“Quality education to all is our motto”
“The five pillars of education policy for any country and particularly for our country will always be accessibility, equity, quality, affordability and finally accountability. So, these five are the pillars on which our new education policy will be based,” said Union Human Resource Minister Prakash Javadekar in an exclusive interview to Prakash Nanda and Deepak Kumar Rath. Excerpts:
The main point when one talks of education is that quality is becoming a huge problem in the sense that among the 200 top universities of the world, we don’t stand anywhere. So what precisely is the problem, given the fact that the government has launched various schemes like Make in India, which ultimately depends on quality and quantity is immaterial in this case?
No, quantity also matters because when Britishers started education, they started it not for teaching everybody but to develop workforce to sustain the regime in the country. Therefore, during the freedom movement, right from Gandhiji to Gokhale to Ambedkar, all the Congress leaders started taking interest in education and it became national education movement actually. So, expansion was not the interest of the British and after freedom we started it and in the last 70 years we have reached every nook and cranny of the country and now there is 98-99 per cent of enrollment, which is a good thing. So, expansion is also necessary because access is also important. Now there is the question of quality. Immediately after I took over as the HRD Ministery on 5th of July, there was an Inter State Council Meeting of all state Chief Ministers called by Prime Minister after a gap of 10 years. In that meeting, one point that was discussed extensively was of quality. All chief ministers, not a single exception, laid emphasis on quality and rededicated themselves for improving the quality of both primary and higher education. I think that was a good beginning. So, our agenda is to improve quality. “Sabko shikhsa achchi siksha” (Quality education to all) is our motto.
And now there is the question of how we are doing it. We are doing it systematically. Now there will be Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) meetings and there is already a proposal to improve the learning outcomes of primary education. So we will put learning outcomes in rules of Right to Education (RTE) that after the first standard a student should be able to do this and after second standard a student should be able to do that. These are the learning outcomes and these outcomes are what we are going to notify. Hence, learning outcome is one thing, the second thing is that we can allow states to decide whether they want to have exams or not. More importantly, what we are saying is that as far as higher education is concerned, research and innovation was not in focus, only teaching and degree was in the focus. We are changing it to bring out research and innovation. Narendra Modiji has envisioned research and innovation hubs in all higher learning centers. Therefore, we are bringing world-class universities. We are bringing industry-academy interaction through “Chhatra Aavishkar Yojna.” We are also funding various research projects, nearly more than 300 research projects in 10 sectors. These research projects will fetch many patents for us, of which I am very sure. What we are doing is taking other higher education finance agencies to provide nearly 20 thousand crores next year so that research infrastructure in higher education could go up. All these put together, research innovation in higher education and improving quality in primary education, even pre-schooling, are our endeavour to achieve.
But there comes up contradictions, in the sense, once you go on establishing IIT’s in 50 places in India, don’t you think the brand value of these premier institutions gets compromised?
No, I don’t agree to that. See our country is a huge country. Recently, I went to Israel for Shimon Peres funeral. It is noteworthy that the population of Israel is only 8 million people but it has the world-class universities.
But do you have that many quality teachers?
The issue of teachers is also one thing which we are taking on a priority basis. Those students who want to become teachers will be motivated to become one. There will be more freedom in research areas and good compensation will be made available and after Seventh Pay Commission, I don’t think there will be any problem in this regard. More importantly, there will be in-service training for college teachers and there will be pre-service training for school teachers. Many states have come up with an idea of creating separate cadre for headmasters, where they will become headmasters after 15 years of service, so that they can provide leadership for a longer period, not at the time of retirement. There are many things we are taking up.
The second contradiction one was talking about is that you have a policy of empowerment. Effectively it means caste reservation which is applied in higher education. Now there is a growing demand that the passing marks must come down, which is happening now in Delhi University law department. They say that 20 per cent of marks are good enough for promotion and then the government has to make compromises on that. Then how these things go along with the concept of quality of education?
No, I tell you. There are no two separate exams held for SC/ST and general students. They have to appear for the same exam. They are assessed in the same manner without disclosing their identities. So, they are tested on the same footing.
But what happened in Roorkie? The IIT had to take back students, who had failed.
No, there is always a positive action which is needed for hitherto neglected sections. We know a person, coming from a rich and educated family, enters IIT, whereas there is another person, whose parents have never gone to school and he, coming from some tribal area, joins the IIT only through his perseverance and toil. You need to provide some more inputs to these people. You need to make them acclimatize with the whole system. That’s our responsibility and we must do that.
Another thing is politicisation of education, politicisation in the negative sense, which is being witnessed in central universities like Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University and Hyderabad University.
See, we have 40 central universities and around 2 lakh students and there is complete peace and calm and study-oriented atmosphere in majority of these institutes. If something happens in one or two institutes, it is okay, but the issue is that there needs to be a democratic form of any protest. You can’t detain the VC, especially when he is ready to talk and is open for dialogue. Dialogue is the answer to everything. Students and anybody can have a demand but they should resort to a democratic way. I am happy that DP Tripathi, who is a Member of Parliament, and several other stalwarts of JNU have opposed what the students are doing with the VC. The JNU VC was forced to sleep on the ground that too without food. This is not a democratic protest.
When you took over as the HRD Minister, the Ministry was rife with controversies, but now it seems to be very cool and calm. What is the reason behind the reformation?
See, Smriti Irani was my predecessor and she also did many good things. But let me also tell that I believe in dialogue. I have been into education sector for forty years. I was Senate member for 12 years and I was into student politics for 10 years. I was member of Legislative Council in Maharashtra and I won two elections from graduate and teachers constituency. I headed the State Planning Board, Maharashtra and I was Chairman of IT task force and also I was member of HRD standing committee. Overall, I know the field and, therefore, I am open for ideas and always open for criticism also. So, this comparison is not appropriate that there was something earlier, which is not today.
Don’t you think your department was in the news for all the wrong reasons?
My comment is that I don’t make any discrimination.
Don’t you think your opponents’ claim that education is being increasingly saffronised is legitimate?
Nobody is claiming that nowadays. This was in fashion sometime ago but not now because I am talking to everybody, meeting everybody and taking suggestions from all corners that who are interested in education. I have called all the MPs on 10th November to listen to their ideas. See the five pillars of education policy for any country and particularly for our country will always be accessibility, equity, quality, affordability and finally accountability. So these are the pillars on which our new education policy will be based.
What is the present status of that policy?
Subramaniyam Commiittee was one input and they did a good job but we have received many more inputs thereafter, so there will be a committee looking into all the suggestions. It is now nearly two years that we have collected suggestions from all over the country. We have held, in fact Smritiji had held, more than one lakh village meetings and district meetings. Hence, they have done an elaborate exercise and the new committee will look into it and then the draft will go to the Cabinet.
One thing everybody says that though your government is nearly three years old now, some very important posts are still lying vacant like that in ICSSR.
No, we have appointed a member secretary in ICSSR recently. As far as the Chairman is concerned, when he retires, a new man will take his post. Now we are planning to immediately post people a little early so that no gap remains in vacancy.
But what about VCs in Central Universities?
There will be no gap now and we will fill up the posts a little early, so that, as soon as a post falls vacant a person will take over.
Don’t you think it is time to review the National Curriculum Framework?
See, every generation has the right to review the policy. Last review of the policy was done in 1992. The policy of 1986 was reviewed in 1992. Almost 25 years have since passed. The National Curriculum Framework was framed in 2006, i.e. 10 years back. So, I think every generation should review the policy in every 10 years and make it more relevant and that is what the progressive India and the modern India demands and we will do it through dialogue with all.
Do you think allocations to HRD are good enough?
Allocations are very good. The Modi government has increased it phenomenally. Now we are spending 4.5 per cent of our GDP on education and let me make it very clear that GDP is not in government’s pocket, it’s in everybody’s pocket. We are incurring 15 per cent as far as the Central government is concerned and state governments are spending nearly 20 per cent on education. If that is the case, then we are spending a good amount and now we have to increase the efficiency of every penny spent on education.
Private players in education are mushrooming in every nook and cranny of the country. They are not into research work, which is the focus of your government and they are there for sheer commercialization. What are you doing in this regard?
We want academia-industry interaction to be a lively part because unless industries put request of their needs on education campus, the academia will not be able to come out with solutions and unless we do not come out with solutions in academic campuses, they will not become centers for excellence and research innovation. That’s how universities in western countries have excelled. We want to do that.
Will you allow foreign universities to set up campuses here?
See, I was the member of the HRD standing committee when the UPA had brought the Bill. Oscar Fernandes was the chairman and we went through the Bill and gave the suggestion that 200 universities could set up campuses here, but, at that time, the Bill could not be materialised, as their own party (Congress) was opposing it. Now, there is already a training arrangement and both UGC and AICTE are looking into it. But we will take a view on this matter after sometime and will see what can be done. And we are open to the idea.
What about deemed-to-be universities?
Deemed-to-be universities are 123 in number and we want to promote good universities and give them more autonomy. We want to regulate some not-so-good universities. So, that will be our basis.
What is your vision or agenda regarding Ministry of Human Resource Development?
I think improving the quality of education is the need of the hour and to improve quality with learning outcomes at primary level is the first priority. Giving the states more freedom is another thing and the third thing is more teacher recruitment, vacancy-filling, intensive training, accountability, all are important for me. So, based on our five pillars, we want to create more meaningful education and that’s my target.