Online education has received greater acceptance due to the pandemic situation and the government will soon come up with guidelines to bridge the digital divide, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank says in an interview with Sumi Sukanya Dutta.
COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruptions in the academic activities in universities and schools and the situation is unlikely to improve in a few months. What kind of alternatives is the ministry looking at so that the disturbances to the process of teaching and learning are minimised?
The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) is working 24x7 with the spirit of ‘student’s, teacher’s safety and learning’. In the initial period of lockdown, we announced a plethora of measures starting with the promotion policy for students of various classes and the postponement of various exams. We have set up task forces to deal with various issues like online education, mental health and academic calendar and examinations for both school and higher education.
The task force on examination and academic calendar in higher education has submitted its reports to the UGC. The reports will be discussed in the UGC meeting and based on the decision, the UGC will issue guidelines in the next few days to the universities and colleges on measures to be taken for the current as well as next academic session.
The NCERT has released an alternative calendar for primary and upper primary. It provides guidelines to teachers on the use of technological and social media tools available for imparting education in fun-filled, interesting ways. Very soon, academic calendar for classes IX-XII will also be released.
At the same time, the country is witnessing a greater acceptance of online education. A large number of students and professionals are joining e-learning platforms such as DIKSHA, NISHTHA, SWAYAM, SWAYAM PRABHA, NROER, PG Pathshala, Shodhganga, E-Shodhsindhu, E-Yantra, FOSSE, Virtual Labs, SAMARTH, VIDWAN and Shodh Sudhi, among others.
A number of hits on higher education portals like SWAYAM, SWAYAM PRABHA, Virtual Labs, FOSSEE, E-Yantra and Spoken Tutorial has gone up by five times since lockdown.
If there is a need to switch to online mode of teaching-learning for coming months, as it looks likely, how feasible will that be given the digital and infrastructural divide and there are many institutions which won’t have the required facilities to support it?
On the concern of digital divide in the country, we have formed a task force on online education that is likely to give its report soon, based on which we will be releasing the guidelines.
At present, to address the digital divide, MHRD has tied up with Information & Broadcasting Ministry to air SWAYAM and SWAYAM PRABHA channels on their DTH platforms Tata Sky and Airtel DTH. Earlier, SWAYAM channels were available on DD-DTH, Dish TV and Jio TV App.
Now, a student anywhere in India can request DTH service providers for these channels without any extra cost to continue their learning while sitting at home…We are also trying to explore the option of using All India Radio, Doordarshan and the 2G network to broadcast the curriculum to students.
Even if online classes are being conducted, examinations and evaluations are set to be a major challenge. What is the government planning to do on that front?
UGC has already prepared a report on this and following internal discussions, it will soon release it to institutions keeping the interest of the student community in mind.
Several crucial entrance exams such as JEE Main and JEE Advanced and NEET have been postponed. What are the alternate ways the government is examining to conduct these tests?
We are consulting various stakeholders like education boards, IITs and other agencies involved in the logistics operations of JEE and NEET, as well as user organisation of results of JEE and NEET. We will be soon announcing the dates and guidelines based on the report submitted by UGC.
As Class XII board results are the basis of admission to universities, how is the government planning to conduct the test for the remaining papers?
The safety of students and teachers is our prime concern. We have rescheduled the board examinations. The CBSE will now be conducting exams for 29 core courses only instead of 83 courses…We are making adequate preparations to follow all the necessary measures and precautions of social distancing while conducting examinations of the students.
A lot has been said about MHRD asking institutions such as IITs and central universities to carry out research related to COVID-19. What exactly has been the brief to these institutions and how hopeful are you that they will deliver?
IITs and central universities have been doing remarkable research in areas like personal protective equipment, testing kits, sanitization, medical equipment, surveillance, treatment and data analytics to model epidemic patterns and disease dynamics.
Seeing the progress, I had given headway to the IITs to draw up short- and medium-term technology solution plans to combat Covid-19 and other medical emergencies in future. The proposals are under continuous review.