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It’s been a challenging period for Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, numerous companies withdrew the job offers they had made to students of the country’s top institutions, including IITs and IIMs. Besides, with the outbreak disrupting the academic year and exams, the ministry has been at the forefront of setting up online classrooms. In an email interview, Pokhriyal, who was previously chief minister of Uttarakhand, talks about the future of education in India. Edited excerpts:Q. What has been the biggest learning from the Covid-19 crisis?
One of the key learnings has been the need to promote and implement online education. We have always believed in the power of the internet to take education to the masses and have come up with several initiatives over the last few years to help more students learn online. With the impact Covid-19 has had, we are doubling our efforts in this direction.
Q. What is the HRD ministry doing to ensure delivery of education to students during this period? And will that set a precedent for the future?
With determination and dedication, the current crisis can be turned into an opportunity. We are laying more emphasis on online resources, platforms, bandwidth, and availability of technological solutions, rather than physical spaces. We understand that these facilities are dynamic and will evolve with changing times. According to me, the future lies in ‘blended learning’.
At the school level, through operation Digital Board, we aim to strengthen the existing digital infrastructure of our schools. Diksha, E-Pathshala, NROER (National Repository of Open Educational Resources), Swayam (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), and other e-platforms are providing high quality and engaging digital resource materials to teachers, students, and parents which are in line with the prescribed school curriculum.
The programme will also speed up the setting up of digital classrooms. Digital and smartboards will be provided in all government and government-aided schools having secondary and senior secondary classes. This will address the problems of bandwidth and connectivity.
To address the digital divide, the HRD ministry has tied up with the ministry of information & broadcasting to air Swayam Prabha channels on DTH platforms. For remote areas that neither have access to the internet nor electronic gadgets, we plan to provide them with books, both new and old, free of cost or at a very low price. We are also in the process of exploring the option where All India Radio can transmit the curriculum to students.Q. Will the new education policy be more technology-oriented?
To understand the challenges and opportunities on ground, I travelled across the country and visited Kendriya Vidyalayas and IITs. I even interacted with various stakeholders to understand what they want since the new policy will directly impact them. The policy will focus on the promotion of research and innovation, internationalisation and conservation of Indian knowledge systems. In the longer run, I envision India to be a global knowledge superpower with a robust education system.Q. The crisis will force many students to look within India for higher studies. What can institutions do to become more attractive?
We are taking several measures to ensure students get world-class education in India itself. Students from Indian institutes hold various leadership positions in some of the top corporations globally and that validates the quality of the Indian education system. That said, initiatives like Sparc (Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration) will facilitate academic and research collaborations between the top-100 Indian institutions as per NIRF (National Institute Ranking Framework) and the best institutions in the world from 28 selected nations. This will ensure visits and long-term stay of top international faculty and researchers in Indian institutions to pursue teaching and research. But with the situation at hand, we will work out a blended learning model so that the students can get the best of both worlds.
We are determined to make India a global hub of education. India has a huge network of over 1,000 universities and more than 55,000 degree colleges. With a deep focus on online and distance learning, we are making every effort to provide quality education. The ministry has launched a special programme called ‘Study in India’ to facilitate foreign students coming to India for higher education. We have introduced several disciplines under Study in India and are constantly working towards making India the preferred destination.Q. Yet, India’s universities have been found wanting when it comes to global rankings.
Indian students have been doing quite well if you look at the global scenario. Last year, we had 24 Indian institutions in the top thousand with three institutions making it to the top 200. As far as promoting research is concerned, we are dedicated to developing a world-class research infrastructure. We believe by making a significant investment in the infrastructure of our institutions we can make them more competitive. The Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) provides financial assistance for the creation of educational infrastructure and R&D in India’s premier educational institutions. It will fund projects to the tune of ₹100,000 crore by 2022. As of December 11, 2019, projects worth ₹37,001.21 crore have been approved, out of which loan amount worth ₹25,564.52 crore has been sanctioned and ₹5,537 crore has been disbursed. The number of educational institutions that have availed funding through HEFA stands at 75.Q. The placements at many IITs and IIMs had run into trouble with companies pulling out after making offers. How effective has been the task force that you set up?
We received several complaints regarding this. I have appealed to companies to not withdraw any job offers. I have spoken to the heads of institutions, my officers, and requested them to personally look into this matter. Companies have assured us that they may postpone the dates of joining, but offers will not be revoked. We are looking at individual complaints and following up with the employers. It’s a difficult time and the entire ecosystem needs to work together. It will be unfair not to hire these students who are bright and can contribute towards pulling the country out of this situation. We are trying our best to reach out to various stakeholders.
(This story appears in the 03 July, 2020 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)