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WITH SMRITI IRANI AS HRD MINISTER EVOLVING DYNAMICS OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN INDIA – an update

September 22nd, 2014, Updated: 7:15 pm

At a time when India is in the midst of rumbling economic crisis, the new NDA government had declared that health and education will be the core areas they will focus upon. With education being considered as a potential economic driver, lately the term ‘Knowledge Economy’ has gained importance, it makes sense.

Smriti Irani is the second woman to adorn the pivoted position, as the 31st HRD minister of India in the NDA Government. Challenges the new minister with a star image had to face, was horde of controversies she had to wade through, during these initial days.

Though the minister had announced her desire of rising country’s spending on education to 6% of GDP, as per the 2014 budget announcement 3.5% of GDP was allocated for education.

As per the budget, encouragement for girl child’s education, separate toilets for girls in all schools, a program for assessment of schools, a new teacher’s training program, Communication Linked Interface for Cultivating Knowledge (CLICK), more national level institutions for higher education, simplified norms for educational loans, etc., are the prominent commitments from NDA government.

Off the list of priorities of Smriti Irani Minister of Human Resource Development is said to had given to the staff in the ministry, some like national association of parents were considered innovative, though a few like inclusion of Vedic studies and making Hindi compulsory became the hullabaloo of opposition parties and regional groups, who reacted with strong umbrage, terming it as the move to tint education with saffron and racist philosophies.

The ground realities of higher education in India are quite alarming.

With India’s GER for higher education at 17.87% grouped among the lowest in the world, means that 82% of potential youth are deprived of higher education. When this truth is matched with the fact that India is a county with largest tertiary population in the world, signifying that the headcount of persons aged below 25 years account to more than 50% of the country’s total population, which is fearfully exciting. In such a scenario higher education need to be redefined as courses imparting professional skills or capability, to a group of individuals with the intention of empowering  them for earnings to live.  Courses shall be formulated separately for different levels of academics.

Imagine how great is the need for real action and appropriate measures to clear the present clutter of confusion in higher education sector.

The issue that need immediate attention is poor employ-ability of students who have already passed the higher education courses at various levels. Such a situation had materialized because of outdated curriculum and methodology of courses formulated without involving experts from respective industries, apart from lack of infrastructure, less number of qualified and dedicated faculties or teaching staff, inadequate count of institutions with high standard, etc.

With the evolution of private institutions offering courses with certifications that are not recognized and non-accredited  has also contributed to rising unemployment. The huge number of potential youth being unemployed, can become a major threat for the well being of respective communities they belong to in the country. How can we convert this potential challenges into promising opportunities at the earliest, shall be a query to be put forth to MHRD.

The Minister of HRD is loud about achievements, which are a lot to count. Briefs about a few are as follows:

Beti Bachao Beti Padhao” is an initiative in collaboration with MWCD (Ministry of Women and Child Development) which convey a noble thought for girl child’s protection and development that has to be acted upon and its impact can only be assessed on a longer term.

Prime Minister had urged the people of the nation to be the stakeholders of “Swachh Vidyalaya”, which should ideally make way for all the schools in the country to get separate functional toilets for girls, within one year.

UDAAN” is an incentive scheme to encourage girls, SC/ST and minority students in secondary schools to take up professional studies in Maths and Science, presently dominated by boys.

To encourage research in social sciences, 300 scholars will be provided one year long paid junior research fellowship under UGC scheme – “Swami Vivekananda Single Girl Child Scholarship” starting from the academic year 2014-15.

Schemes are launched by AICTE, as well. “PRAGATI” is a scholarship program to support one girl child in each families to take up professional technical courses. “SAKSHAM” is intended to support students who are differently able, based on merit in the qualifying examination to pursue technical education.

As a part of integration program for north-eastern states of India “Ishan Uday” is a scholarship program for 10,000 students to take up undergraduate courses and through “Ishan Vikas” exposure visits to country’s premier institutions like IIT, NIT, IISER for high school students of Std. IX & X along with their teachers will be organised.

“Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat” is an elementary education program initiated in schools across the country to ensure every child studying in Std. I & II to be skilled enough to read, write language, comprehension and numeracy, being the foundation on which the learning can be assembled.

To empower the citizens of our country with continuous education, the project “SWAYAM” (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) has been initiated through which, free online courses will be offered by centrally funded higher education institutions such as IITs and IIMs in the country.

In order to facilitate free access to knowledge for students, researchers, working professionals and others the work on “National E-Library” has commenced in collaboration with UNESCO and countries like Israel, UK and Norway to compile quality content as resources from all central universities and premier institutions of higher education in India through a web portal, which is scheduled to be operational from the academic year 2015-16.

With the intention of empowering rural communities in India, a project titled “Unnat Bharat Abhiyan” is initiated and the responsibility is entrusted to a network consisting of all IITs, apart from other institutions of the country, acclaimed for their academic and professional mandates, to evolve apt technologies that can be applied in the areas of water management, organic farming, renewable energy, infrastructure and would result in enhancement of rural livelihood and employment. IIT Delhi will be coordinating the project.

Premier institutions of higher education in the country are put to task, to assess the requirements to achieve 10 goals, government has ear marked to fuel economic growth. Based on their report scheduled to be presented by March 2015, India can engage in required manpower planning, research infrastructure development and mobilization of resources for the same. IIT Kharagpur will focus on health care, computer science and ICT. IIT Bombay will look at energy and Nano-technology hardware. Water resources and river systems, apart from advance materials are the study area taken up by IIT Kanpur. Manufacturing and defense are the areas of research IIT Madras will focus on. IIT Roorkee will concentrate on sustainable urban design. Environment science and climate change will be the subject of study, IISc, Bangalore will look upon.

As an aspiring long term road map for development, what the minister had stated as achievements can be termed simply, as great concepts. How far all these would materialize is a question only days to come shall reveal.

Vinod Vedamani Vadakkot

 

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