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NEET, JEE | NTA has taken all safety measures, says Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal

Leaders who are politicising the issue of JEE and NEET must consider that postponing the examinations will result in an opportunity cost of at least ₹4,800 crore, says Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank. He also said he welcomed Friday’s SC judgement that final year university students cannot receive their degrees without exams.

You have said the issue of holding NEET and JEE next month should not be politicised. How is the issue being politicised? What political benefit is being sought by protesting students?

It is very much clear before everyone who is taking up the cause of whom. I do not want to go into specifics and details. Entire county is watching who is acting in the interests of students. The leaders who are speaking about the postponement of exams are not looking at the opportunity cost of not holding the exams. The harm of not having exams is huge.

If we do not have an exam now, next year for the same number of seats we will be having double the competition. Some students might have crossed their upper age limit. Even if we imagine the average student earns ₹ 20,000 rupees after passing out (I am making a very, very conservative estimate), the collective loss for the more than 20 lakh NEET and JEE candidates who stand to lose an academic year is ₹4,000 crore per month, and ₹48,000 crore per annum. Isn't it a huge opportunity cost? Is anyone looking at this? I urge everyone to let the country progress.

Also read: NEET-JEE | Home Ministry hints at re-think on dates

Students who want to write NEET and JEE now, and those who want it postponed have both spoken of the immense stress involved in the uncertainty and repeated rescheduling of the exams. How is the government helping to mitigate the stress of students?

The National Testing Agency has been constantly assessing the dynamics of COVID-19 and examinations, and previous postponements were done keeping in mind the interest of students. However, further delay is not viable.

Also read: NEET, JEE must be held with students’ concurrence: Sonia

Students should not take any stress and believe in the system for the conduct of examination in a safe way. The NTA Director General has taken all necessary measures for the health and safety of the students. Further, each stakeholder who is involved in the administration and conduct of the exams was taken on board before finalising the decision and the Standard Operating Procedures, be it the Chief Secretaries of all States/ Administrators of all Union Territories, Directors General of Police, Health Secretaries of the States/UTs, School Education Secretaries, District Magistrates/District Collectors of the exam Cities/Districts, City Police Commissioners/Superintendents of Police of the exam Cities/Districts.

The steps taken by NTA will ensure that the health and safety of the students is not under risk. Students should enjoy the process of examination rather than stressing about. The pandemic will eventually finish anyhow.

Also read: Delay in JEE, NEET will lead to ‘zero year’; quick alternatives can have cascading effects: IIT heads

When is the academic session of 2020-21 going to be restarted? You have spoken of the concern about a zero academic year, but can we declare that the first semester has already been lost? Will there have to be an extension of the 2020-21 year?

I don't agree to the question that the first semester is completely lost. It is being held online by many institutions. We will cover the time loss of the first semester over three years. Many countries are coming up with innovative solutions for covering the lost time. I assure the country that we will study all models and come up with the best model that suits all the students of the country.

Also read: Opposition parties approach Supreme Court to defer JEE, NEET

The Supreme Court has just ruled that States are empowered under the Disaster Management Act to override the University Grants Commission (UGC) guidelines to hold final year university exams by September 30, to protect human lives amid the pandemic, but they cannot promote the students without exams. What impact do you think this will have on final year students? Is it in their interest?

I welcome the decision of the Supreme Court which, in its order, upheld the guidelines of the UGC which were issued keeping students’ career in mind. Legally speaking, the enactment of UGC can be traced to Entry 66 of the Union list. This allows UGC to make regulations accordingly. UGC had framed Guidelines on Examinations in April and then again in July.

Also read: Further delay in conducting JEE, NEET will compromise students’ future: Over 150 academicians to PM Modi

The performance in examinations contributes to merit, lifelong credibility, wider global acceptability for admissions, scholarships, awards, placements, and better future prospects. Thus, to safeguard the larger academic interest of the students and career progression globally, it is essential to conduct the final examinations. Universities are required to complete the examinations by the end of September, 2020 in offline (pen & paper)/online/blended (online + offline) mode. Adhering to the UGC guidelines, 209 universities have already conducted their exams and around 400 universities are in the process holding exams.

In the future educational structure mentioned in the National Education Policy with the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) as a national regulator, how much autonomy will State governments and individual universities have to take their own decisions in situations like this pandemic? Will universities have the power to schedule their own exams, or grant degrees using classroom tests and assessments, or will HECI have the power to dictate these decisions?

As mentioned in NEP, one umbrella institution, the HECI will be set up constituting four independent verticals. HECI will ensure that distinct functions will be performed by the following distinct, independent, and empowered bodies: Regulation by the National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC), Accreditation by the National Accreditation Council, Funding by the Higher Education Grants Council(HEGC), and Academic Standard Setting by the General Education Council (GEC).

The functioning of all these bodies will be based on transparent public disclosure. The regulatory body, the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, will be set up to regulate in a ‘light but tight’ and facilitative manner.

All higher education institutions will aim, through their Institutional Development Plans, to attain the highest level of accreditation over the next 15 years, and thereby eventually aim to function as self-governing degree-granting institutions/clusters.

Also read: The Hindu Explains | What has the National Education Policy 2020 proposed?

The Professional Standard Setting Bodies (PSBBs), as members of the GEC, would help in specifying the curriculum framework, within which institutions may prepare their own curricula. Thus, PSSBs would also set the standards or expectations in particular fields of learning and practice while having no regulatory role. All higher education institutions will decide how their educational programmes respond to these standards, among other considerations, and would also be able to reach out for support from these standard-setting bodies, if needed.

Such a system architecture will ensure the principle of functional separation by eliminating conflicts of interests between different roles. It will also aim to empower institutions, while ensuring that the few key essential matters are given due attention.

In view of the above provisions of NEP, 2020 regarding “Transforming the Regulatory System of Higher Education”, the regulatory structure shall be finalised after due consultation with all stakeholders.

NCERT had published the survey of high school students in central government schools and CBSE schools showing that at least 27% do not have laptops or smartphones, and had asked States to conduct similar mapping exercises. Can you share data from the States on what is the digital penetration level in their schools?

The Learning Enhancement Guidelines [survey] was undertaken to address the concerns of equity and inclusion. The data was collected from The Central Board of Secondary Education, Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan and Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti.

Following the same principles, States and UTs were requested to carry out their own surveys for similar mapping exercises. States will use this detail at their level for further planning taking cognizance of the availability of the digital resources and ensuring that education is transacted to all.

Is there any proposal by the government to provide laptops/tablets/smartphones to school or university students on a free or discounted basis this year? In its proposal to the Finance Commission, the Education Ministry had said it intends to give free devices to university students from 2021-22. Is any of that being frontloaded this year itself?

The Ministry of Education recognises and considers technology as an enabler for increasing the effectiveness of education. Thereby, adequate measures are being undertaken to integrate technology as recommended by the New Education Policy too.

Centre and States are working coherently to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in education. Under the Samagra Shiksha scheme, States/UTs have prepared their own innovative systems for integrating ICT into education. An amount of ₹839.60 crore is allocated for various purposes related to ICT integration for the year 2020-21.

Because of school closures, there are high levels of learning losses for many students, especially those from poor homes, migrant families or who do not have access to digital education. Once schools are reopened, what kind of support needs to be provided to such student communities?

The Ministry of Education has worked effortlessly to take education to children at home through digital means. While doing so, we were vigilant of the digital divide and thereby under the Atmanirbhar Abhiyan, initiatives such as PM E-Vidya were launched to provide multi-modal access to education to students. Simultaneously, initiatives such as Alternative Academic Calendar, PRAGYATA Guidelines, Digital Education-India Report, NISHTHA-Online, Learning Enhancement guidelines etc. were formulated to assure and maintain continuity in school education for ‘All’ children.

The PRAGYATA guidelines have been developed from the perspective of learners, with a focus on enabling online/blended/digital education for students. The Learning Enhancement guidelines addresses the concerns of digital equity and inclusion and make suggestions of models for three types of situations. Firstly, in which students do not have any digital resources. Secondly, in which students have limited digital resources available. Lastly, in which students have digital resources available for online education.

The LEP guidelines cover in detail about education to students belonging to migrant families, poor families, and those who do not have access to digital education. Separate guidelines will be released as and when schools will reopen.

The National Education Policy 2020 is also cognizant of the digital divide and at the same time recognizes the importance of leveraging the advantages of technology while acknowledging its potential risks and dangers. Thus, upholding the spirit of Atmanirbhar Bharat, we entail our commitment to provide quality education to all.

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Printable version | May 7, 2021 1:36:04 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/nta-has-taken-all-safety-measures-says-ramesh-pokhriyal/article32469199.ece

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