Dharmendra Pradhan, Union minister of education and of skill development and entrepreneurship in conversation with Amita Shah
Dharmendra Pradhan (Photo Getty Images)
For Dharmendra Pradhan, Union minister of education and of skill development and entrepreneurship, nothing is more heartening than the prospect of seeing every child in India availing of education within the next five years. The 53-year-old knows that it is not an easy task, but he emphasises that the efforts of the Narendra Modi government in education will pay off. Speaking to Amita Shah, Pradhan elaborates on National Education Policy 2020, the measures to promote affordable education and to bridge gender gaps, among other plans for the education sector.
How does the government plan to revamp India’s higher education?
In ancient India, our universities at Nalanda and Taxila were world-famous for their educational prowess. Students from across the world would come here to gain knowledge. While they taught various core subjects like astronomy, theology, philosophy, city-planning, logic, etc, education in these places was necessarily inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary.
We had a long tradition of multi-disciplinary, holistic education. Seventh century poet Banabhatta’s work Kadambari described good education as knowledge of the 64 kalaas or arts; and these 64 “arts” not only included subjects such as singing and painting but also science and mathematics, besides what we now describe as vocational and professional courses, such as medicine and engineering, and skills like debating.
Today, in the 21st century, we need a multi-disciplinary approach in our education. A student must acquire knowledge of various subjects and possess multiple skills to forge ahead in life and career.
I believe that National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) is an opportunity to take Indian education again to the heights where it once commanded a prominent global role. The regulatory system is being overhauled with a “light but tight” framework. We will soon have a Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). It will be an umbrella body which will ensure that regulation, accreditation, funding, and academic standard-setting will be performed by distinct, independent and empowered bodies.
Today, we have different kinds of institutions—universities, deemed to be universities, affiliating universities, etc. Under the new NEP, once HECI is created, there will be uniformity and all institutions will be replaced by “universities” on fulfilment of certain criteria. We will soon have a Digital University, which will add impetus to Indian higher education and will provide access to quality higher education to millions of students from across socio-economic backgrounds.
How do you see quality education at affordable costs shaping up both at the school level and in higher education?
India’s education sector is one of the world’s largest—with 1.5 million schools, more than 9.6 million teachers and around 264 million children in schools. In higher education, we have more than 1,000 universities and 40,000 colleges, 38.5 million students and 1.5 million teaching faculty.
In school education, NEP 2020 has introduced a new pedagogical and curricular structure of 5+3+3+4, which will replace the existing 10+2 system, starting at age three. There is an emphasis on the primacy of the formative years from ages three to eight in shaping the child’s future. This structure emphasises the first five years of schooling by focusing on foundational learning, followed by three years of preparatory schooling, three years of middle-stage schooling and four years of secondary education. Keeping in view the above recommendation, the Department of School Education and Literacy has aligned the existing Centrally sponsored schemes (Samagra Shiksha and PM POSHAN) with the recommendations of NEP 2020.
NEP 2020 targets equitable and inclusive education for all, with a special focus on children and youth, especially girls from socially and economically disadvantaged groups. The policy also provides for setting up a gender inclusion fund
Samagra Shiksha is an integrated scheme for school education, covering pre-school to Class 12. Our government has already allocated about `3 lakh crore for five years of implementation of this scheme. It aims to ensure that all children have access to affordable quality education with an equitable and inclusive classroom environment which should take care of their diverse backgrounds, multilingual needs and academic abilities, while making them active participants in the learning process.
The policy also recognises immediate challenges by ensuring that every student attains foundational literacy by Class 3. In this context, a national mission on foundational literacy and numeracy, NIPUN Bharat (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy), has been launched so that each child achieves foundational literacy and numeracy by the end of Class 3 by 2026-27. The policy also stipulates that governments at all levels ensure that the medium of instruction up to at least Class 5 is in one’s mother tongue or local language. Our government also focuses on local languages in higher education because it considers all Indian languages as national languages.
NEP 2020 also envisages that prior to the age of five, every child will move to a “Preparatory Class” or “Balavatika”, that is, before Class 1. In the first phase, our government has started the process of implementing this in 50 Kendriya Vidyalayas as a pilot project as per the recommendations of NEP 2020.
Emphasising the quality of syllabus, textbooks and teaching practices in the country, the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) is being developed in four areas—School Education, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), Teacher Education, and Adult Education. This will also empower and enable outstanding teaching and learning in schools. As per NEP 2020, the curriculum framework will focus on various experiential and innovative pedagogy, including hands-on learning, arts-integrated and sport-integrated education, storytelling-based pedagogy, and a discovery-driven, learner-based, flexible and enjoyable approach towards developing all aspects and capabilities of learners. NCF will contribute to building an education system that can adapt to the dynamics of the changing times.
NEP 2020 is the first education policy after 34 years and is a knowledge document of the 21st century that aims to promote holistic development of an individual and aims to make education accessible to everyone. The policy covers all aspects of education, from early childhood care (ECCE) to higher education, and also reconfigures the system with skills and a research ecosystem. It is an ambitious policy that seeks to transform the Indian education system while being rooted in Indian ethos. NEP 2020 promotes accessible, affordable, equitable and quality education for all. It aims to make India a vibrant knowledge hub.
In higher education, we are ensuring holistic, multi-disciplinary education, and overhauling the regulatory framework to ensure quality and standards. There are already discussions going on to enhance access to educational loans and scholarships.
Higher education becomes expensive not only because of the direct costs in terms of fees, but also because there are opportunity costs to it. The youth generally have to choose between a job and higher education. Technology can really help us in reducing direct costs as well as those indirect opportunity costs. The Digital University I mentioned earlier will ensure that our students access the best of quality higher education.
How do you aim to make Indian students globally competitive?
Our students are globally competitive. Some of the top technology companies are led by the alumni of our colleges and universities. During the pandemic, we saw how our innovations helped the world. When Covid struck, we didn’t have any capacity for PPE kits and we needed to import in the initial days. Today, we are net exporters of PPE kits. Recently, we achieved the milestone of 200 crore doses of Covid vaccination. It is our research and innovation capacity that has ensured that we can give vaccines not only to our citizens but also to people across the world.
Today, knowledge creation and research are the critical components that make for a vibrant economy, continuously inspiring a nation to achieve greater heights. The most prosperous civilisations, both ancient and modern, have been strong knowledge societies with a robust research ecosystem to stay abreast of rapid changes in the world. The ability to conduct independent research enables a country to easily adapt to meet new challenges.
In a conclave held recently in Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to vice chancellors and other educationists to prepare a curriculum that empowers the next generation of college graduates
Indian students usually travel abroad after obtaining a degree or after postgraduation for higher levels of specialisation. Widening the scope of learning through flexibility in curriculum and through novel and engaging course options, in addition to rigorous specialisation in a subject or subjects, will make for more accomplished students emerging from Indian HEIs.
Multi-disciplinary Education and Research Universities (MERU) will seek to bridge the gap in the current education system, with greater focus on research and innovation. The best research is known to occur in a multi-disciplinary setting. The inclusion of research and internships in the undergraduate curriculum in addition to due weightage for research will ensure that the culture permeates through our universities.
India already has a long historical tradition of research and knowledge creation in a wide variety of subjects. Leveraging these will be critical to making Indian students much sought after by foreign institutions of repute and also in creating mobility for exchange visits and the possibility of joint programmes. We have already issued guidelines for twinning programmes, dual degree and joint degree programmes which can be taken up by Indian HEIs with foreign institutions. Moreover, we are creating an enabling framework under which top foreign universities will be able to set up campuses in India and Indian institutions will set up offshore campuses. Such exposure to our students and institutions will help in learning from across the globe.
What is your message to aspiring students so that they develop entrepreneurial skills and gain the ability to provide employment to others?
Education must build character, enable learners to be ethical, rational, compassionate and caring while preparing for gainful, fulfilling employment. For starters, the scope of school education will be broadened to facilitate multiple pathways to learning, involving both formal and non-formal modes. There will be less emphasis on inputs and greater thrust on output potential for achieving desired learning outcomes.
Reduced curriculum content in each subject will create space for critical thinking and more enquiry, discovery, discussion and analysis-based learning. The assessment tools will also be aligned with learning outcomes and capabilities. The progress report of students will be a holistic, 360-degree multi-dimensional document reflecting the uniqueness of each learner. This will be a definitive move away from the high-stakes examinations.
Separate provisions will be made for adequate startup incubation centres, technology development centres, centres in frontier areas of research, greater industry-academic linkages and more opportunities for inter-disciplinary research, including humanities and social sciences research.
A credit-based system with multiple entry/exit provisions will facilitate mobility across general and skill streams and will ensure that students have enormous choices in selecting their learning paths. This will result in a complete re-imagination of how vocational education is offered and perceived.
NEP 2020 has focused on knowledge and skills that will prepare students to be job-creators rather than job-seekers.
What message would you like to convey to both government and private institutions that are training their students to get the best placement opportunities?
The aim of every institution, whether government or private, has to be to produce engaged, productive and contributing citizens for building an equitable, inclusive and plural society. This can be achieved through ensuring quality and standards and providing valuable information on strengths and areas of interest to help make optimal career choices. The innate talent of every student must be discovered, nurtured, fostered and developed.
All reforms must be kept student-centric, with flexibility in curriculum and course-options that must include credit-based courses and projects in areas of community engagement and service. Valuable hands-on experience can be gained through internships with local industry and businesses. Every institution must necessarily have professional academic and career counselling to ensure physical, psychological and emotional well-being.
We should keep an eye on the fast-changing technology-led global economy. As per a World Economic Forum report, by 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal. About 8.5 crore jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 9.7 crore new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.
Our institutions shall ensure that the students not only look for short-term employment opportunities but are able to think long-term and take a broader outlook on life and career choices. What do they want to achieve in life? Do they want to be job-seekers or job-creators? Where do they see the nation in the next 25 years? What role should they have in ensuring that the nation reaches those heights? Not only students but even the institutions shall answer those questions. When the vision of institutions and students align, then we will be able to have the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” of the dreams of our freedom fighters.
We need to move beyond an instrumental thinking about women. A woman is not just a means for the family; she needs to be educated for her own empowerment. Our nation will realise its full potential only when every woman is educated and empowered
How well is our teaching faculty equipped today in terms of both training tomorrow’s leaders and the wisdom quotient? How is the government ensuring that teachers are ahead of the curve in a fast-changing world?
Just some weeks ago, in July, we had a conclave, Akhil Bhartiya Shiksha Samagam, in Varanasi. The prime minister had come for the inauguration after interacting with schoolchildren. He was still in awe of the talent and aspirations of those children. He asked the hundreds of vice chancellors and directors present there if we are ready for the generation that will be coming to colleges in a few years. We realise that our colleges and universities need to re-orient themselves and our education needs to be student-centric. We took a call to have “education for the student, by the teacher”. Our student-first approach will be attained when we equip our teachers as best as possible. NEP 2020 exhorts: “Teachers truly shape the future of our children—and, therefore, the future of our nation.” It implies that teachers will play the most important role in nation-building by creating a high quality of human resource in their classrooms.
Subsequently, the government has launched a National Mission to improve learning outcomes at the elementary level through an Integrated Teacher Training Programme called NISHTHA–National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement–under the Centrally sponsored scheme of Samagra Shiksha. This integrated programme aims to build the capacities of around 40 lakh participants covering all teachers and heads of schools at the elementary level. This has been further extended to foundational literacy and numeracy at the secondary level, covering around 35 lakh pre-primary, primary and secondary-level teachers with a focus on improvement in quality of teachers and learning outcomes of students.
NEP 2020 also emphasised that the teachers who have already been recruited will be expected to participate in at least 50 hours of continuous professional development (CPD) every year.
In addition, the four-year Integrated Teacher Education Programme (ITEP) has been launched by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) in line with NEP 2020, which would help develop a new generation ofteachers to play a major role in making youth future-ready. ITEP has been envisaged as the minimum degree qualification for school teachers that has been offered by about 50 institutes across the country.
Teachers are the backbone of our education and the future of our nation. Considering the needs of quality faculty in higher education institutions, in the first year itself, our government focused on capacity-building of teachers. The prime minister launched the scheme Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching on December 25, 2014, with an outlay of `900 crore. The Malaviya Mission has focused on several aspects related to teachers—professional development, pedagogy, curriculum, etc. Now, as per NEP 2020, we are creating a more robust system of capacity-building of our teachers. We will be developing around 100 world-class teacher training institutions, upgrading the current Human Resource Development Centres and other such institutions developed for teachers.
We are also reviewing the existing initiatives being implemented by the UGC, AICTE and others in the department of higher education and integrating them to meet the objectives of NEP 2020.
We will have a mechanism to ensure that each faculty member undergoes a mandatory training programme. With online education or training being a new trend as compared to the conventional offline mode, there is a need to assess the effectiveness of online education or training vis-à-vis the conventional offline mode of training programmes. I believe that online training can only supplement but not substitute physical modes of teacher training.
If a woman is educated, the whole family gets educated. What is the Ministry of Education doing for the betterment of female students?
It is true that if a woman is educated, the whole family gets educated. But we need to move beyond this instrumental thinking about women. A woman is not just a means for the family; she needs to be educated for her own empowerment as well. Our nation will realise its full potential only when each and every woman is educated and empowered.
In the past seven years, in higher education, GER (gross enrolment ratio) for females has surpassed the male enrolment ratio. This is the outcome of continuous efforts by the government in ensuring access to higher education for women. We need to further work on increasing the enrolment of women. There is also a challenge of lack of women in research, especially in technical fields. There have been several initiatives taken by our Central institutions to increase women’s participation in STEM research. Under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan, there is a special focus on girls’ education, including building girls’ hostels, toilet facilities, etc.
In this era of Industrial Revolution 4.0, our education system will be technology-driven. Our education should be able to bring about a shift in mindsets. We must be able to instil a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit
NEP 2020 targets equitable and inclusive education for all, with a special focus on children and youth, especially girls from socially and economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs). The policy also provides for setting up a Gender Inclusion Fund (GIF) to build the nation’s capacity to provide equitable quality education for all girls as well as transgender students. The above objectives of NEP for equitable and quality education for girls and transgender children are being met through specific provisions under the Samagra Shiksha scheme by allocating dedicated resources for SEDGs.
Bridging gender and social category gaps at all levels of school education is one of the major objectives of Samagra Shiksha. In order to ensure greater participation of girls in education, various interventions under Samagra Shiksha have been included, such as provision of free textbooks to girls up to Class 8; free uniforms to all girls, SC, ST children and below poverty line (BPL) children up to Class 8; provision of gender-segregated toilets in all schools; teachers’ sensitisation programmes to promote girls’ participation; provision for self-defence training for girls from Classes 6 to 12; stipend to CWSN girls from Class 1 to Class 12; provision of residential schools/hostels; and construction of residential quarters for teachers in remote or hilly areas and in areas with difficult terrain.
In addition to the above, to reduce gender gaps at all levels of school education and for providing quality education to girls from disadvantaged groups, Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (KGBVs) have been sanctioned in Educationally Backward Blocks (EBBs) under the Samagra Shiksha programme. At present, a total of 4,982 KGBVs are operational in the country and 31 new KGBVs have been sanctioned this fiscal.
Where do you want to see Indian education in the next five years?
In the next five years, Indian education must be inclusive, where each and every child is able to access quality education. We shall have the curriculum and pedagogy that develop among students a deep sense of respect towards our fundamental duties and constitutional values. Our students should be able to bond with the country and develop an awareness of their roles and responsibilities in a changing world. In the era of Industrial Revolution 4.0, our education system will be technology-driven. Our education should be able to bring about a shift in mindsets. We must be able to instil a deep-rooted pride in being Indian, not only in thought, but also in spirit, intellect and deeds, as well as to develop knowledge, skills, values and a commitment to global well-being, becoming truly global citizens.