Firstpost Q & A: TSR Subramanian speaks on why the HRD minister needs to make education policy public

National Policy on Education, 1986 laid much emphasis on “removal of disparities and equalisation of educational opportunities especially in respect of disadvantaged sections. This emphasis was to a greater extent guided by the fact that “the all India literacy rates of scheduled castes/scheduled tribes was 21.38 and 16.35 per cent respectively as against 41.20 of non- SC/ST population according to 1981 census. Considerable progress was made in this regard in last three decades but the glass ceiling remains to exist for the backward class. Former Cabinet Secretary, TSR Subramanian — who headed the panel for the evolution of New Education Policy submitted its report on 27 May — insists that it should be made public.

Talking about the problems that are holding back the Indian education system; he said that “quality of education and equal access” still remains a big challenge. Talking to Firstpost he discussed different problems that needs to be fixed in order to achieve a robust education system.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

According to some reports you wrote to HRD Minister Smriti Irani asking her to make public the report or else you will do it. Your comments.

It was not a threat; they have put it in a different manner. We advised the ministry that report should be in the public domain. It has no secrets involved. It was a suggestion. The fact is that I told them that this should be in the public domain....but, I've not said 'or else' kind of thing. I said I hope you'll do it; otherwise I'll have to do it.

 Firstpost Q & A: TSR Subramanian speaks on why the HRD minister needs to make education policy public

TSR Subramanian. Image Courtesy: Youtube

In last few months, university education has become a matter of huge debate after what happened in JNU, HCU etc.  Have you made any suggestion in this regard?

We have addressed this issue. See the primary purpose of an institution is education. While freedom should be there for teachers, students and new ideas should be promoted, it should not be at the expense of the learning for majority of the students. We have asked for a national debate on this. For example people who occupy the hostels for 6-7 years in universities, they become 'Dadas' (troublemakers). They don't leave the hostels. On the issue of free speech and debate we have said that every freedom has a responsibility. You have to weigh the freedom to agitate with the freedom of the other child to study there. Therefore, we have asked for a national debate.

How long did it take for you to prepare this report, what kind of research went into this?

We started working on it, I think, on 1 November and before that, the ministry had an assessment exercise, listing 33 issues in the education sector, asking various institutions to organise seminars etc. So this was the preparation by the ministry. We got those documents and around 5000-6000 responses; most were grievances. However, there was also a large number of positive, detailed suggestions from various quarters which we used as the base. We were given two months time to go through them but we felt we needed more time because before forming the policy and before assessing the documents we had to go behind what was those documents premised upon as we couldn't have used their conclusions. We had to derive our own conclusion. So we got an extension till March. We met 400-500 people — professors, academics, vice chancellors, NGOs, industry associations, education associations, charity organisations, press secretaries and more during the entire exercise to get their view points.

During this entire exercise, when you interacted with the major stakeholders, what were the most pressing concerns that you felt needed to be addressed immediately?

See... in education, if anybody claims to know everything, he is a fraud. It is too large a sector. I'm not just talking about school or higher education, there are so many other segments related to examinations, co-curricular activities, training, all kinds of issues, child-psychology. There were so many things we had to look at. To get a good picture we met top-rate experts from all these fields. Then we started slowly putting up the themes. The first of two key problems we had to address was quality of education. There is a deterioration of quality over time, so we had to address that. In fact, the quality is pathetic, the data about education was not correct. During our research startling numbers came out. We have a serious issue with quality.

The second was a more subtle nuanced kind of problem: inclusivity. We found that those coming from regional language stream were not pursuing higher education. There were unequal chances for them of getting acceptance in higher education.  We found out the problems being faced particularly by three groups – below poverty line (BPL), economically and socially backward class and scheduled caste (SC) and tribes (ST) and other backward castes (OBC). They were unable to get proper tuition and were also forced to help out economically with the parents.

In case of SC, ST and OBC students, many had adjustment problems. India is an aspirational society. We found that they want to study English, go abroad.  But then the problem was that they could not cope up with the system. We also found basic IQ uniform all over India, across boards. Only opportunities were absent at few places, so we wanted to provide them the opportunities.  So these are the two broad themes on which we tailored most of the recommendations.

In state boards like Bihar board where a political science topper doesn’t know what political science is speaks enough of current state of education. It is no doubt in bad shape. During your research did you find similar problems in other states too?

We found that there are variations in the states. We found that where there is political interest in a positive manner, not in transfer and posting of the teachers, the situation was much better. Where the chief minister of the state and the political class in general were aware of the importance of education, for example in Andhra, Gujarat, to some extent Tamil Nadu, we found that the quality was higher. We generally found that those states whose political class focused on education were far superior. There were pockets in such states — dominated by tribal population, which did quite well.

In states like Bihar and UP what were the major problems that you felt required serious intervention?

There were the same problems all over. Firstly, the focus of political class was just on postings/appointments/transfers etc. They don't care a damn what happens after that. Second, they don't understand the importance of training the teachers. You think that someone with a graduation degree can just teach, you need to give them training, assistance, incentive to teach....gadha ghoda sab equal hai vahan (donkey, horse, everything is equal there). How do you distinguish between the good and the bad teachers? The principals are powerless in these states. How to have good school leadership and how to incentivise schools is a big challenge . We can give them small incentives. We already know what is needed to be done. Whether the state does it or not is up to them now.


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Updated Date: Jun 03, 2016 17:35:38 IST