India's human resource development minister Prakash Javadekar, in this exclusive conversation with WION's Kartikeya Sharma, highlights the crying need for reforms in government schools.
Q: How come universities and institutes of higher education have become hotspots for ideological battleground rather than centres of research?
A: I don’t agree. There are 800 universities and they are doing research and even the so-called battleground JNU has achieved the Visitor's Award and a national ranking because of their core research in biotechnology. We want to preserve their autonomy and make them independent. We are not interfering. In JNU, there were two to three aberrations. The world over one guide takes two to three students. We allowed eight students per guide, but in JNU you can find one guide with 30 to 40 students. We have corrected it.
We are recruiting professors under the SC/ST (reservation for scheduled caste and scheduled tribes) and even under Divyang category (disabled category) which remained vacant for decades. There is no ideological background in policy, but students have their opinion, and that’s what I call democracy.
In central institutions, we are teaching at Rupees 15 per month whereas the cost is Rupees 20,000 per month. So, people studying in JNU or in any other part of the country are indebted to the people of the country and this is the message I’m trying to spread.
Q: Many would say that student politics has heated up as Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP, students group aligned to BJP) has become more aggressive reflecting the strength of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) across the country?
A: I’m also a product of student agitation. Till student agitation does not destroy the whole academic session, it's okay. I want to involve students and they too have to work within the framework of law.
Q: Where is the balance between student politics and research in Indian universities as electoral politics exerts its pressure on the system?
A: We have come of age. It is not 1970. There were demonstrations and the academic calendar was disturbed during that decade. Today we lack in innovation and in its absence, we will not be able to attain sustainable prosperity. Therefore, we have come up with research parks, innovation hubs and even start-ups from hostel rooms. Six hundred startups have started from hostels. We have organised "Smart India hackathon". We came out with 200 good solutions. The campus atmosphere is getting better and we believe in the autonomy of the universities. We will ensure that the regulators' role is reduced. We must learn to fund and forget. Accountability will come from CAG audits. We are also giving graded autonomy to top 20 per cent of the universities.
Q: How did you hit upon the idea of institutions of excellence?
A: To be frank, this was Prime Minister Modi’s idea for educational reform in the country. Universities abroad flourish because boards decide and the government gives grant and doesn’t interfere. I want to bring in this culture. We are teaching our officers not to behave like demigods. We will achieve good international ranking in next 10 years.
Q: But who will monitor the progress of the work once funds have been made available?
A: I will. Annual reports will be submitted and Parliamentary review will exist but day-to-day administrative control will not exist. Boards will take the final call. I want to trust teachers and students. Prime Minister will also meet 200 students who have organised young start-ups.
Q: How are you trying to broad base higher education. Our higher education is IIM and IIT focused? We don’t have job oriented higher education.
A: Indian Institute of Education of Science and Research was a good initiative by the previous government and we are trying to take it forward. Technology cannot be the answer to every problem. Pure science research is also very important to us.
Q: India produces BAs and MAs in thousands without jobs in the market. What are you doing to correct this system?
A: You have touched the core of the problem. In the three years courses, universities aren’t changing the curriculum. I have asked them to come up with an updated curriculum. Universities are free to have a curriculum and that is the sluggishness which I want to do away with.
Q: What makes you so confident that you have set a target for 100 percent literacy in next 5 years?
A: Literacy is a basic empowerment and I have worked in this field. During independence 18 percent of the people were literate and now 80 percent of the people are literate. We have to achieve the last mile. Today every household has a student going to school. A student from 6th to 10th will teach their parents. I have done this myself by conducting literacy classes in villages 55 years back. My mother used to take me to the villages to teach people. She was a primary school teacher so I know the process.
Q: Why was a special provision for Tamil Nadu made on NEET?
A: Actually, it is a court mandated system and our job is to conduct examination and from the next year there will be one paper. I have discussed this matter with stakeholders but since the matter is in an advanced stage in the court, let court take a call.
Q: India has multiple boards for school children. What are you doing to standardize the quality of curriculum in the boards so that students don’t suffer?
A: Now, all boards are meeting frequently and they have also decided not to indulge in moderation. I agree with this step. A student shouldn’t get marks which falsely inflate the ego and parents shouldn’t get the impression that his or her child is a super kid. Inflation of marks creates an unrealistic picture. All boards have come together as I want them to meet frequently. There will be some variation as our country is big and diverse and boards will have to reflect that diversity.
Q: There are some permanent controversies around HRD ministries. Do you feel certain icons need to be rehabilitated in the school text books?
A: We have not changed anything in last three years. All we have done is to invite comments from the teachers if there is something wrong in the book. I received thousands of such suggestions and valid ones have been accepted.
Q: What sort of suggestions did you receive?
A: There were factual corrections to be made. Some texts showed thousand and 500-rupee notes but today design has changed.
Q: Why did "Sankalp se Siddhi" hit a road block in West Bengal?
A: Let me tell you that they clarified that they wanted to celebrate the Independence Day in their own way. Ultimately, you will say Jai Hind. You will salute the National Flag and sing "Jan man gan". It is a small issue and all the states are my partners so I’m not going to address this issue via media.
Q: Is it because of the feeling that BJP appropriates the idea of nationalism?
A: Everyone can take lead. Education should not be a political agenda as what I do is national agenda. What has the Prime Minister said? Terror free, communal free India, dirt free India etc. This has to be a common agenda and distinction needs to be made between national and political agenda.
Q: Brain drain is much talked about phenomena. What are you doing to stop it?
A: We have started the process to stop it. You will find bubbles of enthusiasm in IITs and IIMs. Budgetary support is 200 crores but by leveraging 18,000 crores from the market making it 20,000 crore which will be used in creating research infrastructure. Three billion dollars in 3 years. Under a new programme 78 professors came from abroad which helped us a lot. We will grant rupees one lakh per month to best of the best student. We want the students to innovate here. We will create the right environment to innovate it in India.
Q: But what about another India which is rural India where students don’t have toilets and figuratively one teacher ends up teaching the whole school?
A: This is my first concern - "Sabko Shiksha Achhi Shiksha". We will improve the quality of the government schools. We are also getting success because of the partnership with the state. We are organising brain storming and all experiments to be done because we have come out with learning outcomes which is measurable. Student's competence will be mapped and publicized in the school. Every parent will be told as to what a child must attain. There will be a handbook of learning outcomes which will be taught to all the teachers throughout the country so it becomes the accountability of the school teacher and students.
Q: What about the incentive for the teacher?
A: We are giving training to eleven lakh untrained teachers. In next two years, quality education would be imparted to untrained teachers so that quality improves. We are also changing "The Right to Education" and no detention policy. Many states want detentions to happen in 5th and 8th and we are allowing it. The bill is already before the Parliament and we are giving that right to the state so those who want to change can change. With all these changes, we are improving the quality of government schools and making them accountable and once they improve there will be a healthy competition.
Q: It was said that you were shifted to HRD to deliver PM’s mandate because you delivered PM’s mandate in environment ministry. So, what was the challenge when you took charge of the HRD ministry?
A: Education is always a challenge and a process in continuation. When Smriti Irani was there she started many initiatives. We took them to logical their end. We too have started many initiatives. It is a process in continuity.
Q: Many would say that you capped controversies?
A: I believe in dialogue and I don’t think that there should be any place for controversy when we can achieve goals through consensus. I’m partnering with all the states on various issues related with education. I believe in taking states on board and believe in work as Team India.
Q: What is one thing you would like to do before Lok Sabha election if you retain this ministry?
A: The biggest challenge is to improve government schooling quality, to give a boost to research and innovation efforts and providing autonomy for higher institutes in the country. We will have graded autonomy and offer complete reforms on all aspects of education sectors. This is my dream.
Q: How do you respond to the "anti national vs national debate" which took place on Indian campuses last year?
A: I always think that there are periods when controversies emerge but then there are ways to deal with it and I’m happy that now all of them are talking to each other. I want a dialogue with everybody. To the JNU students, I said why are you demonstrating? Come and talk to me. I will solve the problem. This is my approach.