“This whole business of getting 100/100 in exams will be looked into”

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School curriculum, exams, quality of teachers, pedagogy – the coming years will see major changes taking place in the education sector of the country. In a candid talk with Aditi Bhan, outgoing Secretary, School Education & Literacy, HRD, Anil Swarup, tells us why he is hopeful that the future of Indian education is bright… 

How would you sum up your achievements of 1.5 years as a Secretary, School Education & Literacy, HRD?

Achievement is not the right word. We all do our job. A few things happen and a few don’t. But we have attempted, tried to understand what is going wrong – only time will tell whether we will be successful or not. Under the National Achievement Survey, which is arguably the biggest ever survey done in our country, we surveyed more than 2 million children randomly to understand what’s wrong in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, availability of teachers, etc. We now have a good idea. That’s one.

The second approach that we have adopted is to focus on teachers. We believe teacher lies at the centre of the education system, is pivot around which the whole education system revolves. So, we are looking at teacher in its entirety – what can be done to give him/her the training before he/she joins the service, the pre-service training. Then, there’s the recruitment of teachers – how is it done, can we do something about it? Once a teacher gets into a service, what sort of training is imparted to him/her and how can we improve that? The idea is to have a periodic upgradation of teachers. And then the question is also whether a teacher goes to the school or not? We are looking at the entire spectrum of teachers.

Third, and probably a very important aspect of what we have attempted to do, is to look at the most successful models within the country and evaluate if they could be scaled or not. The good news is that a lot of them are getting scaled. So, these are three broad aspects in which we have taken initiatives. Now whether they have been or will be successful, only time will tell. But that’s what we proposed.

What has been your biggest learning?

I think I have probably understood the education sector a bit more. When I took over, I didn’t know anything about the education sector. I was, as I often say, the most illiterate civil servant who had been made school education secretary. Past 1.5 years has been a period of learning, and one has been able to bring about a massive public-private partnership in addressing issues related to education.

Under the National Achievement Survey, we surveyed more than 2 million children randomly to understand what’s wrong in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, availability of teachers, etc.

Sometime back, you spoke about the government coming up with broad guidelines for public and private sector to come together and develop institutes. When can we expect that?

They are almost ready, put up for approval. We had a lot of discussion over these guidelines. There are already existing models in Maharashtra and Delhi where government schools have partly been taken over by NGOs. The NGOs run these schools. There are different models available in the country. We have examined them; and now the final paper will be out.

What would you describe as your toughest moment during your tenure?

Toughest moments have been handling the mafias. As I have said earlier as well, the mafia in the coal sector was overground while the mining is underground. In the education sector, they are all underground.

The second toughest moment was, of course, the time when the so-called CBSE paper leak issue was discussed. These were two challenging moments.

Can you elaborate upon the kind of mafias that exist in education sector?

There are a number of mafias. When I say mafias, it should be understood clearly that the entire education segment is not inflicted with them. There are very few of them who are influencing processes. That’s what mafias are all about. Let me give you an example of private schools. By and large, private schools are doing a good job. However, there are a few who are bringing in bad name to the private sector; and they run the mafia. Fortunately, the state of UP has come up with a fine legislation which has been drafted in consultation with the private schools as well as other stakeholders. So, there’s a wide acceptance of that legislature, and hopefully, the aspect of fee hike will be taken care of, at least, in UP. My hope is that other states will learn from this example. This is the one set of mafias.

The other set of mafia is B.Ed and B.El.Ed colleges. This is the worst set of mafias that we have because, in my limited understanding, almost 25% of these colleges don’t exist, yet they are able to provide certificates or jobs to students. Some people tell me that depending on the money paid to them, these institutes give jobs or certificates (job requires more money). So, what sort of delivery can we expect from teachers coming from these institutes?

Then there are mafias in the publishing sector, who somehow enter into an arrangement with schools whereby only their books are sold to the children. So, there’re varieties of mafias that we have and we have tried to take on some of them.

One of the reasons for mushrooming of private schools is poor state of government schools. What is being done to address this issue? Is teacher training the only thing you are taking care of?

With the help of the national assessment survey, we have tried to understand why is it happening? We have got some answers – some relate to the absentees of teachers, that is, teachers don’t go to school, so how can we talk about their quality? We are trying to tackle this situation; we are using technology to do that. Second, even if the teacher goes to school, he/she is not sufficiently equipped to teach. This is what we are trying to address through www.diksha.gov.in, wherein teachers can continue learning through the various videos available on the portal. Teachers can download them and upgrade their teaching capabilities. It has already started happening. Thousands of videos are already there. So, we are trying to see how this whole issue can be looked into. If we are able to address things related to teachers, we are sorted.

Teacher lies at the centre of the education system, is pivot around which the whole education system revolves. If we are able to address things related to teachers, we are sorted

Also, I was given to understand that there’s a chronic shortage of teachers, but we are gradually discovering that it is more to do with deployment of teachers rather than shortage. So, in a state where it was said that there is a shortage of more than 50,000 teachers, we found out that there are around 50,000 surplus teachers. In another state, we were told that there is a shortage of 10,000 teachers. Again, there was 10,000 surplus. This is where our portals, Diksha and epathshala are helping. Here, we are trying to get a centralized database to understand who is doing what and where. Once we are able to understand that, we can find out the exact whereabouts of a teacher. To give you an example, there’re districts where there’s always shortage of teachers, teachers get recruited for the district but somehow, they get transferred to other districts where there’s surplus of teachers. So deficit remains where it is and the surplus goes up in other districts. But all this is now being addressed. Hopefully, we will be able to solve the problem.

What’s the teacher-student ratio you are targeting?

The average ratio is fine, as per the RTE. But the reality is that averages don’t tell the truth. It is the disaggregated data that helps you understand that there’re schools with 5-10 students and two teachers and there are schools with 100 students and two teachers. We now have a clear idea about it.

Another good news is that some of the states have managed to address this problem. For example, the state of Rajasthan. It has sorted out these problems and that’s why in National Achievement Survey, the state performed very well. Earlier, they were right at the bottom but in the survey, that are at top because they have managed to address issues related to teachers. Now, Rajasthan and Karnataka have become role models for other states. If it can happen in these states, then why can’t it happen in Haryana, UP, Chattisgarh, etc? That’s what we are trying to do. It is not that things are not happening, they are happening, we have to look at that, understand how and why it is happening and then replicate it in scale.

Talking about CBSE paper leak, reports suggest that technology will now be used in a big way to prevent paper leaks in future. For example, it is being said that encrypted question papers will now be sent to schools which will be printed just minutes before exams. While it is an ambitious idea, do we have the infrastructure to support it?

It is just a suggestion; and yes, this is possible. It just requires a computer and a printing machine. And how many children are there – 200 or 300. Printing these many copies is no big deal. I am not looking at internet. You don’t require internet. Computer can go anywhere. I don’t think that is a major issue.

Syllabus reduction, sports inclusion, value-based learning, experiential learning… pretty encouraging steps being taken to encourage learning and reduce stress among students. But at the same time, we are also seeing a trend towards 100% marks in all subjects. If the student has to go through the same examination process, what use are these changes? Are we confused?

These are different issues. One, I agree with you that this whole business of getting 100 out of 100 even in subjects like English literature needs to be looked into, and probably will be looked into. But the curriculum is determined by what ultimately does the child need? At present, there’s a clamour for IIT, medical colleges, etc., – it is a social requirement. While you can debate that it should not be there, but that’s how it is, that’s what the society wants. Every parent wants his child to go to IIT or medicine, so on and so forth. That being the case, the curriculum has to cater to this requirement. That’s what curriculum is all about. I always believe that it’s the demand which determines the supply.

Sports is coming in a big time. Over a period of time, you will see sports as a subject. It is moving in that direction

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that we change the curriculum and make it completely different even as the demand is for IITs. Then what will happen – more coaching schools will come up because admission test to IITs require something else. If you don’t teach a student what is ultimately required by him to fulfill his aspirations, then he will learn it somewhere else. The rise of Kota is an apt example to understand this trend. IIT coaching schools are mushrooming there because some people feel that whatever is being taught in ICSE, CBSE or state boards does not equip them to compete in IITs. Now, that is a very large issue. It is not a small issue and it emanates from the desire in the society to be there. But then there’s another segment in the society which wants a change in curriculum. They are not bothered about IITs either because their wards don’t want to go there or they don’t harbour such dreams. So, it’s a very tricky thing. There are two extremes. One who want to change the curriculum completely, and the other who want to go to IIT.  It is not an easy question to answer. We have to bring a balance. Curriculum does cater to the requirement or the preparedness for future life.

What then is the future of sports in school curriculum?

Sports is coming in a big time. Over a period of time, you will see sports as a subject. It is moving in that direction. Sports is gradually being made a compulsory subject, part of the curriculum in lower classes.  I am sure, a few years down the line, sports will be a subject.

Subject or stream…

It could even be a stream. But I don’t want to pass a judgment at this point of time. We have taken the first step to see how sports could form a part of a formal curriculum. Henceforth, it will be a part of the formal curriculum in CBSE schools. But then whether it will become a stream or not, probably over a period of time, we will come to know.

Now that your tenure is about to come to an end, any projects you wish you had completed before your retirement?

I don’t think I am going as a dissatisfied man. I am extremely satisfied. I have enjoyed every moment of the time spent here. I enjoyed because I have tried my best. There have been successes, there have been failures but that’s how life is. I have enjoyed both successes and failures because failures have enabled me to learn, move on and to succeed further. I can’t say there are any unfulfilled desires or projects. I didn’t have too many desires.

What about National Education Policy…

My view of policy is that we have too many policies in this country. We should have an action plan, what needs to be done, how it will be done, who will do it and by when. I think the focus should be totally on action because the man on the street wants action, not policy. Policies are important, but we lay too much emphasis on policies. My personal view is that we should lay emphasis on action plan. Every policy should be accompanied by a clear-cut, well-defined action plan.

Post-retirement, how are you planning to spend your time? What next?

I will enjoy myself as I am enjoying right now. I hopefully will read, write and teach.

So, can we expect a book?

It is almost ready.

Of your tenure as Secretary, School Education & Literacy, HRD?

Yes

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