Education is an extremely demanding sector where reforms after reforms have become the need of the hour. While the government has put its best foot forward by announcing a truly epoch-making National Education Policy (NEP), several aspects of the process of tightening the nuts and bolts always require a relook. An important occasion for such a comprehensive review of education is the discussion of Demands for Grants, as laid down in the Union Budget.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education has recently completed this review process and submitted its report to Parliament. Moving away from the established practice, the Committee has come out with a crisp report, with a slew of implementable recommendations focused on result orientation.
NEP-2020 has the potential of transforming the education sector effectively. The most remarkable feature of this policy is that it has motivated politicians, educationists and opinion-makers to rise above binaries and alluring compulsions of adversarial politics. Obviously, now that it has achieved an otherwise elusive consensus, the real test will be in implementation. Realising this, the Committee has made a far-reaching recommendation calling for “framing definite time-schedules with specific dates for achievement of different tasks and goals as provided in NEP, 2020, to provide a clear roadmap of the implementation schedule of provisions related to School Education in the NEP”. Not stopping at that, the Committee has also asked that “the same should be informed to the Committee by 30th June 2021 and uploaded on the website of the Ministry”. This is an important overarching recommendation that should provide more impetus to the implementation plan of NEP 2020. Again, without preaching the NEP’s importance, the Committee report has suggested that the work about National Curricula and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Care and Education for children up to eight years of age should be completed on priority basis for timely and effective implementation. As far as the need for greater percentage of enrolment in higher education is concerned, the Committee has asked the department to “prepare a well-thought-out plan of action to be implemented in a time-bound manner with key result areas for every phase in order to increase Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) to 50% as envisaged in NEP, 2020”.
The Committee has rightly given priority to inclusive education. The report underscores the need for conducting “a survey to identify districts where the dropout rates of SC, ST and girls are higher than the national average. Based upon the findings, an intervention plan should be chalked out to not only bring back these dropout children to schools but also to provide them vocational education to enhance their livelihood abilities”.
Perhaps, for the first time, a report of a Parliamentary panel has stressed on the need to cover children belonging to transgender communities in school education. Similarly, in a recommendation that may have far-reaching impact, the Committee has called for devising a plan “for structured and time-bound efforts to provide the best possible care and quality education to children with every category of special needs to help them become a part of the mainstream”. The idea here is to cover children suffering from slow learning, dyslexia and other learning disabilities.
Knowing fully well that different departments have a tendency to work in silos, the Committee has advocated convergence with the Ministries of Rural Development and Jal Shakti, for pooling of resources to ensure supply of safe and contamination-free piped potable water through Nal Se Jal Mission to every educational institution by the end of 2021-22!
Human resources for education and greater impetus to relevant research are two other areas about which the Committee has come out with remarkable recommendations. Taking cognisance of the fact that there are several vacant positions in various government institutions, the Committee has suggested that a special time-bound recruitment drive be conducted. It has also recommended that the department explore the possibility of introducing a Common Exam for appointment of faculty and non-faculty for all centrally funded educational institutions through National Testing Agency (NTA)/UPSC, thereby creating an independent cadre.
On the research front, the Committee calls for enhancing the amount for junior and senior research fellowships. However, its more important recommendation is about a focus on selecting research “themes having national importance as identified after due consultations with different Ministries/organisations”. The report has further stressed that the department should conduct a third-party evaluation about the patents and products created by the incubation centre in IITs and assess the job-creation potential as well as other features of the products and services created by the incubated entities, once again stressing the need for greater accountability.
In an out-of-the-box suggestion, the Committee has asked the UGC to explore the possibility of a two-semester component of internship in B.A, B.Com and B.Sc courses in collaboration with industries/start-ups for experience-based learning and on-the-job training. Recommending to the Ministry that the ‘Study in India’ scheme be strengthened, it has said that suggestions of the Destination India Conference organised by ICCR in Pune last January on the subject of Making India a Hub of Higher Education be taken into consideration seriously. Lastly, also noteworthy are its suggestions about conducting academic programmes in new and emerging technologies and tapping their employment generation potential.
Parliamentary Standing Committees serve as a sounding board and if the majority of the recommendations in this report are taken seriously, reforms in education will truly help transform our society at large.
President, ICCR, and BJP Rajya Sabha MP