These are the times when our national debates centre around the “saffron wave” that has swept the nation. They centre around agitations against films and conspiracy theories about a dead film star. Sometimes we move to bans and scams as well. But what unites them all is the D-word: “development”. There is always someone who would talk about the development Modi Sarkar has brought in, without divulging the details of this “development”. While most of us are aware that such and such schemes exist, there seems to be a general lack of awareness about their implementation or consequences. Health, Education, Agriculture, Rural development, etc have somehow disappeared from the national discourse.
This is my attempt to bring to the notice of the MHRD, the “development” they could do in the education sector.
The current government has, time and again in the last two years, rolled back on funds and cut down on seats in centres for research at several universities. The UGC had sent out circulars to some centres which were set up under the 11th five-year plan (2007-12) and renewed in the 12th five-year plan, saying that their planned funding would end on March 31st, 2017. Centres like Studies for Discrimination and Exclusion in JNU, Centre of Excellence for Human Rights Education, School of Law, Rights and Constitutional Governance, Centre for Advanced Studies for Women and Centre for Inclusion and Exclusion at TISS were the ones getting affected.
However, owing to the widespread protests and petitions sent to the UGC, it decided to continue with its funding for another year. But how will extending the plan for just a year resolve the larger issue facing the domain of research in India? The government needs to realise the need for research in social sciences and humanities which helps generate efficiency in policymaking, improve international relations, and better the quality of higher education and bring out an overall growth of the social sector.
The Press Information Bureau published a year-end review of the MHRD named “Achievements of the Ministry of Human Resource Development during 2017”. The review mostly deals with the reforms and resource allocation the ministry did at an urban or semi-urban level. It elaborates on the improved quality of education in the KV’s and the multitude of Digital India schemes the government aims to implement in the sphere of education. However, it fails to report on the reforms or successful schemes to deal with the most basic and rooted problems at the micro-level.
The rural educational spaces have always been riddled with problems like lack of proper transport, parental support towards education, infrastructural programs, teacher absenteeism, lack of quality teachers and resource management. Moreover, huge corruption scams in the mid-day meal programs have surfaced but no stringent action has been taken by the ministry. The shortcomings of existing programs need to be studied and duly revised. In the quest to move towards digitalisation of education it is important to simultaneously re-structure and help build a stronger education sector in the remote parts of the country.
Syllabus for senior secondary education varies across all the states and centre-run schools. One might argue that while the language might differ from textbook to textbook, the content does remain the same. However, given that the 11th and 12th board syllabi are the base for all the Graduate level Entrance exams, it is important to have textbooks which explain things in a comprehensive and lucid manner.
The education sector is in shambles in backward states like Odisha and Bihar, where states haven’t revised their books for a long time. It continues with its low quality of textbooks, which differ greatly in language and illustrations, which leads to a level of academic disparity in students from different boards. The absence of a common curriculum for the senior secondary years has resulted in a crooked system where a state board student, apart from being well-versed with the state-board syllabus, also needs to have an in-depth knowledge of the NCERT syllabus (in some cases, mere knowledge is insufficient; that’s when mugging up enters the scene) to clear the All India Entrance Tests for Medicine and Engineering seats. The idea of establishing a uniform syllabus has been doing the rounds in the media, but no necessary measures have been taken up.
In this Jio generation, knowledge has become easily accessible. Connectivity has increased, and the current government has strived towards digitalisation of India. In this context, there is a need to understand what exactly we reap from this “digitalisation” with respect to education. Providing computers and internet connections should not be the end of this digitalisation. Constructing E-libraries, generously stocked with books, journals, magazines and newspapers accessible to the general public is the need of the hour. One can get lost (talking about students here who are introduced to the internet for the first time) in the complex bubble of the internet and end up in completely different spaces. This is where the need of a library comes in.
We hardly have a library culture in India. Forget rural, finding a good state-run library stocked with a varied range of books even in an urban space is difficult. In such a situation, where does one turn to when in need of a good reading or research space? Hence, emphasis should be given to promoting a library culture where people can have easy access to books and journals of their liking, be it through e-libraries or physical libraries. Rural India needs to have more access to books and a push by the government towards constructing this would no doubt have a lasting impact.
While the UGC has made it compulsory to have an ICC in every Government University to tackle sexual harassment in University spaces, it is being seen that most universities take the issue lightly and do not have a proper functioning ICC. The Raya Sarkar list of “sexual predators” which was made public in 2017 is a testimony to this. Creating an environment conducive to study and work is extremely important in these spaces. It is high time that the UGC examines the workings of these committees and takes stringent action against the perpetrators.
The National Policy on Education was first introduced in 1985 which called for “special emphasis on the removal of disparities and to equalise educational opportunity.” It dealt with elementary education in both rural and urban spaces, which included more scholarships, emphasis on sex-education, teacher integration, policies for the poor families etc. The current government has been working to set up a New Education Policy, keeping in mind the “transformed landscape of education in India in terms of coverage, content and delivery systems”, as the National Policy on Education was last modified in 1992. It had set up a consultation platform which took approximately 2.75 lakh consultations online and an extensive nation-wide consultation, reaching up to the grass-root levels, was carried out. A committee for the evolution of the NEP has also been constituted to examine and draft the NEP basing on the outcome of these recommendations.
The NEP will influence the education sector immensely as it includes policies on resource allocation, further development of the sector, and teacher management as well. It is essentially a project which in the future will decide the very basis of the education sector in India as it aims to make education accessible to all. With just a year left until the next elections, it is high time that the NEP policies are announced and the results of this heavily funded exhausting survey are realised for the general public.
Basically, the MHRD could do with a lot of ground-level implementation of its numerous flagship programmes. Prakash Javadekar could also start prepping for the next elections, perhaps.