Sunday Anchor

Should inspire students to take up teaching: Smriti Irani

Union HRD Minister Smriti Irani during an interview at her office in New Delhi on Thursday. Photo: S. Subramanium   | Photo Credit: S_Subramanium

Union Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani tells Smriti Kak Ramachandran about her plans for the education sector, including the proposal to review the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act

You said the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act will be reviewed as State governments have raised concerns. What are these concerns?

Instead of enunciating it through a newspaper, the best forum to raise the issue is the executive committee meeting, which is soon to be convened with regards to the SSA, RTE and even the mid-day meal scheme. Our endeavour is to find solutions on those constitutional platforms. Every State has a varied understanding of its own challenges and needs and they are trying to highlight the way forward. Since observations vary from State to State, the best platforms to engage on these issues are the constitutional platforms. We came to power with the spirit of cooperative federalism, and in that spirit to point out just one State or one concern would be inappropriate. We are using these platforms not only to deliberate and debate on issues, but also to look for solutions.

The government has been flagging the issue of creating employable youth. What are the plans for improving skill development?

We are operationalising a council for industry and educational institutions collaboration, which looks at employability, mobilising resources, promoting research and how to have market-ready manpower. Apart from that, through the UGC, we are convening a meeting of education secretaries to help us scale up our skill development initiatives. We are trying to ensure there is a convergence of school education and higher education on that platform. An equivalence framework is also being worked upon.

The Prime Minister recently said India should aim to export teachers, but the youth is not inspired to take up the profession.

The wonder of the 5th of September (Teachers’ Day) programme was the ability for us to raise an environment of respect towards the teaching community. That dialogue between the Prime Minister and the students directly was envisaged to bring about appreciation for the teaching community. It was a perfect initiative to inspire today’s students to become tomorrow’s teachers.

Through the Madan Mohan Malviya Teacher’s Training programme sufficient financial allocation has been made for scaling up teacher training. Also, my endeavour is to ensure that there is a separate academy for technical educators. If we can inspire students to take up teaching as a profession then the Prime Minister’s dream of one day being able to export teachers will fructify.

I met the Ambassador of Sudan and they were appreciative of our efforts in teacher training and they are looking forward to some sort of a collaboration so that we can assist in building capacity of their teachers. A similar exercise was taken up in my conversation with the representatives from Bhutan. While we are looking at enhancing our own domestic capacity we are also looking at helping other nations in building capacity.

There is an acute shortage of faculty in IITs, IIMs and the teachers complain of poor working conditions and remunerations.

There is a programme being undertaken by IIT-Kanpur, ‘new faculty, new hope’, which seeks to assist those youngsters who have become a part of their faculty and assist them in their research. In order to help us retain that talent within the IIT system, I have reiterated that this particular facet supporting the new talent needs to be widespread. Many concerns will be addressed; IIT-Kanpur and some IIMs have been requested to design such a format so that we can bring in a national formula to address the needs of this talented young faculty.

There is a view that the government, instead of consolidating, is on an expansion spree; there are many existing concerns like infrastructure inadequacies that have not been addressed.

I think we are balancing both the consolidation and the efforts to ensure that every citizen in every State has the institution of his or her choice. While we are looking at new institutions announced in the last 100 days, we are also looking at addressing the administrative and infrastructure challenges of our older institutions. This conversation has already been initiated with the IITs, IIMs, and the IISER. Our endeavour is to address the administrative and infrastructure challenges of our institutions in a time-bound fashion.

What is the government’s strategy on the Foreign Education Providers Bill that has been pending for years?

Through our Indianised MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) called Swayam, we are engaging on various platforms with institutions from overseas. IIT-Mumbai has initiated a MOOCs with MIT, we are looking through our e-library obtaining resources from international sources, which includes support extended by UNESCO, the U.K., Norway, Israel. So we are looking at various parameters of collaboration with excellent academic institutions overseas as well.

There’s been a surge in the cases of sexual abuse in schools in particular, how will you address this concern?

I have very strongly expressed my outrage on the issue of sexual violence within educational institutions. While I cannot elaborate on this, I have made a request to another Ministry on how this can be addressed through some administrative initiative, wherein before an institution hires anybody there can be a check of that person’s record, since that request of mine is in the stages of infancy, I would not elaborate upon it. I will speak about it when I finalise the blueprint and the details.

You said each department was working in silos when you took over. Can you give an example?

One of my observations was that there should be a bridge for vocational skills for children to be taught in school and for them to make a transition to higher education. That could have been built only if both these departments sat together and drafted a way forward. I did not want solutions to be arrived at in isolation, so both the secretaries sat together. For the first time, in a meeting of secretaries for school education, secretary, higher education came and gave his suggestions. Another example is that there are 10 research goalposts that IITs have identified and IIMs were asked to give managerial context to those; our endeavour is that when the institutes of higher learning sit together, we also engage schools to see what can be reflected in our school curriculum, which can prepare children for those newer avenues of education that we seek to deliver though the 10 identified goalposts.

Has it been difficult to handle the brickbats that came your way?

When constructive criticism is put forth it is very essential to listen to it. I might not listen to malicious barbs, but I listen to constructive criticism. If it helps me to improve upon a policy or initiative I am more than happy to include any idea, even if it comes in the guise of criticism.


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