Education Secretary Amit Khare: “No one is against English; want to ensure that language does not become a 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 learning. education, and the way forward for holistic policy implementation. Edited excerpts:
Ensure the holistic implementation of the National Education Policy (NEP)
Many state governments have already started implementing various provisions of the NEP in their universities and schools, as well as in skills development centers. It is a continuum and focuses on a lifetime of learning; it’s not so much about teaching, but more about learning.
An important aspect that has been in preparation is the National Education Technology Forum. A working group has already been set up. The future will be technology. Of course, technology will not replace teachers. The importance of teachers in teaching and learning, the personal interactions we have in classrooms or in playgrounds – this will continue to matter, but given the large population, the size of the the cohort, the age group in which we have to impart education, and given the fact that a lot of new learning has to happen even while we are working… The earlier concepts that we graduate and then go to work are also changing. New skills or knowledge have to be acquired over the years, and all of this will come through technology. The Technology Forum will try to bring this synergy between the different platforms of school, higher education, skills development and ministries, as well as state governments. So the teachers of the state government, the central government, we need to see education as a holistic trend rather than looking at it in terms of regulatory structures. There are forms of governance; education as such will remain the same.
The second major work in progress is the Education Commission of India, which will put in place a new regulatory structure. Instead of multiple regulators, there will be a single regulator and the focus will be more on self-regulation than on inspection and enforcement by the central government or the state. Of course, this will require parliamentary approval and will take some time.
On Tamil Nadu’s announcement that it will not implement the NEP
At the last meeting we had, held immediately after the policy was announced, that was before the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, all state governments agreed to the policy, with some demands. local. So, overall, no state has yet opted for a new, clean policy. Overall, it’s the same policy – some local level adjustments they may have. Politics is a policy that empowers students, and I don’t think any state, any institution, will say not to empower students. Not every state, every university, every IIT can do it right away. They will have to do it in phases. This phasing must be done by the States or the institutions.
On repairing the damage caused by the pandemic to school education
Sometimes when we think of digital education, we start to think of the internet. The Internet is one of the media, but there is another, which we consider to be our strength – 34 educational channels – and there is a third, which is radio. It will be necessary to imagine an optimal mix of these media. There are areas in this country where the Internet is not available continuously, but they are served by satellite TV. Indeed, last year, 12 channels were allocated specifically to schools, and one channel per class was introduced. All India Radio also gives states time to broadcast their educational programs on the radio, as some places may not even have a TV, but have access to the radio. In fact, FM radio can be heard even on Android mobiles. So we should not focus on just one, the Internet. If we have a mix of all three, depending on geography and what income group we’re targeting, that would be ideal.
On the education gap created by the large number of students left behind
The NIPUN Bharat program focuses on literacy and numeracy. Even before the pandemic, there were concerns that learning levels in our schools were low. Thus, this foundation for literacy and numeracy will really help to improve these skills, not only among those who are already educated in a classroom, but also those who are not; they can get help from these programs and, through NIUS or a bridging method, they can go back to school. The system that we designed for higher education in the form of an academic credit bank, the architecture of the digital learning system – even children who have come out of the education system can be brought back through this academic credit bank. Their achievements can be recognized, then they can go further either for qualification or for their upper secondary education, or even higher.
On the implementation of NEP when the education budget was cut
There are two parts to this: one is the budget and the other is the resources. With my experience of the past three decades, I can say that the two are not the same. Often times we allocate money, and the actual work or the actual performance is much less important because the synergy is not there. To give a small example, we spend around Rs 1,500 crore per 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 program. If you bring synergy between them, the same resources can be better utilized. Take higher education institutions. The same infrastructure may not be intended for higher education or school education, but a school may be used in the evening for learning. This type of pooling of resources will actually be more cost effective. For higher education, the budget has been cut mainly because part of the capital works that were underway for various IITs are nearing completion, so when we talk about cutting, it’s actually relative to the previous year. I’m not saying we don’t need more funds, but more than funds, what is needed is the approach to using those resources.
On funds for the implementation of the NEP in the future
In school education, yes, we would certainly need funds. In higher education, there is a provision for the National Research Foundation, which is a work in progress. Various approvals have been made by the Prime Minister’s scientific adviser, and major research funding will now be through the NRF. So while you might not see that amount in the higher education budget, those funds will go to universities, and it will be a dedicated research fund. And research doesn’t just mean scientific research; it will also include social sciences. This is a work in progress; it was announced by the finance minister in this year’s budget, and it is now in the final stages.
On the introduction of multilingual higher education
One thing we need to be very clear about – what the Prime Minister also mentioned in his speech earlier – is that no one is against English. It is not that English should be replaced by another language; what we want is to ensure that language does not become a barrier to talent. What we should be looking at in this system is talent. Knowledge of a subject is more important than knowledge of a language. Who knows, 20-30 years later the whole medium of communication may be passing through a computer program, or may be a mind reader on your side as well as mine – the concept of different languages may not even be there .
A lot of people who leave classes in the first year have a hard time understanding English classes, so that’s where we want to have this intervention. One of the IITs informed me that after JEE Advanced they will bring the online course in the regional language. What happens is that in class the discussion could be in English, but the same could be understood a little later by the student in a regional language.
The important thing is that there is no specific seat allocation for the language. There is no such provision in the Constitution, and that is not the point. The aim is to make sure that students who are otherwise talented are not deprived because they do not have a command of English, especially students who come from rural areas.
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Questions from the audience
On the laws that will need to be amended to fully implement the NCP
These changes should have happened 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 project, but instead of going to Cabinet or Parliament, we decided we would prefer broader consultation with state governments and stakeholders. This will not only be 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 disadvantaged students returning to school
As schools reopen, those outside the system must be brought back into the system through a bridging course. And this transition is possible today by various NIUS courses, having the transition system at different levels. Even earlier, this bridging course system existed, but it will be needed on a much larger scale to bridge this gap, not only for those who were in school and were unable to attend due to the pandemic, but also for those who have given up completely.
Transcribed by Mehr Gill