Unfazed by criticism from rivals and discordant voices within his own party, Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal is determined to carry forward his agenda of educational reforms and providing quality education to every Indian student.
In an exclusive chat with Zeenews.com’s Swati Chaturvedi on her program Kahiye Janab, the minister outlined his plans to revolutionise the education sector.
Swati: I have heard somewhere that we are some thirty years backward in the education sector. Do you agree?
KS: Yes, I agree that we need to bring about a radical change in the education sector. Considering the demographic divisions in our society we need to educate our children by 2030 and if we fail to do so, then God knows what will happen…
Swati: (interrupts)…and that too when we have nearly 580 million people below 35 years of age. I have heard that in our country 9 out of 10 students who go to schools do not attend colleges.
KS: Look, in today’s context, if 100 students reach class 12 then only 12 succeed in doing their graduation. If 100 students reach tenth standard then only...(pause) 21 go forward. Today, only 12.4% students complete their 12th standard so we need to bridge this gap and bring it to somewhere near 50 % in the next five years. Only then a visible change in the education sector can come about.
Swati: So what’s stopping you from achieving that? You have studied at the Harvard Law School, do you see any western interests hindering the way of progressive education?
KS: I don’t agree. In fact, I don’t see any western interests in it. See, we want to expand the education sector but there can be no expansion if there is reluctance from any side at the entry levels at schools, universities etc.
Swati: You are the HRD minister and you know the ground realities better. I want to know how many leaders, how many bureaucrats, policy makers who run this ministry actually send their children to government schools?
KS: I agree that we never send our children to government schools since the infrastructure of these schools is not good. They run in pathetic condition.
Swati: So you accept this.
KS: Yes, I agree. There is an acute shortage of teachers in government schools and sometimes one teacher alone runs the school. Vacancies exist in 50% of all government schools. The quality of education is poor in these schools. We need more appointments and should provide necessary infrastructure in order to improve the situation. In the past 10 to 20 years, nobody bothered to improve the state of education in India. However, the situation is now improving as we have laid great emphasis on this sector.
Swati: Ironically, all those who talk about bringing a positive change in the country’s educational system themselves oppose any effort to improve the situation in Parliament.
KS: I don’t want to comment on this. It’s easy to criticise any one. Let us not dig into the past. We need to look forward in order to improve the situation. We will stick to our agenda of education reforms. My task is to bring the critical mass of students to a level of 30% from the present level of 12.4% by educating and providing quality education to maximum number of students. We look forward to introducing the National Curriculum Framework, 2005. We want our boards like CBSE to deliver world class education. We have introduced the Right to Education Bill. We are taking every step to ensure that every child receives quality education.
Swati: There are certain leaders who proclaim themselves as social activists and run educational institutions with a profit motive…
KS: I need not talk about certain class of politicians, who are involved in such activities. We need to focus on changing the framework of the education structure and for this we need to focus on three things- (1) Expansion- We need to bring in maximum schools and universities to expand the education sector (2) Equity- Our focus is to provide qualitative and inclusive education for all – including the most backwards sections of our society and (3) Quality-we need to create a knowledge-based society and the quality of education provided by our educational institutions should be of the best quality.
Swati: How will you tackle those leaders who run these educational institutions with profit motive in mind?
KS: I agree that there are certain institutions, deemed-to-be universities etc., which take advantage of loopholes in our legal framework, but that will be dealt with sternly. I am not afraid of anyone. I will not allow whatever is illegal, unethical. We have recently formed a committee to look into these issues, the report of which will come to us in next three months. We will take action then.
Swati: How will you achieve this, how do you aim to end red tape and bureaucratic control in educational institutions?
KS: To achieve all this we first need to end bureaucratic control. All this can be done by creating an independent agency to monitor the state of education in the country- it does not matter if it is a charitable institution, a private co-operative society or a state body. If we manage to achieve this, then the gap between the demand and supply will end eventually.
Swati: What objection does your government have if Indians are spending nearly 7 billion annually for obtaining overseas education? Also, why cannot we bring foreign universities to India?
KS: Look, you can check across the world, and you will find that all top institutions do not run with profit motive. They run on endowments. We have no objections if parents want to send their children abroad for a foreign degree. In the past one month, I have been approached by several persons who have proposed to set up truly world class institutions in India. I think if our industrialists want to open such high level institutions they should be given all necessary support. There is no harm in it, since it will also save a lot of foreign exchange which goes to foreign universities every year and reduce burden on poor families that may want their children to get world class education.
Swati: Then what is stopping you?
KS: This whole system. But we are going to table bills in this regard. We are sure that Foreign Universities Bill and Foreign Education Providers Bill will get approval before the next academic session.
Swati: PM brought a revolution in the country and revitalised the economy. Do we need a similar revolution in this sector?
KS: Yes very true, the way our Prime Minister liberalised the Indian economy, we need a revolution to bring a paradigm shift in education sector too. I reiterate that we need to end the bureaucratic control. This has been pointed out by UGC, the National Knowledge Commission and the Yashpal Committee.
Swati: Your announcement on reforms has created a nationwide debate and you were criticised that your proposals were being made in a hurry?
KS: I will not talk about this. I do not want to make any comments on my detractors. In 1993, the SC stressed that Right to Free and Compulsory Education be provided to every child between the age group of 6 to 16 years. So we are already lagging by 16 years. I am doing what we were supposed to do 16 years back. If we still fail and delay the educational reforms it will be a national shame.
Swati: What is your take on your decision to introduce grading system in CBSE Class-X examination from 2010?
KS: I think a student does not need a board in the tenth standard when he has to decide what stream he should take in the later stages. A child’s career should not be decided on the marks obtained in a particular examination. He should be given a free hand to choose what suits him most.
In our country, we have some 41 educational boards. All are not very competent and do not guarantee a quality education. There is no mechanism either do detect who is better and who is a defaulter. Most of the boards are seen to be showing leniency in their marking pattern so that their students succeed in getting admissions into higher institutions of learning.
Moreover, there should be more choices in the education system. A student should be free to pick and choose what is best suited for him. The more choices we have in our education the more educated will be our country and this will lead to greater economic prosperity.
Similarly, there should be options in vocational studies. For streams like Science/ Physics/Chemistry/Maths/ Biology etc we need to follow a comprehensive but uniform syllabus. We hope to achieve all this next five years.
Swati: One last question. How did you react when the Prime Minister entrusted you with the Herculean task of reforming the education sector?
KS: I took it as a challenge and assured the PM that I will deliver my best.
Adapted by Ritesh K Srivastava