BENGALURU: Primary and Secondary Education Minister BC Nagesh, a first-timer in the cabinet, oversaw the conduct of the SSLC and PUC II examinations and also the restart of offline classes for Classes 9 to 12 from August 23. From Monday, students of Classes 6 to 8 in government schools will also start attending offline classes.
"On the CM's advice, offline classes for all children will be restarted in a phased manner. The interests of those children who do not have access to smart phones and internet will be topmost in our minds," he told The New Indian Express. Excerpts from an interview:
What has been the experience so far ever since offline classes resumed for students of Class 9 to 12?
About 75 per cent of students in government schools are attending offline classes across Karnataka. Many parents were keen that regular classes resume as they were worried about their wards' education. Teachers too were concerned.
Of course, there were some parents who called me to say that classes should be restarted only after 100 per cent vaccination is achieved. During my visits, some students in places like Belagavi, Dharwad and Yadgir asked for extension of classes for the full day. They feel that limited hours make no difference as they have to travel from faraway places.
What percentage of government school teachers and staff have been vaccinated so far?
About 2.6 lakh teachers and staff, which means over 95 per cent, have been vaccinated and we will achieved 100 per cent vaccination soon. So far, not even a single case of closure of school or college due to spread of infection has come to my notice.
In the coming days, much younger children will be attending offline classes. What is your take on this?
We won’t force parents to send children for offline classes, but want to bring to their attention the experts’ report that children are not prone to COVID-19 infection. Our intention is that the children should not miss out on education. All precautionary measures are being followed.
Some cases of infection among students have been reported and there is a spike on some days
But there is no spread as such, as cases have come down. Shiggaon reported zero positive cases on Thursday, and in Haveri district, the positivity rate is 0.1 per cent. When there was no sign of community spread, should we still have second thoughts about restarting classes?
Although there was no study, the possibility of herd immunity in Karnataka cannot be ruled out. If not, COVID-19, which spiked in neighbouring Kerala, would have impacted Mangaluru in a big way.
Have you done any survey of students who are attending offline classes?
Yes, out of 6,41,614 samples, only 14 pupils tested positive and it boosted our morale to go ahead with reopening offline classes. Except for Mangaluru, where the positivity rate is above 2 per cent, the infection is under control across the state.
Even in Mangaluru, the Deputy Commissioner has been given the power to take a decision as in some taluks, the positivity rate is low and the elected representatives have been insisting on restarting offline classes for children.
Are you planning to implement NEP in primary and secondary education as well?
Yes, probably from the next academic year. We need to address three issues - structural, academic and administrative - for which a task force will be set up. The curriculum and guidelines have to be prepared. It will be introduced across the state at one go.
There are complaints about Sanskrit being ignored as an optional language.
There is a feeling that if Sanskrit is given as an option, students may not learn the mother tongue, which the NEP lays stress on.
As a first-time minister, how anxious are you about attending the session?
Since I am a second-time legislator, I am confident. If needed, I will learn from my seniors. In fact, my party has trained me throughout my political career on how to be a good administrator.
There are allegations that the private school lobby had a role in restarting offline classes?
Such allegations don’t bother me. We are only concerned about the interests of students. Our main concern is about those students of government schools who have no access to internet and smartphones.
If we had not restarted classes, there would have been allegations that the government is not bothered about the education of 30-40 per cent of children hailing from backward areas and communities. Some private ones are still not engaged in offline classes.We plan to go ahead in a phased manner and start classes from Class 1. If there are problems, we can consider closing offline classes.