In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Guardian, Upendra Kushwaha, Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), talked about the responsibility of the states, the ministry’s plan to “promote patriotism” through the New Education Policy and the achievements of the ministry in the past two years. Excerpts:
Q. The BJP-led government at the Centre has completed two years. What did you inherit from your predecessors? What did you do with your inheritance?
A. The education sector depends largely on state governments. The Centre can only support the states. We inherited two big challenges from our predecessors. First was the lack of quality education and the second was poor infrastructure in schools. There were not enough teachers and plenty of posts at various levels were vacant. Our aim was to improve the state of affairs and ensure quality education. For this, we worked in close collaboration with different states. We instructed the states that no untrained teachers should be hired anywhere. If untrained teachers are employed, they should be provided with adequate training and there should be separate teachers for different subjects. Another problem was the lack of toilets in schools. The Ministry of Human Resource Development issued adequate funds for building separate toilets for boys and girls in schools. The Prime Minister had appealed to companies to invest their CSR funds in this initiative and today we can proudly say that 100% schools in the country have toilets.
Q. What are the MHRD’s plans to reverse the “detrimental impact on learning outcomes” caused by Right to Education on school education in the country?
A. We can’t say that Right to Education has failed to achieve its purpose. It has its achievements, too, as it has provided opportunities to students who hail from the weaker sections of society. But yes, different states in the country are contemplating an amendment in the no-detention policy. There are also states that support the no-detention policy. So, we are looking at options on the table.
Q. There has been widespread discontent among parents about the commercialisation of school education in the country. Please comment.
A. Directly or indirectly, this subject is related to the states. There is no denying that parents do suffer harassment at the hands of private institutions. Students, especially from the weaker sections of society, have to suffer a lot. Unprecedented fee hikes, fixing their own shops for selling of school syllabus, uniform etc., at determined prices, making re-admission mandatory in every new academic session etc., these irregularities exist, but it is the state government which is accountable for all this. From time to time, we keep introducing advisories to the state governments to look into these complaints. Unless we are able to improve the standards of our government schools, these challenges will continue to exist. Therefore, the state governments must work to improve the quality of education imparted by the government institutions.
Q. What is stopping state governments from improving the standards of their schools?
A. I think the state governments lack the will power to improve. In the education sector, the work done by the Sikkim government is impressive. But we cannot ignore the fact that there is a lot of poverty in our country which results in a lot many challenges; so to solely put all the blame on the state government will not be right either.
Q. The MHRD has been accused of systematically restructuring Indian history taught in schools in a way that serves the “ideological motivations of the government”. Your comments.
A. These are empty statements. Such accusations on the Central government are wrong. I can’t comment more on this.
Q. What achievements are you most proud of?
A. Our higher education institutions have not been able to score a position in the world’s top institutions. For this, we launched an initiative, GIAN (Global Initiative for Academic Networks) to connect with the best faculty available from around the world and enhance our academic resources. This is one of our initiatives we are most proud of. Other than this, in our tenure so far, the dropout rate of girls from schools has significantly dropped.
Q. What measures is the MHRD planning to take to promote the “idea of patriotism” among the youth?
A. We are paying attention to this in the upcoming New Education Policy (NEP). We are taking into account how to increase a sense of social responsibility among kids. “Patriotism” is also one of the subjects we will be focusing on in NEP.
Q. As MoS of MHRD, how satisfied are you with the quality and number of teachers in our country? What have you done about it?
A. We have tried to improve the quality, but we lack in the number of good teachers. Our federal system is such that the Centre can only issue advisories to the state governments. We can give them financial support and other resources, but ultimately the change has to come from them.
Q. The proposals for a 10-year plan for the revival of Sanskrit language introduced by the government identified
the need to give recognition (set up a board) to the education imparted at over 1,000 “Veda Pathshalas”. A similar request is being made by the madrasas in the country to give their education UGC recognition. Your comments.
A. Any such issue will be addressed by the Ministry in due time.
Q. Introduction of Sanskrit language has been strongly criticised by Tamil Nadu. Your comments.
A. Every state has its own perspective, but since this is a decision taken by Government of India, it should be accepted.
Q. Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani is said to be a “strict boss”. Is there any lack of autonomy even though there are two MoS’s in the ministry?
A. This is the internal matter of our ministry. I cannot comment on this.
Q. What should we expect from the New Education Policy?
A. Earlier the policy was drafted by a bunch of experts, but this time we went to gram panchayats and asked the common people what they need. So the NEP is going to be different from the earlier ones since this time, the policy will represent the people.