Report: Education Times

Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal believes that like the mind, education should have no boundaries. Speaking at the India Today Aspire Education Summit 2012, he made a strong case for inclusivity in education and said true democratisation of a nation began in the classroom. Citing statistics, Sibal said one in every 100 children is a genius, so it would be a shame if that genius never got a chance to go to school. While in school, a child must not merely be a recipient of knowledge but allowed to be a creator too. He must be free to exercise his spirit of enquiry, given choices in the classroom so that he can go on to exercise them later in life. This, he said, would lead to a society which does not look down upon those who work with their hands or listen to their conscience. Sibal said education was the only way India could fulfil its economic dreams. To join the ranks of the developed nations, the minister said the country needed a critical mass of people going to school, followed by university, which for him are the creators of wealth. Right now, 16 of 100 students in India reached university, whereas in the developed world, it is 40. He said the Centre, states and the private sector must work together to raise the number of those joining university from 16 million at present to 45 million by 2020. While every child must receive an education, Sibal insisted on it meeting quality standards. The Right to Education Act was a starting point in this endeavour. But in a federal system, according to the minister, the Centre could do only so much. The states must join the national mission and work with the Centre to ensure both access and quality of education. All stakeholders must aim for 100 per cent retention of students till Class 12. He urged state governments to revise syllabi, make textbooks age-appropriate and attract the best talent to the teaching profession by revising their pay and perks. On the subject of quality, Sibal mentioned the teacher eligibility test that the Centre has introduced for central schools. He also spoke about setting up Model Schools nation-wide on a PPP basis. But with education being on the concurrent list of the Constitution, the onus was on the states to ramp up quality, he said, pointing to the case of West Bengal, where most school teachers were Class X passouts and hired purely on the basis of their party affiliation. Sibal debunked the common belief that private schools are better than their public counterparts. He pointed out the consistent good results that Kendriya Vidyalayas have thrown up year after year and said what was needed was for municipalities and school management committees to work together to bridge the gap between elite and public schools. The efforts to admit and retain more children in schools would lead to a build-up of pressure at the university level. Sibal called on the states and the private sector for help to add to the 604 universities and 31,000 colleges at present as the Centre lacked the resources to keep pace with the rising demands. He felt education was getting the short shrift from states, with many not allocating enough funds for the sector. The Centre, he assured, would not be found wanting. He listed Innovation Universities-where solution-based research would be top priority, a dedicated national knowledge network that would allow students to transfer credits earned in one university to another, a fibreoptic network that would connect every gram panchayat in the next two-and-a-half years-putting remote areas in touch with knowledge hubs and an education finance corporation that would make funding available to every student desirous of pursuing a university course as some of the Centre's efforts in making quality higher education accessible to all. For Sibal, the aim is to take education away from the political system. For this to happen, a consensus was required among the political class that the lives of children could not be played with.

 Posted on February 11, 2013

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