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Sunday, October 17, 2021

Education Secretary Amit Khare: ‘Nobody is against English; want to ensure language doesn’t become barrier to talent’

A year after the government announced a new National Education Policy, Education Secretary Amit Khare discusses what is changing, the focus on learning rather than teaching, and the road to holistic implementation of the policy.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: September 30, 2021 2:23:30 pm
Education Secretary Amit Khare

A year after the government announced a new National Education Policy, Education Secretary Amit Khare discusses what is changing, the focus on learning rather than teaching, and the road to holistic implementation of the policy. Edited excerpts:

On ensuring holistic implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP)

Many state governments have already begun implementing various provisions of the NEP in their universities and schools, and in skill development centres. It is a continuum and focuses on a life of learning; it is not focused so much on teaching, rather it is focused on learning.

One important aspect that has been in the pipeline is the National Education Technology Forum. A task force has already been constituted. The future is going to be technology. Of course, technology is not going to replace the teachers. The importance of teachers in teaching and learning, the personal interactions that we have in the classrooms or in the playgrounds — that will continue to have its importance, but given the large population, the size of the cohort, the age group in which we have to impart education, and given the fact that many new learnings have to come even while we are working… Earlier concepts that we earn a degree and then go out for work are also changing. New skills or new knowledge have to be learnt over the years, and all that will come through technology. The Technology Forum will try to bring that synergy among various platforms of school, higher education, skill development, and ministries, and also the state governments. So state government teachers, central government, we have to look at education as one holistic trend rather than looking at it in terms of the regulatory structures. There are forms of governance; education as such will remain the same.

The second important work in progress is the Education Commission of India, which will bring in a new regulatory structure. Instead of multiple regulators, there will be a single regulator and the focus will be more on self-regulation rather than inspection and enforcement from the central or the state government. Of course, this will require parliamentary approval, and will take a little time.

On Tamil Nadu’s announcement that it will not implement the NEP

In the last meeting we had, held immediately after the policy was announced, which was before the Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, all the state governments had given their consent to the policy, with some local requirements. So overall, no state has as yet gone for a new policy of its own. By and large it is the same policy — some tweaking at the local level, they can have. The policy is one which empowers students, and I don’t think any state, any institution, will say don’t empower students. All states, all universities, all IITs, cannot do it immediately. They will have to do it in phases. That phasing has to be done by the states or institutions.

On undoing the damage caused by the pandemic to school education

Sometimes when we think of digital education, we start thinking about the Internet. Internet is one of the mediums, but there is another, which we consider our strength — 34 educational channels — and there is a third one, which is radio. One will have to devise an optimum mix of these media. There are areas in this country where the Internet is not available continuously, but they are served by satellite TV. In fact, last year, 12 channels were allotted specifically to schools, and one channel per class was introduced. All India Radio is also giving time to the states to have their educational programmes on radio, because some places may not have even television, but have access to radio. In fact, FM radio can be heard even on Android mobiles. So we should not focus only on one, the Internet. If we have a mix of all three, depending on the geographical location and the income group we are catering to, that would be the ideal thing.

On the gap in education created on account of many students being left behind

The NIPUN Bharat programme focuses on literacy and numeracy. Even before the pandemic, there was a concern that learning levels in our schools were low. So this foundation for literacy and numeracy will really help in improving those skills, not only among those who are already in school in some class, but also those who are out of school; they can take the help of those programmes and, through the NIUS or some bridging method, they can come back to school. The system we have devised for higher education in the form of an academic bank of credit, the architecture for the digital learning system — even children out of the education system can be brought back through this academic bank of credit. Their prior learning can be recognised, and then they can proceed further either for skilling or for their higher secondary, or even higher education.

Amit Khare was in conversation with Ritika Chopra, National Education Editor, The Indian Express

On implementing the NEP when the education budget has taken a cut

There are two parts to this: one is the budget, and the other is the resources. With my experience of the last three decades, I can say the two are not the same. Many a time we allocate money, and the actual work or the actual output is much less, because the synergy is not there. To give a small example, we spend about Rs 1,500 crore a year on technology. The same TV channel can be used even for higher education or for engineering or for school, or even for a cultural programme. If you bring synergy among them, the same resources can be utilised better. Take higher educational institutions. The same infrastructure may not be for the purpose of higher education or school education, but a school can be utilised in the evening for skilling. This type of resource pooling will actually have more value for money. For higher education, the budget was reduced primarily because some of the capital work which was going on for various IITs is in the completion phase, so when we talk of a cut, it is actually with reference to the previous year. I am not saying more funds are not required, but more than funds, what is required is the approach in utilising those resources.

On funds for implementing NEP in future

In school education, yes, we would definitely require funds. In higher education, there is a provision for the National Research Foundation, which is a work in progress. Various approvals have been taken by the Scientific Advisor to the Prime Minister, and major funding for research will now be through the NRF. So, while you may not see that amount in the budget of higher education, those funds will flow to the universities, and it will be a dedicated fund for research. And research does not mean only scientific research; it will also include the social sciences. This is a work in progress; it has been announced by the Finance Minister in this year’s Budget, and it is now in the final stages.

On introducing multi-lingual higher education

One thing we should be very clear about — what the Prime Minister has also mentioned in his address earlier — is that nobody is against English. It is not that English has to be replaced with some other language; what we want is to ensure that language should not become a barrier to talent. What we should be looking at in this system is the talent. Knowledge of a subject is more important than the knowledge of a language. Who knows, another 20-30 years down the line, the entire medium of communication may be through some computer programme, or could be a mind reader from your side to mine — the concept of different languages may not even be there.

Many people who leave courses in the first year are finding it difficult to understand the courses in English, so that is where we wish to have this intervention. One of the IITs has informed me that after JEE Advanced, they will be bringing the online course in the regional language. What happens is that in the classroom the discussion could be in English, but the same thing could be understood a little later by the student in a regional language.

The important thing is there is no language-specific seat allocation. There is no such provision in the Constitution, and that is not the purpose. The purpose is to ensure that the students who are otherwise talented should not get deprived because they are not proficient in English, especially students who come from the rural background.

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Audience Questions

On Acts that will have to be amended to fully implement the NEP

These amendments should have come this year, but for the difficult (pandemic) situation. Hopefully by next year, some of these amendments will be part of the Higher Education Commission. We have a draft, but instead of going before the Cabinet or to Parliament, we have decided that we would prefer a wider consultation with state governments and stakeholders. This will be not only for central and state government institutions, but also for private institutions. It is only after the consultation that we would like to go to Parliament.

On underprivileged students who are returning to school

As schools reopen, those who are outside the system have to be brought back into the system through a bridge course. And that bridging is possible today by various courses of NIUS, by having the bridging system at different levels. Even earlier, this system of bridge courses was there, but it will be required on a much larger scale to bridge this gap, not only for those who were in school and could not attend because of the pandemic, but also for those who have dropped out altogether.

Transcribed by Mehr Gill 

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