Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’
Union HRD minister
Former chief minister of Uttarakhand (2009-2011), Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ is incumbent Union minister of Human Resource Development (HRD) in the BJP-led NDA 2.0 government. Typically, despite several e-mail messages and calls to his office, the minister failed and neglected to reply to an EducationWorld questionnaire. However, during the past two months, the HRD ministry has issued a spate of press releases, circulars, notes, directives to state education ministers, vice chancellors, principals and parents. Having regard for his office as HRD minister, your editors have culled his bon mots on several issues relating to education from these documents.
Challenges confronting education. Due to the nationwide lockdown, more than 350 million students, 10 million teachers in 1,028 universities, 41,901 colleges, 10,726 stand-alone institutes and 1.55 million schools have suspended regular classes. We need to trust the power of education to motivate ourselves to continue learning in different ways that are beyond the four walls of classrooms.
National lockdown response. To ensure seamless continuation of the learning process, the HRD ministry
has taken several measures. It has launched several online initiatives. Among them: DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing) a portal to help teachers and boost e-learning; SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) to improve access, equity and quality of education; E-pathshala programme to provide access to learning material in several languages. SWAYAM has a repository of 1,900 courses which are now being accessed free-of-charge by students in over 60 countries.
The SWAYAM platform will also offer 82 undergraduate and 42 postgraduate non-engineering Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) listed by the University Grants Commission (UGC) in the semester starting July.
Teacher training and development. Teachers are being provided elearning resources under the Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching. The National Digital Library is now being accessed by over 43,000 teachers daily. Simultaneously, portals such as NCERT, DIKSHA, E-Pathshala, NROER (National Repository of Open Educational Resources) and NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) and other initiatives like robotics education (e-Yantra), open source software for education (FOSSEE), virtual experiments (virtual labs) and learning programming (spoken tutorial) are also experiencing a surge in access rates.
Moreover under the ministry’s direction, pending examinations are also being conducted at centres conveniently accessible by students. CBSE has added 12,000 additional exam centres across the country to enable social distancing norms at the centres.
Fee waiver/deferment. Private schools should reconsider annual hike in fees and collecting fees on a quarterly basis during the lockdown. I request all schools to join hands in the fight against coronavirus, empathise with parents amid this global disaster and re-consider their decision. I am happy that some states have already taken positive steps in this connection. I appreciate their initiative and hope all other states will re-consider my request. I also hope all schools would be providing timely salary to their teachers and staff.
Future plans. A task force has been constituted within the ministry to take decisions on admissions, academic calendar, reopening of schools and guidelines to be followed. They will initiate policies for the functioning of schools both during and immediately after the pandemic. They will work at all levels until the WHO withdraws its pandemic declaration. We are also working on the National Education Policy (NEP) at a faster pace and will soon submit it to Union Cabinet.