Photographs: Reuters Kapil Sibal
My vision for the future is that of a wholly child centric education system. We cannot afford to be the slaves of the past. We must keep ourselves in synch with the processes of change sweeping through the globe.
We need to learn from the past, build on it and create opportunities for the future of our present children as well as the future of the unborn ones.
We would do well to recall, the very insightful and perceptive statement made by Shri MC Chagla, the then education minister of India, in 1964, "Our Constitution fathers did not intend that we set up hovels, put student there, given untrained teachers, give them bad textbooks, no playgrounds and say, we have complied with Article 45 and the primary education is expanding " what they meant was that real education should be given to our children between the ages of 6 and 14. ...
'Right to Education Act has worked!'
When the Right to Education Bill was passed, there was a general euphoria that eventually, after 62 years of Independence, we have realised the goal set forth by our founding fathers in Part 4 of the Constitution.
But I believe that while it is easy to pass legislation, it is not so easy to implement it. The difficult part of the journey begins from there.
Implementing this Act in its letter and spirit is going to be a challenge for all of us. When the Act was passed, there were lot of misgivings; how will it work? How will the CCE (Continuous and Comprehensive Evaluation) work? But it has worked! And it is working!
The CBSE has made 10th exam optional, and the results of 10th Boards this year were better than the last year's results.
Implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act in letter and in spirit is a task we have committed ourselves to. As per the projections, about Rs 1,50,000/- crore would be required for implementing the RTE Act for all the children between age of 6 years to 14 years.
'Must enable the child to interpret the world on his own'
It is estimated that there will be a shortfall of Rs. 60,000/- crore. This huge challenge has to be faced by the nation collectively. Harmonising the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) with the RTE Act would be an obvious priority.
The most precious of all resources available to any country are its children and it is incumbent upon us to ensure that our children get all the opportunities they need for their physical and intellectual growth. In order to ensure this, we need to look at the substance of our education system.
What content needs to be delivered to the child? How do we equip our children to cope with and succeed in a knowledge intensive and innovation hungry globe? How do we reform the examination system that only tests the rote learning, forgetting altogether that semantic memory is far more crucial for intellectual growth and creative vision? How do we re-orient our text-books and transform our pedagogical methods in order to ensure that the statement made by Chagla is rendered irrelevant at least now?
I for one, envision an education system that harnesses the creative instincts and enables the child to interpret the world on his own so as to grow intellectually and blossom into an enlightened citizen. This is an investment that we must make now, in order to ensure that the future generation is bequeathed by us with an enriched social capital and not a depleted one.
'Disparities in syllabi will end next year'
My ministry has initiated a slew of measures to translate this vision into reality. We have set for ourselves an ambitious reform agenda. Expansion, inclusion and excellence are the three non-negotiable principles of this reform agenda.
After having committed to the children a right to free and compulsory education, HRD Ministry has taken upon itself the task of reforming the content and substance of the education imparted to children.
A common core curriculum, essential for removing the disparities of syllabi (that necessitate different entrance exams catering to different boards) has already been devised by the Council of Boards of School Education (COBSE) in India for science and maths subjects.
The Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) in its meeting held on 19th June, 2010 has endorsed the proposal for implementing a core-curriculum in the subjects of science and mathematics by all higher secondary boards in the country from the academic session 2011-12.
The preparation of core curriculum for commerce has also been endorsed in the same meeting.
This will provide an opportunity to children from economically weaker sections, who presently are not able to avail of coaching and get through the current system of entrance exams...
'Must have 1 common entrance for all students after Class XII'
If you have a core curriculum, it will be easier for all the states to hold exams and evaluate academic performance through the similar, if not the same, criteria. However, the attempts to evolve core curricula should be no means be construed as a attempt to undermine the autonomy of different Boards.
It is an attempt to universalise quality, just the way we have universalised the quantity, by means of the RTE Act.
Another area which has to be tackled is the fact of a student sitting for 15-20 different exams after class XII and then figuring our where he/she is going to get admission after all those exams.
We must have, I think a common entrance test for all students after Class XII . This common test should serve to test general awareness and aptitude of a child. While Class XII board examinations would test the students' knowledge of the subject, this test could evaluate the raw intelligence and aptitude of the student A rationalised equalization method can be worked out to equate the raw scores obtained in Board exams.
This would eliminate the need for the student to appear in exams after exams. We can think of an all India merit list based on a combined score of these two tests. Then it is merit that decides where the child would go for further studies. This merit would be a pure merit, not a "merit-cum-means" merit.
'Examination stress must be done away with'
In an effort to reduce examination stress, the ministry is considering merging the Central Board of Secondary Education -- conducted All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT) and the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE). The logic is simple; both sets of examinations have common subjects -- physics and chemistry, while those opting for medical course have to appear for an additional biology paper and the engineering stream for a mathematics paper.
However, if a student wants to appear for both streams, at present he/she needs to take separate entrance tests, and has to sit for the physics and chemistry tests twice.
This duplication is unnecessary and stressful. Merging the two examinations would resolve this problem. My ministry would start consultations on this proposal very soon.
No country can afford to produce just doctors, with no paramedics: just engineers, with no draughtsmen and just lawyers, with no paralegals. Vocationalisation of education, a goal enunciated in the National Policy on Education (NPE), still remains elusive.
It is neither integrated with mainstream education, nor properly emphasized. We are in dire need for a national framework on vocational education, so that the parameters of each vocation are identified and benchmarked.
'Bland knowledge transmission ain't enough'
There are 220 million children in schools in this country. Even after increasing the gross enrolment ratio (GER) to 30 per cent, we still will have 160 million children who will not go for conventional or professional higher education. We need to think how to harness their genius by evolving a national policy on vocational education.
I want to set up a National Institute for Assessment and Evaluation for schools, which would serve as an advisory institution to help school boards seeking such help in assessment and evaluation.
The advices would not be binding but would help benchmark institutes (and diplomas) with global standards. An inter-ministerial group is also contemplated, which would include representatives of state governments also, to develop guidelines for such a national framework.
My ministry is also working on a curriculum framework for value education. Examinations are only a gateway to higher education whereas values last and guide a lifetime. Ethics and values play a larger role in generating social capital then mere bland knowledge transmission.
'When teachers are taken care of, students benefit'
Value education should be so integrated with the entire education spectrum that we not only produce talent, but also good and caring human beings with a sense of responsibility towards society and the nation. It should begin with the impressionable minds and mould them with fine imprints of ethical and moral conduct, made inviolable principles of conduct in public or private life, or follow the dictates of what Immanuel Kant called 'the categorical imperative'.
It is my firm belief that when teachers are taken care of, students benefit the most. We are actively working on a scheme for starting insurance and housing schemes for 60 lakh teachers of the country, subject to financial approvals.
The scheme would be part of my ministry's effort to improve the offering that students are given in the education system. This is part of our efforts to make the system child-centric. The insurance schemes will require financial contributions from the Centre, the states and the teachers.
The group housing scheme will I imagine be administered at the central level but will not require financial contribution from the Centre or the state governments. The health and life insurance schemes are proposed to cost far less for teachers as far as premium is concerned compared to premium for individual schemes or even schemes run at the state level.
Taking higher education to the next level
Higher education sector too is poised for momentous reforms. My ministry is in the process of formulating the structure for an overarching body for higher education that would be responsible for higher education policy and planning in the country.
The reform agenda for higher education includes imparting complete autonomy to universities for devising courses, cross fertilization of courses, research oriented universities etc.
The proposed National Commission for Higher Education and Research is intended to promote autonomy of universities by devolving powers hitherto exercised by the existing regulatory bodies, prevent fragmentation of education, promote interdisciplinary pursuit and creation of knowledge, accord a level playing field through norm-based funding for all universities -- central or state, grant powers to states to participate in policy making at the national level through representation in the decision making processes of the proposed commission.
An integrated approach to the whole process of learning is what is contemplated.
'Indian universities must collaborate with foreign varsities and corporates'
I am also open to the idea of Indian universities collaborating with foreign universities or with the corporate sector. Existing in majestic isolation, without a creative exchange of ideas and shared resources, is neither going to serve education nor the industry.
Corporate sector has been showing increasing interest in education, as they require trained manpower.
A bill to consider permitting Foreign Educational Institutions is already introduced in the Parliament. In order to prevent the unscrupulous elements from exploiting students, a Bill to prevent and prohibit malpractices has also been introduced in the Parliament.
Same way, in order to take care of the education related litigation, be it between employees or employers; students of institution and the institution or the regulatory body and the institution, a Bill to set up National and State Educational Tribunals has also been introduced.
I am also shortly going to introduce a novel idea for furthering the cause of education. It involves de-materialising the academic certificates. My ministry is formulating the proposed National Academic Depository Bill, 2010 for creating and maintaining a national electronic database of academic records and awards at no cost to central or state government.
'I will de-materialise academic certificates'
It mandates academic institutions -- universities, higher educational institutions, CBSE and States Boards of education to entrust academic awards with authorised depository to be appointed under the legislation for secure storage, authenticated access, online verification and efficient retrieval while ensuring confidentiality, fidelity and authenticity.
This proposal, once materialised, would make the existence of fake degree or absence of genuine ones (either lost or not retrievable) a relic of past.
The country today needs learning process to transcend the existing frontiers of disciplines and explore hitherto unexplored territories, in order to venture into a spirit of innovation which perches the country on to the commanding heights of a knowledge dominated, innovation intensive global arena."
Kapil Sibal is Union minister of Human Resource Development