Interview | Education

We want to make teachers a serious cadre like engineers: Dr. K. Kasturirangan

K. Kasturirangan

K. Kasturirangan  


In the second part of the interview, Dr. K. Kasturirangan, the chairperson of the drafting committee and former head of ISRO, speaks about centralisation of the educational system, the public school concept, modifications of the college and university systems, research and more.

Read the first part of the interview here.

There is an extreme degree of centralisation that the draft policy advocates, with Rashtriya Shiksha Ayog having the PM at its apex. Textbooks will be created by the NCERT with States adding “local variations.” Even though education is in the concurrent list now, State autonomy is not so much considered in this.

This is a thought-provoking question. We have given a thought to it. Certainly, we are aware education is on the concurrent list. States have a major responsibility. You have the school. Every State will have its regulatory body set up by the school. Accreditation will be separated from regulation, but the accreditation process will lead to some aspects of regulation.

What we have done is to broadly divide the national-level regulatory and accreditation system into four broad areas. First is the grant-giving body, the current UGC will transform into a university grant-giving organization. Regulatory body will be the National Higher Education Authority (NHERA)... like the National Accreditation and Assessment Council. But it will have a different structure. It will not be one body doing the work all over the country; it will have its own outreaches, and this can be selected from educational institutions, and can have a three year [duration]. You can form a group of ten people and show your credentials, and you become a part of the accreditation system. This is possible in the new system.

Then there is a frame setting authority – which is professional – which will set the broad framework. The frame-setting authorities are the present regulatory bodies, for example, the MCI – The Medical Council of India will have no [role] in the number of seats in a college or the kind of curriculum they will teach there. They will only do the professional broad frame-setting. From there, the institutions will take over. The reflection of this in the State will be the following: whereas the national frame setting will provide the guideline as to how to frame the curriculum, and a pedagogy for that, it is up to the State to decide what will be the curriculum and pedagogy.

Similarly, the national accreditation authority – you have the State accreditation authority [also]. There are going to be State governments. Similarly, for the national regulatory authority, you have the State regulatory authority. The entire gamut of regulation of the educational system and many other things will be left to the school. Except the broad areas – It’s a nation, it’s a federal structure.

With respect to your question whether the State will be less empowered, I think the State will be best empowered by this policy. It will enable the State to considerably innovate, bring in new ideas, and try to create dynamic changes depending on this. In all these cases it is possible. There is always a consultation process that is available with the Centre with respect to the four or five bodies which will control the education. But that in no way will put direct control on what is happening at the State level.

And the most recent question of language is a classic example. We have made sure the language policy does not impose the language of another State on any State if they don’t want it. But probably that needed to be corrected, and we have corrected that. Even though I feel the earlier statement meant the same thing.

You are talking about public education. But the measures suggested leave plenty of room for private and commercial interests to expand. Which is ok. But, on the other hand, there is a stringent action advised to shut down stand-alone teacher education institutions across the country as soon as possible. We have seen some privatisation already and there is some amount of commercialisation of education. The situation can be difficult for poor children. Can we ignore this aspect?

We cannot ignore this, but we cannot also just gloss over.

Education is a no-profit enterprise, so this is best done by public funding. We want to make sure we strengthen the public funding system for public schools. We want to call as public schools only those that are public funded. We don’t want private institutions to call themselves public schools – that also we have put down. The reason is that we want to make sure the standards of the public schools are raised – like CBSE schools, look at the Kendriya Vidyalaya – they are fabulous. They can be improved also, with better infrastructure and courses like we have recommended.

The private school has to compete against that kind of a public school system.

The second point is the Teacher Education Institutions (TEIs). Teacher Education Institutions have mushroomed in the thousands. I don’t want to say how they have operated, what kind of degrees have been given and what were the outcomes.

School teachers are going to build the youth of tomorrow. That requires a deep knowledge of child psychology, child development, questions of comprehension, environment, interfaces with society and parents. So, we think school education teachers should come from higher education institutions. Not by giving a teacher course, but it should be multidisciplinary and across the spectrum. This can come only from higher education institutions.

Transfer them [future teachers] to higher education institutions, give them a four year B.Ed. there . They can be given liberal education for two years followed by areas in which they will be teaching. They have to be given comprehensive knowledge, learn pedagogy and even communication skills, and make sure they can frame curriculum.

Centre for Teacher Education will be part of a multidisciplinary higher education institution. Now we have defined these as Tier-I, Tier-II, and Tier-III. They will go to one of the HEIs, learn there, where the teachers come from different departments of the university. They are the ones who will then go as teachers. This is number two.

Thirdly, we want to make teachers a cadre which is as serious, with credentials as any other cadre, such as a computer engineer, mechanical engineer. We don’t want to treat teachers as a lower [profession]. So we want to make sure when they get a B. Ed. From a tier -I or tier-II institution, they are of that class – like an IIT graduate.

What is the timescale over which this transformation would happen?

If you ask me how long it would take to transform the anganwadi teacher into a teacher who would [handle] education , health and nutrition, in our present understanding of what we need to teach at pre-school, I think about six months. Some of the existing teachers, in six months they can be oriented.

Then there are areas in which you may need a year or two. We have made sure that the teachers, the present B. Techs, after two years, in the third year they should be able to organize the higher levels, including liberal arts and other things.

Then if you want to go for a four-year programme… we have to establish that capability, so it should take a year or two to do that. Then, within three years you will get a streaming of regular outcomes. In terms of a four-year B.Tech course.

To summarise, existing anganwadi teachers can be trained in six months. Those with two-year education can be transformed in a year. And for the future, you have a four-year course. So, within four years we should be able to get people. But we also need a throughput – it is a large number. We think we need to put this on a priority.

The three-tier system of higher education is quite similar to the U.S. system. But that system has one major problem – while the top tier gets several times the funding they need from several sources, lower levels tend to languish, and you need high levels of accomplishment to get even a little money. In a country plagued by hierarchy and exclusion, can this not create problems?

You have a point, but if you really look at it, in a sense what you said exists [already]. Look at the IITs, top class AIIMS like institutions, the IISERs, NISERs; then you have the Central Universities, IIITs and many others in the next level; then the whole host of State universities and State colleges. What does this signify in terms of the question you asked? It is the same thing.

I’m talking of 200 type-I universities, which are research universities. Each one of them will host something like 20,000 students in all areas, science arts humanities, liberal arts; then professional education – whether it is medical, engineering or law; finally, vocational education. [All this is] integrated in a huge system which we call the research university. Then you will find there is a huge amount of opportunity – Imagine about 200 such universities. I am talking of a period of ten-fifteen years. Exclusivity will be more with regard to poor performers not the underprivileged.

The next thing is even more ambitious. The idea of a teaching university with research. We are talking of 2,000-3,000 of these teaching universities. These are really multidisciplinary again. They have also the flexibility to graduate to the higher levels like the type-I.

[Then] what we are trying to do is [to look at] – a large number of State universities – 800 to 900 of them: many of them slowly can move into teaching universities. And some can go into [research]. Whereas at level one we are talking about many of the central universities, IITs, IIMs, they will slowly become type-I kind of research universities.

Research brings us to the next step, related to National Research Foundation. If you try to bring a teaching university with research, we are talking of 2,000 or so of these, these will be second level.

[In the] third level we have got something like 40,000– 50,000 colleges in the country. These colleges need a direction. They are totally directionless. Some have one subject, ten teachers and no infrastructure… We want to make sure that they move towards degree giving university with liberal, multidisciplinary education.

This is equal to what you said rightly, the community college system in the United States. But I am sure they will try to give it a meaning for India. This would be 20,000 or so. So, we are compressing the 40,000 into 20,000.

These three levels will also have areas of vocational education. We are also taking out vocational education as an educational stream. You start vocational education studies at 1,2,3,4 levels in your secondary education. At 5,6,7 you go into the undergraduate. When you get a third-year bachelor of vocational education degree, you have a degree which comes from a multidisciplinary institute.

As our Prime Minister said, what we have to do is to prepare for the fourth industrial revolution – so the vocational education takes you to that [State] when it is a part of a higher education.

Vocational education is going to assume a stature like teachers. A vocational education person, working on artificial machine intelligence at a certain level, will have the same stature as an IIT undergraduate.

Even in professional education, not only [those with an] MBBS will get an opportunity to do an MD but [a person with] BDS can and nurses can, too. There are some nurses who are far better than a doctor. [People feel sometimes a person with] MBBS has no locus standi to even give an injection. We need to change all this in the educational system, and ensure they are also a revered part of the medical profession.

There is extreme centralisation of research in higher education. No other country has this level of centralisation of research. What is your comment on this?

I think centralisation or decentralisation as words have a meaning when there is a scale in which it operates. In India research is 0.69% of the GDP. It used to be 0.86%, approximately, 0.9% to be liberal. Compare this with US where it is 2.4% or 2.5%; in Israel it is 4% of GDP. So, first and foremost, centralisation has no meaning when you are talking about this kind of money. It does not make a difference. There is no question of any “isation” Currently, if you look at the outcome in terms of papers, it is just improving, because of the university supports being given by DST. If you look at the number of patents, the number is 30,000 or 40,000 – compared to 6,00,000 and 7,00,000 in US and even more in China.

Even in this, about 70% of the patents come from NRIs [Non-Resident Indians]. So, if you look at the overall scenario of industrial outcomes, (about 10% papers are in pure research), social outcomes, strategic outcomes, and the kind of money that is overall going into this. Finally, look at the number of papers, patents and such parameters, India is not at all in a happy situation.

One of the reasons is that India today has 900 State universities. Nearly 93% of university students are going to State universities. The State universities are pathetic in terms of research quality. This is the first thing.

Secondly, the research itself, though they are well supported. But the level of support they give is mostly to institutions where there is some capability. So, you get more funding for institutions like Tata Institute of Fundamental Research or a CSIR lab, or DRDO lab, or ISRO. But if you remove that, what do you do with the 93% students who go into State universities? Some of the central universities and IITs do get some funds, but this is not sufficient. They are just working with that kind of money and publishing papers… I think one needs to improve considerably the money and along with it the infrastructure and the number of researchers that will contribute.

We always talk about the percentage of GDP going into research, when are we going to talk about the research going into GDP? This is the question I often ask the scientists. We don’t have a number because we don’t have an impact of that type. I was just looking at the European numbers. At least if you put 0.2% or 0.3% [into research] and it [feeds] five times into the national productivity, which is 1.1% almost. So if I increase it [research grant] by 0.2%, I get [another] 1.1% in the GDP as an outcome in the productivity. That is the kind of thing you need to look for.

So, we thought there is a gross [lack of] support in the university system. There are some pockets of excellence. That gives hardly any consolation. So, we thought there should be a [national] research foundation. The foundation should be all encompassing, including science, engineering, social sciences and humanities. This will be a fairly large system like the US’ National Science Foundation. But it will have its own Indian character, I am not saying we will copy them.

First of all, the competitive grant from DST and other institutions: we will [have a] similar thing with respect to the university system, primarily. But it does not stop other institutions from asking for money, and it will be done on a competitive basis. This is typical of any research grant.

The second is more important. It is to seed capabilities in a university system so that they can start undertaking research. Seeding can be in any area depending on what the universities’ interests are and also what the local demands are. We will try to create seeds of research in various universities. You may not have the right people to carry forward the money even though you may get the grant. There are many scientists who are retired and settled all over the country. This country’s representation of the scientific community is well distributed. They [the scientists] can go and mentor them [the universities]. They become a part of the research group and they try to create a new generation of researchers. They can continue to be there, they will be given a remuneration, they can research, produce papers, even take students for first five years or ten years. The place gets operational.

Then the research foundation will enable research grants from government institutions. You know, research grants coming from DST, and DAE is one aspect. But many departments need research outcomes… I can reel out the kind of things that government departments themselves want to research. Something should come from them so that they become stakeholders. At present they are not stakeholders. This is the third element.

Then the industrialists. They always say we are ready to give money, but we don’t get any output. We need to dispel that part of it. Create a tighter system of monitoring: the government will help with this kind of monitoring, evaluation and mid-term correction and this can improve the confidence of industry so that they come with more and more money. This is not CSR but actual problems they wish to solve.

This will create a culture of new generation of researchers teaching next generation of learners. If this nexus between the teachers and learners comes together, the university will have a very different kind of atmosphere.

Also ultimately there will be a mutual feedback, of ideas, innovation and creativity.

The country will start bubbling with this once there is a certain level of operationalisation of a system like National Research Foundation. It will be tightly controlled, well-reviewed but with enough flexibility for areas where they are just initiating. All this will be built into it.

It is a big challenge, easier said than done, but I think the country has to go forward in that kind of thing. To make sure that within the next ten to fifteen years India is as vibrant scientifically and research wise as the best in the world.

What does the policy say on reservations?

As of now we have assumed that the existing policy on reservations will continue. We have no authority to tamper with anything related to that. We have not put anything new on reservations. What we have done, is … there are people who need to be supported because financially or otherwise they are underprivileged. Which is why you create a reservation. We need to make sure this is strictly enforced. And that there is no room for misuse of that kind of thing by institutions. And also suggest if there are any inadequacies in the implementation that should be interviewed and corrected. But beyond that I can’t say anything more. But it will be in favour of the fact that we need to ensure that the underprivileged are not somebody who are condemned to be there. We have to take them up and raise them to the level of the society where they will have their own role to play.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 4:56:30 AM |

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