“The best practices are not usually adequately disseminated for people to learn. This is precisely why the Planning Commission comes out with several reports including annual reports and highlights these practices. Increasingly, technology is playing a role in all these efforts.”
What are your views on Right to Education Act (RTE) ?
The passage of the Right to Education Act 2009, which came into effect on 1st April, 2010, is indeed a historic act. It comes as a continuation of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan which has attained a remarkable amount of success. If we examine the proportion and the numbers, out of a total of 12 lakh habitations, more than 99% have a primary school in the vicinity or within one km radius. Similar is the proportion for elementary education, with 84% of habitations having an elementary school within 3 km radius.
The RTE is a remarkable extension of the efforts in education. It is too early to comment anything about the functioning of the act since it is too short a time. But I have absolutely no doubt that this historic decision is going to be very meaningfully, faithfully and forcefully implemented.
What according to you are the priorities for India in the realm of vocational training and skills development?
Skill development initiatives have to be given high priority today. India’s demographic dividend is definitely a positive aspect, with 24 being the average age of India today. By 2020, it will be around 29, by which year China’s average age will be 37, Europe will be 42, US will be 37 and Japan will be 48. Thus, we are a young, large and growing population. But just having such positive attributes does not mean that we will automatically become an economic superpower. Development of the country critically depends on two things: First, a reform in the education sector; and second, in the skill development sector.
I have often emphasised in the last few months that if we do not get our act together in the higher education and skill development sector, our demographic dividend can actually turn into a demographic nightmare. That is how important skill development is. The government is taking efforts in this direction very seriously.
How can convergence be ensured between higher education and skill development?
As has been rightly noted, only 2% of our population is skill trained. The vocational education in our country needs a lot of intervention. In practice, vocational education can be imparted at two levels: one is at the high school level; and the other is at the post matric level. At the high school level, ITIs become relevant, while at the college level, polytechnics come into play. Both of these are going to be enhanced in a major way. The Public Private Partnership (PPP) model will add momentum to the growth of ITIs and Polytechnics. Several boards have been set up including the PM’s Apex Council of Skill Development and The National Skill Development Coordination Board, of which Montek Singh Ahluwalia is the Chairman. The Skill Development Corporation has been created in the PPP mode which is making good contributions in the field. Therefore, we see that the agencies have been created but it has not yet gained the necessary momentum, which I trust it will. The Prime Minister has also written to the Chief Ministers of all states urging them to start their own skill development mission. Many states are moving in this direction. By year 2022, the vision is to have 500 million trained personnel.
What according to you are the loopholes in the existing regulatory bodies such as UGC, NCTE and AICTE?
As the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and the Yashpal Committee have unanimously pointed out, the higher education sector in India is over regulated but under governed. There are too many regulators, but the level of governance is very low. That is the kind of paradoxical situation that we are currently dealing with. There is no synergy between AICTE, UGC, and various other councils and the level of their operations have taken a big beating. These have direct bearing on the higher education system in India. The NKC and the Yashpal Committee recommended a complete overhaul of the higher education system, and not just a nip here and a tuck there. The NCHER is a step in that direction and it will bring about drastic reforms in the sector.
The new poverty figures were officially approved by the planning commission recently. India has added almost 100 million people to its list of the poor. What are your views on the growing economic development of India and its implications on the poverty conditions?
The poverty numbers do not show an increase. Rather, the techniques or methodology of computation used by the Tendulkar committee is different from the methodology used earlier. The estimates made by the Tendulkar methodology cannot be compared with separate methodologies which were previously used. It is only the figures generated from the same methodologies that can be compared, and if we compare likes with the likes, we see that the incidence of poverty has actually declined.
How do you envision the Indian education system with respect to implementation of ICT tools for enhanced delivery in the coming years?
Technology plays a very important role in education. I was the Vice Chancellor of the Pune University which happened to be the largest traditional universities of the world. The moment I assumed office I realised that there was no Management Information System (MIS) in the University, which had a bearing on the level of governance of the University. Pune University has 536 colleges and a huge student population. Lack of technology resulted in non-connected campuses, with administration being run in an archaic mode. I came up with the concept of triple connectivity solutions, with audio, visual and data connecting the main campus with the 536 colleges. This had positive consequences, since the policy decisions made by the Vice Chancellor were then based on facts and figures that were regularly updated from the disparate but connected campuses. It inevitably have an improvement over the quality and level of governance. That model is being replicated everywhere. Therefore, systems hve to move hand in hand with the advances in technology. Technology will have a definite effect on education governance.
With India set to welcome foreign varsities, what are the challenges and opportunities that you figure in the situation? How important are Public Private Partnerships in promoting quality education in India?
India’s Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in higher education is only 12.4%. Earlier we were talking about increasing it to 20%, but now we want to raise it to 30% in 10 years time. If this is our target, then we need to expand everything from state universities to central and private universities, as well as allow foreign universities to come in. An all out effort to raise the GER is required. As a part of that, foreign universities will be allowed to come in and also act as competition to the local players, thereby upgrading quality of Indian universities. If we administer it properly and if we make sure that the right kind of universities come in, it will have a huge positive impact.
History is unfolding before our eyes today. It is my belief that in the last 62 years, there have never been so many proposals for education as there are today. In the next few years, the Indian education system is going to be completely transformed and it will be a system that will last for the next 30-40 years. Today the kind of all round reforms that are taking place including the Foreign Regulators Bill, National Accreditation Regulatory Authority, Tribunals at the state and central level, Prevention of Malpractices Bill, and several other proposals which are at various stages of implementation, will act as the harbingers of change.