all, the address lays out the issues threadbare. No doubt about that. It is forward looking in some respects and status quo-ist in others. It wouldn’t be fair to just judge the government on the basis of this speech as it is difficult to explain the details in a speech. Let’s say, “Action” so that our HRD Minister can start playing her role.

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