TSR Subramanian, former cabinet secretary, talks about the concerns that guided the committee in preparation of the draft report on new education policy
The UPA government’s big initiative in education was the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The NDA government’s big initiative promises to be the new education policy. A five-member committee, headed by former cabinet secretary TSR Subramanian, was set up last year to draft the policy. The committee had submitted its report on May 27. In early June, however, the matter became contentious as the HRD ministry kept the report under wraps, even as Subramanian called for making it public. HRD minister Smriti Irani later said the report would be made public after due consultations with the states. Subramanian talks about the concerns that guided the committee in preparation of the report. Edited excerpts:
What is the focus of the draft report on the new education policy?
While the HRD ministry had already done a lot of consultations, which focused on grievances and suggestions, we decided to do more ground work, meet more people and not depend superficially on the conclusions of what people have said.
School education is a huge sector and it is fundamental now. It varies from primary and secondary to higher secondary, and each stage is facing different kinds of problems. For example, people do not understand that much depends on how and what a child is taught from class I to III. During this stage the language and numerical skills of the child are developed. That is why we have recommended that primary education should be in mother tongue. But the problem comes when the mother tongue is different from the state language, for example, in tribal areas. There we have to find a way out. We have also suggested a bilingual system, a mixture of the local lingo and the mother tongue.
What are the key recommendations of the report you have submitted?
During consultations with education experts we discovered that the brain of a child grows enormously during the age group of 3-6. But the RTE Act includes the age group of 6-14 years. All over the world pre-schooling starts as early as the age of three years. The child’s curiosity and his ability to assimilate are highest at this time. One of the key recommendations is that right to education should be from age three. It need not be in the formal setup but should include physical activities.
While private schools – even in rural areas – provide pre-schooling, government schools do not. Perhaps this is why more and more parents are shifting to the private system in rural areas.
In rural areas, the aspiration level to learn English language is very high. People are spending 30-40 percent of their monthly income on the child’s education in private schools. But there is very little quality difference between government and private schooling.
Between the reality on ground, particularly in rural areas, and projection of what education in India is, there is a huge difference. In college education, we noticed that good quality colleges are limited. Most of them are working like degree shops.
While gross enrollment ratios (GER) have gone up sharply since implementation of the RTE Act, there has been little focus on the quality of education. Your views?
Human material is enormously good in India. Even in the remotest part of the country you will find that, but there is a lack of opportunity.
We discovered that while the basic IQ is the same across states, income levels, castes and communities, there is a problem of exclusion. Everybody was included but in reality only a certain class could afford tuition and reach a level of understanding. RTE did an enormous harm. After analysing the situation on ground we have recommended amendment of the RTE Act. For the sake of ensuring that the morale of the bottom 20 percent children in a classroom is not shattered, we are doing great injustice to the remaining 80 percent children. The child is not learning not because of one particular reason. There are always a set of reasons which are intertwined with factors like economic, social and cultural.
The classic reports of the MHRD would talk about the average school attendance at 70-80 percent. But we found that the average attendance was 40 percent. So there was a huge mismatch. That is because in rural areas there are various kinds of social and situational problems that affect the attendance. Also, while some children learn faster some are slow learners. And only a few get access to tuition facilities. We recommend that these facilities should be provided by us. It is a teacher’s job to teach and also understand how they can bridge the gap.
We have recommended that slow learners should get remedial coaching in the classroom itself, on weekends or after school hours. A teacher can take up this job or can ask a senior student to do so. Or retired personnel in the rural areas can be asked to take it up.
Many children need psychological support, their confidence has to be improved. Classes I, II and III are important. And when they reach classes XI and XII the tempo enormously increases because of the rate of growth of curriculum. That is also the time when children need hand-holding. I also experienced this problem when I started studying in Kolkata coming from a Tamil-medium school. I would have left in between, but I had family support. Most people do not have that. We need to give that kind of support to children. This should combine the academic support, boosting self-confidence, personality development and psychological support.
No parent today has time to guide and mentor the child. So schools should play that role and address the problem.
Various state governments want ‘no detention’ policy to be scrapped. Your views?
Ideally, there should be no need to detain anybody. But the ideal situation will never happen. While efforts should be made through various ways that nobody is detained, at least till class V there should be no detention in any way. But if the child is facing problems even after exhausting all the avenues, he could be detained. Even then he should be given a choice of a vocational stream. We have suggested a coordination committee to work with the state department dealing with education and skill development and vocational training. If the child goes to a vocational stream, three years later he can return to the main academic stream after clearing a skill-based national test.
Do you think the RTE Act has been able to meet its real objectives? Have you proposed any amendments?
RTE has done its job up to a certain level, but there has not been focus on key elements. There is no question that high quality infrastructure is required. But infrastructure requirements are too rigid for a country which is vast and diverse. We are not saying that infrastructure is not important. But that alone will not give you quality education. It can be a key ingredient.
The other thing is section 12(1)(c) of the Act which talks about reserving 25 percent seats for children from economically backward class. We have said it should be implemented forcefully. A lot of private schools and religious and linguistic minority schools have avoided this. This is a law and nobody should be exempted.
Should education impart certain values to children?
Definitely it should. It is more relevant today than earlier days. The joint family system has broken up. Where do children get values from? Values like punctuality, hard work, dealing with others, non-violence, truthfulness... we have to inculcate these values from the childhood. We are the oldest civilisation of the world. Therefore children should be proud of being Indian. That thought process should be developed.
We have been debating the spirit of tolerance. We have to imbibe the spirit of acceptance among children so that despite being different they accept each other.
Do you think recent central government interventions in higher education are instances of over-regulation?
The main reason is that the governance has been really poor. Ultimately, in a simple setup we need teachers who think well. The child already has the ability. Give them the facility so that they can interact, pass the knowledge and then leave them alone. The teacher and school are important. We have to invert the pyramid.
How essential is teachers’ training?
Teachers should take pride in delivering the lecture, should make efforts to make it more interesting. There is a problem with teacher training and non-use of technology.
The quality of teachers is also not good. Even though the teachers’ [pay] scales have gone up, people do not want to get into this profession. We have said that top five percent children [of class XII] should be given a choice that their education will be taken care of [free education] for five years but with a condition that they will teach for at least five years after that. We want quality to come in this profession. Also, political intervention should come down sharply.
(The interview appears in June 16-30, 2016 edition of Governance Now)