Union HRD Minister Smt Smriti Zubin Irani has been trying to bring about qualitative improvement in the standards of students and teachers. She has done a lot of work in the past couple of years in spite of the opposition to her each and every programme. Panchjanya Editor Hitesh Shankar and Associate Editor Alok Goswami spoke to her in New Delhi on various issues. Excerpts:
How was Vidyanjali scheme launched?
The Prime Minister had suggested to develop a system to elucidate support and participation of such people who believe that the country can progress through education and who are interested in contributing in this effort. Can their contribution become a part of the nation's progress? It is often seen that government schools ignore extra-curricular activities as compared to the private schools. Thus, the students of government schools are underdeveloped in comparison to those of the private schools where they get more opportunities to expand their horizon. Therefore, Vidyanjali is the special initiative of the Prime Minister and we have activated that. But we wanted to develop a technique that would provide complete security of students in providing them technology leverage. We are also interested in maintaining quality while associating society with education. That is why we discussed all the minute details with the 'mygov' team and discussed about the type of 'matrix', legal directives and invited suggestions and opinions from others. Then we made the entire structure and presented it to the states because education is in the concurrent list but its implementation is the State responsibility. We received the active cooperation from the various State Governments.
When did the PM make this suggestion?
Some six months ago.
Was it not too early to hold meeting with 'mygov', and put the proposal before the state governments in just six months?
Yes. But this has become the identity of our Ministry. We do the work with speed maybe because we are in touch with the state governments. Whatever subject we take we take the states along and probably because of this there was not a single instance of confrontation with the states on policy initiatives.
You said 21 states have joined. What about other states?
We are talking of the primary phase where 21 states have joined. This will be applicable to all the schools in the country by December. We feel that when this is launched as a pilot project, the state would face some challenges and that would help us to study those challenges and find solutions to them. When we held the meeting we had the initial figure of 16-17 states but soon this figure swelled to 21 as we shared the project with them. All of them want to improve the functioning of government schools qualitatively.
School timings are fixed. How will you adjust the timing of those contributing under Vidyanjali?
Under the Vidyanjali programme an individual would register and mark the school 'online' where one wants to contribute. Then the school principal will talk to that person to know his suitable time. When we launched this scheme an Indian woman working with Indian Embassy in Indonesia wanted to know whether performing arts could be included. Those artists, painters, musicians and singers are also willing to give their services. So, we included these subjects also. Then some others felt that they could not give time as they are NRIs, but can they contribute to their books, notebooks and other materials? We accepted that suggestion also. Some others wanted to seek help from the retired teachers. What we meant is to provide coaching to the students of weaker sections. Those who cannot afford coaching for the want of money they should be given priority. So, if any retired teacher goes to provide them coaching we can make a structure for them in the next phase. At the same time we have to take care that nowhere this leads to belittle the work of present teachers. I feel that we should try such experiments in government schools to accelerate the pace of change, which otherwise would take much time to change the educational environment. The representatives of World Bank, UNICEF were with us in the launching program and they were surprised to see that such an experiment is being conducted on such a large scale.
Will any honorarium be given to those persons?
No, this is totally a voluntary activity. MP Education Secretary said that on the day of launching he received 12000 applications for this project. No money is given for service. We have set up a filtration process to screen and select the right people for this project.
When is the national education policy expected to be implemented?
That report is just one part of the entire process. We will prepare outline after we receive the suggestions from all the states and share the same with them. After that it will be placed before the cabinet and later will be changed as a policy document. This is the constitutional process. I can say this much that work is going on. I want to say that had Mr Subramaniam prepared it in time the process would have been accelerated. I am worried to know that no one was aware of absence of any concrete education policy for the last 30 years! Now at least we have started working on it.
What basic improvements are necessary in the field of education?
It has been the misfortune of education sector that it remained confined to big slogans and announcements. We are saying time and again that there should be change in teaching practices. But that change comes through the DIET centres in the districts. You ask the Education Minister of any state about the state and status of the DIET he would not be able to give you satisfactory reply. Because, no one has the detailed information. I asked the officials to look into the details and work instead of making announcements. Now we are launching for the first time the 'Teacher Education Portal' on June 30. This portal will have minute details of district wise teachers and education. A report will be issued for States every three months. This will inform us about the level of teachers' training. This will enable us to take corrective measures to improve the training. This is the base of entire education system. The centre will provide training to every government school, college Principals. In 2016 we have said for the first time to have anti-ragging, anti-discriminatory and anti-gender-bias cells in colleges. Recently on June 22, we allowed the educational institutions to have agreement with foreign Universities for degree level programs but should give two semester learning facility in that institution and one PG semester in foreign instt. The degree will be given by the Indian instt.
Indian teachers have to do more work besides teaching, why?
We have to see how many hours are given to teaching by a teachers. There is no data available and this is a challenge. With this data we can know how much time is spent on teaching. We are launching a scheme called 'Shala Asmita' under which data for students and teachers of a school will be available. This work is expected to be completed by Feb 2017. We have 25 crore children in schools and we will have data on them.
You are taking so many good steps, but you always remain a target of the opposition, why?
Because I am working so fast, so well. Those who oppose me felt that I do not belong to this system and this arena and thus hurt their interests. Their apprehension was natural. Those who felt that attacking me would please Rahul were also right in their assessment. Some others criticise me because they are habitual of criticism. But there are people who benefit from non-working, who have made inroads into the systems they also criticise. I am more worried about them. They are worried because all their ways and means of earning money are getting sealed. Those who get money for writing books but do not write a single word are worried. Those who spent their academic career in service of a particular ideology and ignored teaching are worried. These people tried to stop me. The country wanted to know why they are not teaching even after drawing fat salaries. I feel if you are serious in bringing changes, you must succeed.