Empowering Citizens with Education

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“If we want to have the best ICT infrastructure in our schools then we have to be ready to make very large investments,” says Mantriprasad Naithani, Minister of Education, Government of Uttarakhand. In conversation with Mohd Ujaley

In the meeting of Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE), you raised the issue of slashing the budget of states under Right to Education Act (RTE). What has been the response of HRD Minister on this issue?
The Minister has replied positively, he has explained the reasons behind the cut. However, in the states, we have to look into it from the point of practical implication of this decision. What has happened is that initially an amount was sanctioned for the states under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). After that the states started their planning for the expenditure but suddenly, the budget has been cut. This has created much discomfort for the states. For example, in my state – Uttrakhand, we have recruited people to work on RTE; however, now we are unable to ask them to join as we don’t have budget for the same. Such issues create lot of distrust and problem for the general publtic. I have spoken to Minister and requested him that at-least budget should not be slashed midway as investments on some of initiatives have already been done.

Large numbers of schools are yet to comply with various provisions of the RTE Act. What should be the best way forward for higher compliance?
We enact laws for the people; therefore, we have to see whether it is serving it purpose or not. An amendment can always be made if required. The good thing about RTE is that it has created huge awareness about education across the country. But best results can only be achieved when the government has the will to strictly enforce guidelines on the implementation of RTE. The Gross Enrolment Ration (GER) has increased, but it is also true that there are large numbers of schools that are yet to comply with RTE. I feel we need to be more flexible and punish only those schools which have shown complete negligence. We may also give more time to schools for adhering to the guidelines of RTE. Also, we have to keep in mind that various initiatives under SSA or RTE cannot meet the deadline, because budget has been slashed midway and some of the states, such as Uttarakhand, have their own socio-geographic dynamics that is different from rest of the country.

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Requirement of minimum area under RTE is another bone of contention. In Uttarakhand, it is hard to get 3.5 acre of land for schools. What is your view on this subject?
That is absolutely right. In Uttrakhand the population is booming and there is lot of pressure on land, therefore it is hard to get the land required to follow the RTE Act. That is why before finalising legislation, it is important to take into account the diversity and other sociogeographic challenges of the country. Various central government schemes have not yielded the anticipated results because we failed to adequately focus on the diversity of the country and I feel that is huge failure at planning level.

What is your opinion on central government opening more new universities in state?
I think, central government should open more new universities in the state. When centre opens an university, its structure, functioning and approach is bound to be more universal. State universities are created to serve the people of the state; the state government should try to bring them at par with central universities such as DU, JNU, JMI etc. The Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University has been converted from state university to central university. I am not in favour of such conversions, as they do not help the state. Through such conversions we are not creating new infrastructure or new jobs rather we are surrendering one of our universities to centre government. Now our local students are facing problem in getting admission. Ideally, centre should open more new universities in a state; the centre should also help the states to overhaul their state universities to make them at par with central universities.

One good thing about RTE is that this initiative has created huge awareness about education across the country”

What are the major challenges you see in ICT in education?
Use of ICT is good for education. Technology gives us an opportunity to reach out to maximum number of students. The main challenge that I see is that of investment – ICT in school requires huge investment, and there seems to be confusion on the best practices that have the best returns. Also, our aim should be to use ICT in schools for learning general subjects such as Maths, English, and Science etc., in easy and efficient way rather than getting carried away by newer technologies. The other big challenge to technology is poor infrastructure of our country. You may have best of the technologies, but you can’t use it if you don’t have adequate infrastructure in place.

You have always expressed the opinion that education should have some kind of value in it to bring maximum benefit to the students. Can schools alone inculcate value in a student?
School alone cannot do it. It is the shared responsibility of schools, parents and society at large to give right values to students. At government level, we can create syllabus, sensitise our teachers, but the parents also have to take an initiative. They have to play a more constructive role in the overall development of a child. I am happy now education is becoming priorities for the parents and it will surely produce good citizens in the country who will respect their elders, women and person in need. In Uttrakhand, we are heavily focusing on girl’s education and we are among the top states which fully utilises the central government initiatives. And, I feel, the more educated girls are, the better it is for the country.

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