The new government is now fully operational. It has absolute majority, therefore, it should be able to bring crucial reformations straight into action. Recently, there were unwarranted comments on the capacity of Smriti Irani, minister of human resource development, pointing out that she was not qualified enough for the job. But those who make such comments should realise that in past 60 years, there have been several ministers who were not educated, (in the case of ministry of human resource development, or MHRD too), however, they did a good job. One requires deep understanding of the ministry they are handling and a focused approach with trust on experts along with a sense of judging the impact of their policies and actions.
Moreover, one should have a clear thought process to trigger the action plan in a time bound manner. Let us forget the inactions of former ministers, even though it led to a highly negative patch in the education sphere.
Today Irani has a larger challenge almost in every domain of education. Indeed, the right to education and free education would soon have an impact on higher education. The number of students who would be knocking the doors of universities would shoot to almost 4.5 crore by 2020. The most important thing that we must remember is that there are more than 600 universities and 33,000 colleges already in India and one simply cannot think of enhancing the number of higher educational institutions as a solution. There is going to be enhanced pressure at pre-primary, primary and secondary level school education. The increase in the number of school students along with the shortage of teachers and infrastructure would demand more funds for school education. Hence, funds available for higher education — as it has been happening for the past ten years — would shrink. This would affect the quality of classroom teaching and also access to live laboratories. It would, thus, be a very interesting and demanding scenario that MHRD would face.
Moreover, we must realise that it is connectivity, access to personal computers and latest communication facilities through a larger broad band, which would be demanded by students. Internet connectivity would create a foundation for sharing of knowledge in a given state, among states and worldwide. This would, in turn, demand more and more resources. The teaching community still continues to play its ‘hurt me not’ role and needs to be made a part of this essential change, while the government has to be a bit firm on such aspects. There is a gap between the state government’s approach for expanding and enhancing quality of education and the way MHRD desires. The states have become so indifferent to the funds they receive from the MHRD, that many a time, they simply fail to spend the money. The funds spent on teachers and supporting staffs’ salary is the only money given by the state government. Many a time, MHRD’s development funds are not utilised by schools or universities. In a true sense, such instances show that the education sector is in a pathetic condition.
We must realise that the youths would become change makers in the near future. No wonder that prime minister Narendra Modi stresses on this factor in most of his speeches. He seems to be clear in his thoughts regarding the role of youths and expects the same from his group of ministers too. The bottom line is that Smriti Irani’s massive task is well defined now. But what should she actually do? One can touch every aspect linked with the entire education spectrum and make many suggestions. It is easy to do this, but formulation of a precise plan along with a time spectrum to make it operational is vital. An action plan with firm deadlines to achieve the objectives would certainly make it happen. Irani should create two ‘brain groups’ — one for school education and the other for higher education, with just five to seven members each. Pick the best of the brains with proven identity and appoint a chairman who has proper understanding of ground realities in our country and globally. The most essential aspect, which she should check, is that each member and also the chairman have credibility, which is beyond doubt impeachable. Get fresh mid-level recognised persons and avoid all those who worked for the past decade or so in various committees or tasks forces of the MHRD. By taking such steps and several other similar actions, the nation’s education scenario is bound to succeed.
(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)