The past year could and should have achieved much more than what it did for education. 2018 is going to be a year of surging aspirations and exploding expectations
The mode and extent of verbal human interaction has drastically changed in the last couple of decades. Not much interaction takes place in Indian schools and universities amongst teachers and learners. In most cases, there is an acute shortage of teachers and, hence, those who are in a position, have to ‘complete the curriculum in time’!
It attacks the very basics of the process of teaching and learning in which human interaction between the teacher and the taught is considered vital. However, on the national plane, education has been in the forefront in the media and in public discourse. Security of children in schools, and particularly of girls in schools and outside, caused consider- able public anguish and anger, as some of the highlighted cases touched sensitive cords. Law and order machinery, as also the system of managing educational institutions, came for severe public admonition. One simply hopes all of this would impact the system and make it more responsible and accountable.
Another issue that attracted public attention was the inadequacy of teachers in schools and universities across the board. This situation has been created over the years by insensitive bureaucratic interventions and apathy of the political leadership. It was repeatedly pointed out that as all those with adequate resources have high-fee charging private schools, and also universities across the shores, their children are getting good education anyway. Hence, who cares for the ‘last man in the line’? The only choice for him is the sarkari schools. The gradual decline of these sarkari schools continued unabated in this year as well. The system of appointing guest teachers, para teachers and shiksha karmis on the pittance of an honorarium has done immense damage to the education system as a whole but it has not yet been discarded!
No nation can compromise on the suitability of its teachers and head teachers. It also brought to focus the issues of privatisation on the one hand and that of autonomy on the other. While the Union Government has repeatedly emphasised expediting of teacher recruitment process at each stage, State Governments have not yet given ample evidence of taking serious action on this front.
The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) has taken a very bold step in weeding out fake and low category colleges of teacher preparation. It is understood that around 1,000 of such institutions may have to put their shutters down. In another significant step, the NCTE has decided to approve only two-year BEd and four-year integrated programmes for teacher preparation at preservice stage. It was a long -pending need and the basis for it was prepared when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) introduced experimental two-year BEd courses in its four regional institutes of education in the year 1999-2000. These led to substantive quality improvement amongst the products.
This year, the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) has launched a massive ambitious programme of training 15 lakh untrained teachers serving in schools through online mode. Its outcomes, particularly in the context of quality, shall be eagerly watched by all concerned. Encouragement to open and distance learning received considerable impetus at practically every stage. Particular emphasis was also laid on the preparation of high quality e-content by the University Grants Commission and institutions like the Indira Gandhi National Open University and the NCERT.
There were high expectations that the New National Policy on Education (NPE) would be finalised this year. The TSR Subramanian committee, appointed to prepare the draft of the NPE, submitted its report in May 2016. A 43- page summary of the same was put on the website for public consumption by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). As expected, certain objections were raised, mostly based on ideological compulsions and further, there were those who wanted to be consulted again!
It may be interesting to note that the TSR committee was provided several thousands of inputs received earlier by the MHRD through nation-wide consultations organised for more than 12 months. However, the MHRD agreed to continue the process of consultations, and appointed fresh committee under the chairmanship of eminent scientist professor Kasturirangan to prepare a fresh draft of the NPE.
It is worthwhile to recall that earlier education policy formulations took place in 1968, 1986 and 1892. This exercise is being undertaken after a gap of 35 years, which in the present stage of unprecedented pace of change all around is already considerably delayed. One expects the draft NPE will be available by the end of this month and India will have its new dawn in education in 2018!
In every developing country, the school curriculum is revised every five- years, if not earlier! This too is considerably delayed as we are still stuck up with the 2005 school curriculum frame- work, which replaced the one prepared in November 2000. Once the NPE is approved, one expects this process of curriculum renewal to begin without any further delay. The content and process of education are under major transformation across the board and a new culture of urgency, in keeping pace with times and ushering in an era of commit- ted dynamism, is the dire need of the Indian education system.
Expectations from the NPE are numerous. The young of India — the youngest nation — are eagerly looking for opportunities that are to emerge for them during the ‘golden era of demographic dividend’. That suddenly brings the focus on quality, and levels of skill development. While India now has a separate and independent ministry of skill development, the impact of quality enhancement in skill development shall have to receive greater attention in the coming year. During the present year, India responded to global rankings of universities and other higher education institutions by creating its own system of rankings. It also brought about considerable improvement in the functioning of the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), which has been welcomed by academics and institutions alike.
The decision to replace the Medical Council of India by another statutory body — the National Medical Commission — could become a landmark in due course. In fact, some more steps shall have to be undertaken in respect of other regulatory bodies, most of which suffer considerably from the loss of credibility. The fate of UGC also generated considerable discourse as uncertainty about this body undergoing change or transformation have been in the air for a couple of years. This year, it attracted attention for being headless April 2017 onwards, even it’s vice chairman having left more than a year ago.
One wonders whether in the future, such delays will be avoided. It is suggested that heads of national level institutions, vice chancellors of Central universities and other similar organizations must be selected at least a month before incumbent officer is to demit office. This certainly is not an impossible proposition. This year also witnessed action being taken/initiated against around several Central university vice chancellors, one of whom was sacked for having produced fake qualification certificates!
The year 2017 could and should have achieved much more than it has. It has not witnessed much drop in apprehensions amongst the young. However, they still retain the hope that their lot will improve in coming months. The need is to create an environment conducive to ‘learning’ at each stage of education.
(JS Rajput: The writer is former Director, NCERT and an educationist).