School Education Secretary in the HRD Ministry Anil Swarup says the CBSE paper leaks were a “wake-up call”, expresses concern over poor learning outcomes, suggests the Rajasthan and Karnataka model to get teachers for rural schools, and explains why he is against using the no-detention policy.
RITIKA CHOPRA: You have spoken about taking on the ‘education mafia’ in the country. Can you elaborate?
The education mafia has managed to play with the rules. They are dominant. They are connected. They can influence. But there are only a few of them. Let me give you a concrete example. The teacher lies at the pivot of education, and my feeling is, if we can handle the teacher, we can solve problems related to education. There are students who get pre-service training through Bachelor of Education (BEd) and Diploma in Elementary Education (D.El.Ed.) colleges. There is a selection process through which they get recruited. There are about 16,000 D.El.Ed colleges in the country and, the tragedy is, some of them exist only in name. And then there are a few where, if you pay them well, you’ll get a degree. If you pay better, you’ll get a job. So, we decided to take on that mafia.
Notices were issued to them and they were asked to furnish affidavits. All hell broke loose. For any idea to fructify in a country like ours, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable and administratively doable. For us to take on this mafia, we needed political will. We tend to intuitively believe that politicians oppose all good things. But not in this case. I was given to understand that a lot of these so-called colleges are run by politicians. So during my travels through states, I decided to touch base with the chief ministers. There was total support from the CM in UP. In Jaipur, during a conference, while I was elaborating on the issue of taking on this mafia, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan stood up and starting clapping. So, fortunately, I got total political support in taking on this mafia. We issued notices to these colleges and asked them to file affidavits. Out of 16,000, only 12,000 submitted affidavits. This meant that 4,000 colleges either did not exist or did not want to part with information.
We were asking for information so that we could physically verify whether these colleges existed or not. Some news channels had done reports on how they didn’t exist. As luck would have it, the courts got involved. Many of them. Contempt notices were issued to the chairman of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) (by the colleges). I was issued a notice… Since several courts were involved, we went to the Supreme Court. That is where it stands.
RITIKA CHOPRA: You mentioned that you tried seeking political support for this idea in particular. In hindsight, do you think all of that political support you got was shallow, considering that previous NCTE chairman Santhosh Mathew was buried in court cases? A lot of people also speculated that his early exit last year may have had something to do with the opposition he faced.
He did not face any opposition from politicians. There was total support from our minister, from the states. I had a long chat with him. I think he got frustrated running from one court to another. I told him to carry on. I said let’s fight it out. This is one case where, probably, we didn’t manage to travel the distance that we wanted to. But I’m confident that we’ll be able to convince the court that this is the right direction.There’s another mafia — the private school mafia. Let it not be understood that all private schools are part of it. Most private schools are doing the right thing, but a select few are creating trouble. It is in this context that I would like to compliment the UP government. They’ve just come out with a legislation for fee regulation. This legislation is a consequence of discussion with representatives of private schools. And they are happy, the children are happy. (The UP government has passed a law to restrict schools in the state — private schools, including minority institutions, affiliated with the CBSE, ICSE, and the UP Board — from charging a hefty fee from students.)
RAVISH TIWARI: The examination mafia appears to be responsible for the recent CBSE leaks. How can we be systemically alert to it?
First of all, I think, there is no evidence of a mafia. There are stray incidents where people tried to steal a question paper. It may be a mafia, but I can’t say that now. So how can we address the problem? Technology can be a gamechanger in preventing it in the future.
Let me give you an example — not that we’re going to tackle the situation in this manner. It will be much more sophisticated than what I’m going to tell you. What we can do is we can actually put the papers on a CD and encrypt it, and then send it to the exam centres. Half an hour or 45 minutes before the exam we can send the decrypting code and the centre can then print the papers.
Now, what is the difference between using technology and doing this manually? I’m not guaranteeing that things will not go wrong when we use technology, but it will be a much more secure system. Unlike the physical movement of question papers, where it becomes difficult to track where things went wrong, in a software system you will know where it did. The perpetrator can then be caught easily.
There’s a group that has been constituted. We have already had one round of discussion, and things are being fast-tracked. On May 31 we will have the report and hopefully, before I retire on June 30, we will put in place a system that is foolproof.
RITIKA CHOPRA: Have you been able to identify, internally, the problem that led to the leaks?
So far, there has been no internal problem. The problem was with the bank (where the question papers are kept), where the teacher went in, or the principal went in and, along with the question paper that he had to take out, he took out another question paper as well. That’s it. So far, I don’t think there’s anything else. The CBSE system has worked very well in the past. Someone asked me, ‘You are giving all this gyaan (lecture) about technology, why didn’t you do it before the leaks?’. As Secretary, Education, I can’t keep going to the CBSE and telling them to do this or that. That is not my job. I don’t want to unnecessarily poke my nose into a system that’s doing well. It has been a wake-up call for us. We are on it now.
So far, nothing in the police investigation is pointing to anybody in the CBSE. The suspension of one official is on account of laxity, not collusion. The CBSE has given all the documents to the investigators.
RITIKA CHOPRA: But what about the question of moral responsibility? Something did go wrong at the end of the day.
In my understanding, and I may be wrong, for a civil servant, there is no such thing as moral responsibility. Either he is responsible or he is not responsible. If he is responsible, action should be taken. If he/she is not responsible, then that person is best equipped to improve the system. You can’t allow that officer to run away on the basis of moral responsibility. He jolly well be there and sort it out. Who’s better equipped to sort it out than the person who has been there, who understands the whole process? Just for the sake of argument, if we get another CBSE chairman, that person will take two months to understand the system and then try and improve it.
See, based on moral responsibility, you will not be able to nail the officer. The best you will be able to do is to transfer him. You can’t take administrative action. So if you can’t take action against the person, then they must be made responsible for improving the system. Wouldn’t that be better?
The bottom line is improvement. The bottom line is not an individual, the bottom line is not action, and the bottom line is certainly not making news. The bottom line is that a wrong has happened and someone needs to sort it out.
SARTHAK RAY: There has been a lot of talk about reducing the curriculum burden on students. What exactly is the plan there?
We haven’t listed out an entire plan, but I can tell you the thought process. We are all concerned that the child is saddled with too much. The tragedy is that almost everyone wants a chapter to be added — on traffic, on environment, on sanitation etc. And yet, everyone wants the burden to be reduced. So how do we do it? Again, it’s with technology.
Two things are being attempted. Firstly, we are looking at chapters, and you will be surprised to know that there is a chapter on the history of cricket. Should we have that chapter there? I mean, I’m not an expert, but my feeling is we should not have it. I saw some very interesting experiments while travelling through the states. In Tamil Nadu, they are using QR codes. It is a massive way of reducing the number of pages. But, right now, the system has a limitation because of the lack of connectivity and availability of telephones. But then again, the way telephones are growing, I think that is the future. So you can reduce a lot of pages of the book. There are also other ways through which this can be done. Our focus is on reducing the size of the book.
RAVISH TIWARI: Do we have an action plan to improve the quality of education? How do we plug the gaps?
I think we have achieved our first objective — to get the child to school. So, by and large, there is access. But quality is a serious concern. The learning levels have actually come down. There are two ways of addressing this. Firstly, we have got the biggest-ever national survey conducted. It has given us an idea of not only what is going wrong, but why is it going wrong. We are trying to work out district-wise plans based on this survey. This will tell us whether the fault lies with pedagogy or with the curriculum or with the literature that is being provided.
Secondly, there are certain models that have worked very well. Let’s take the examples of Rajasthan and Karnataka. Earlier, their learning outcomes were very low. And I had intuitively felt, even before the survey, that these states would do well now because they had managed to identify the cause of the poor outcomes. There are a couple of them. Both these states have been able to ensure that there are sufficient number of teachers in schools. On an average, the country has sufficient number of teachers but they are congregated in urban areas.
Rajasthan and Karnataka did a fantastic thing. Karnataka came up with a clear-cut transfer policy for teachers. Rajasthan doesn’t have a legislation, but they too have a clear-cut, transparent transfer policy. Through this they managed to have teachers in rural areas.
UMA VISHNU: What is your opinion on the no-detention policy?
This is a feature that we have imported from Finland. I am not saying it is a wrong policy, but you will have to understand the context. If I did not have exams, I can tell about myself, I would not have studied. That’s the ground reality. It is not the ideal situation. If I am not detained, I’ll not study. I spoke to children of Class 9, they have not been detained for the past four-five years and now they hardly know anything. I think until and unless we have a fear of detention, we won’t study. I repeat it is not ideal. But that’s how we are.
Look at the impact of the no-detention policy on the ground. The children don’t know anything. You can argue that they were not taught well. Fair enough. But if you allow this (the no-detention policy) to go on along with poor teaching, it will be a recipe for disaster.
UMA VISHNU: But what is the support system for a child who falls behind in class?
We have a system for that. We need to improve upon it and take care of such children. Counselling them, teaching them separately — that needs to be done.We have a system but, unfortunately, it is not working as well as it should. In the name of no-detention, many schools are not even conducting examinations. The policy does not say that there should not be any examination.We found that even a Class 5 student doesn’t know how to do divisions, can’t read correctly… We need to evaluate what is actually going on.
SARTHAK RAY: A lot of students drop out between upper primary and secondary school level. How do you see this in the light of no-detention?
We should not shy away from the ground reality. Through no-detention, we are just trying to postpone the crisis. So far we have done many analyses on why children drop out. Recently, we also had a workshop to understand things. We have worked out a strategy, especially when it comes to girls dropping out. There are different reasons and we are trying to address them. There is an issue, but if you say that having no-detention will stop students from dropping out and hence we should have the policy, then I don’t agree with you.
SARTHAK RAY: What are the reasons for children dropping out?
There are a number of reasons for it. Several girls drop out because there is pressure from home to do household chores. (Lack of) sanitation facilities within the school is another reason. My view is that at least the school itself should not become a reason for the student to leave.
RAVISH TIWARI: How do you look at the AAP government’s education measures in Delhi?
I am yet to really visit Delhi. Everyone is focused on Delhi, but I am trying to invest my time in places others are not.
SUNIL JAIN: How do you ensure that state board marks and marks of students of the CBSE board in Classes 10 and 12 carry the same weightage?
Earlier, the CBSE set a lower difficulty level question paper for Delhi. This was ridiculous. This year we took the decision that the question papers should be same for Delhi and the others. Delhi had a separate question paper till last year. There were three sets of question papers — one for Delhi, one for the rest of India and one for those abroad. I questioned it. Ultimately, these students go to the same place, how can question papers be of different difficulty levels.
I want to highlight another pernicious practice that is going on in the CBSE and elsewhere in the country. Marks are being spiked. There is competitive spiking. This year, I called all the state governments and they have all have agreed not to spike the marks.