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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Bringing out the best
Course correction must emanate from within,
says Virendra Kumar
Pursuant to the Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act of 2006 (No. 5 of 2007) was enacted. This Act introduced reservation of seats for the Other Backward Classes and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes to the tune of 27 per cent in all Centrally-administered institutions.

Need to educate the educators
by D.R. Chaudhry
T
HE TRIBUNE has done well to start a debate on education reforms. There is a plan to do away with Class X examination, replace marks with grades, increase the gross enrolment ratio in higher education and replace several educational regulatory bodies like the UGC, AICTE and the MCI by a National Commission for Higher Education and Research.



EARLIER STORIES

No to wheat exports
July 18, 2009
Dealing with terror
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Letting Hafiz Saeed free
July 16, 2009
Murder and acquittal
July 15, 2009
Mishap shakes Delhi Metro
July 14, 2009
Focus on food security
July 13, 2009
Blueprint for growth
July 12, 2009
In the dark
July 11, 2009
Zardari speaks
July 10, 2009
Riots in Urumqi
July 9, 2009


OPED

Set Indian policy right
Changing balance of power and Delhi’s dilemmas
by Harsh V. Pant
G
IVEN the ad-hocism that seems to characterise Indian foreign policy most of the time, it is highly likely that Mr S.M. Krishna’s first visit outside South Asia as the External Affairs Minister of the new government to Japan is just a coincidence.

On Record
No justification for steel price hike: Virbhadra
by Ajay Banerjee
U
NION Steel Minister and former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is firmly in the saddle in his new office at New Delhi’s Udyog Bhawan. He has laid down an ambitious 100-day agenda that promises to change the steel industry.

Profile
Work for him is duty and dharma
by Harihar Swarup
H
OW many people in India quit office owning moral responsibility for a deed not of their making? Very few. Delhi Metro Chief E. Sreedharan is one of them. Indeed morality has been the biggest casualty in public life — be it in political, bureaucratic or any other sphere.





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Education Policy — A Tribune Debate
Bringing out the best
Course correction must emanate from within,
says Virendra Kumar

Illustration: Gaurav SoodPursuant to the Constitution (Ninety-Third Amendment) Act, 2005, the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act of 2006 (No. 5 of 2007) was enacted. This Act introduced reservation of seats for the Other Backward Classes and Socially and Educationally Backward Classes to the tune of 27 per cent in all Centrally-administered institutions. This is in addition to the quota of 22.5 per cent for the SCs and STs.

This triggered a debate about the fate especially of higher education in India. All along the critical issue has been how to expand the provision of higher education while at the same time ensuring “social inclusion and academic excellence.”

On this count, the concern expressed in the Report of the Oversight Committee is that a society which excludes a significant section of its population from access to higher education cannot be said to be providing equality of opportunity. Equally, it was also realised that if academic excellence gets compromised in the process of expansion, it would lose its competitive edge in the emerging knowledge society — an edge which can propel India into a position of global leadership.

For this objective, a three-fold strategy of expansion, inclusion, and excellence is being adopted. In this respect, reservations are not pushed through in the name of social equity regardless of the impact on quality and excellence. Instead, equity provisions (through reservations) are being perceived in a manner that enhances excellence. This is being done by bringing much-needed governance related reforms involving institutional, financial and administrative autonomy and process re-engineering in higher education.

The thrust of the whole approach is to create “an upward moving equalisation process” where the disabilities are overcome by the hitherto excluded backward sections of society and the system brings out the best in them.

With the proposed massive investment of over Rs 18,000 crore, this opportunity for expansion, inclusion and excellence is considered only the beginning of a larger process, which is to build a knowledge society in India and allow the country to take its rightful place in the comity of nations. The Centre is committed to set up 16 Central and 14 world-class universities for creating new opportunities for quality education.

In the 11th Five-Year Plan, the Centre has invested Rs 2.7 lakh crore, which constitutes 20 per cent of the Plan expenditure on education. This is the highest amount that has ever been invested in education. Utilisation of national resources for human resource development is bound to bridge disparity in access to education, asserted National Knowledge Commission Chairman Sam Pitroda.

Such a move is neither unrealistic nor beyond our reach. Other countries that visualise a similar future are said to have planned massive investments to enhance both the quality and quantity of higher education and research. As a concrete step in this direction, the Union Human Resource Development Ministry has announced a major scholarship scheme for college and university students belonging to the socially and educationally backward classes. As many as 82,000 college and university students will be covered from this year onwards, half of them girls. The renewal of scholarship from year-to-year would, of course, depend upon good conduct and fulfilment of prescribed academic performance.

Concurrently, as if to make the direction of educational reforms more efficacious and certain, both in terms of creativity and implementation, another one-year- time-bound committee was constituted by the HRD Ministry on February 28, 2008 under Professor Yashpal’s leadership. He presented his draft report on March 1, 2009. How did he manage to do this by coordinating the inputs of a 24-member committee plus-one drawn from diverse disciplines is a pleasant surprise.

The Yashpal Committee, instead of confining to review the functioning of the University Grants Commission and the All India Council of Technical Education in the wake of ongoing changes in higher education by listing their limitations and faults, committed itself to the broader task of “renovation and rejuvenation of higher education.”

It has singularly devoted to explore “some basic aberrations” in our educational system that are generally ignored. One of these is that hitherto our all round emphasis has been on “delivery of information” and rewarding “capability of storing information” by conceiving education solely in terms of fragmented and isolated disciplines. Such an approach to education is awfully inadequate for the creation of a knowledge society.

Instead, the committee has recommended that for making education holistic and integrative, the UGC, the AICTE and all other commissions and councils should be subsumed within a single constitutionally created entity, styled as the National Commission for Higher Education and Research. This would take care of the “most serious problem of the world today,” which “arise from the fact that we are dominated by striations of expertise with deep chasms in between.”

Such a strong suggestion entails a big structural change by suitably amending the Constitution – a change in the basic structure of hitherto prevailing educational policy. The entrenched character of the various commissions and councils that came to be constituted from time to time to fulfill the needs of different disciplines, in our view, need not be dismantled and subsumed into a single entity by a single magic stroke.

Over the years, while these bodies have gained maturity professionally, certain aberrations, mostly bureaucratic in nature, might have crept in, which, of course, need to be rectified or removed. Invariably, such course correction must emanate from within rather than outside by the members of the specialised discipline.

For this, we do not require an overarching, overbearing or overpowering commission, shadowing the stimuli of the shadowed ones. Instead, in the spirit of true federalism, bearing in mind that largely the subject of education is in the Concurrent List, what we need is a coordinating body linking and directing the functioning of various independent bodies in the task of national reconstruction.

Such a body would not only accommodate people from different disciplines into a collaborative exercise but also eschew the committee’s criticism that “narrow expertise alone does not make educated human beings for tomorrow.”

The writer is a former Professor and Chairman, Department of Laws, and UGC Emeritus Fellow, Panjab University, Chandigarh

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Need to educate the educators
by D.R. Chaudhry

THE TRIBUNE has done well to start a debate on education reforms. There is a plan to do away with Class X examination, replace marks with grades, increase the gross enrolment ratio in higher education and replace several educational regulatory bodies like the UGC, AICTE and the MCI by a National Commission for Higher Education and Research.

Most of the proposals deal with the administrative structure of our education system, leaving its epistemic core untouched. The educational practice has three most important components: its content, the methodology to impart it to the students and the evaluation of their receptivity. It is the content of courses of studies, methods of teaching and the examination system that constitute the essence of the educational practice.

The suggested reforms only touch the outer shell of the system leaving the diseased kernel of our decrepit education system intact.

Education, to be meaningful, must teach man to reason out things, understand their interconnections, grasp the logic of social change and then use this knowledge, not as an abstraction to ruminate and ponder over, but as a concrete social force to transform the world.

It is through education that a society expects its members, particularly the youth, not only to understand and manage its working, but to improve it, if necessary, completely change that working to create conditions of better life for all. Only then a society can integrate its youth with itself and grow in a healthy way.

The present system has entirely different and distorted social purpose. The present practice sanctifies the existing social reality by presenting an inadequate and disjointed picture of it. It intellectually and morally disarms our youth and thus plays a mystifying system supportive role.

This kind of educational practice as neutral, value-free pursuit, devoid of all ideology and ethics, breeds an attitude of social irresponsibility. Small wonder, a doctor develops vested interest in disease, a lawyer in litigation, a chartered accountant in tax evasion, an educator in ignorance and so on.

It is repeatedly emphasised to have socially relevant courses oriented to specific Indian conditions, and which will acquaint our students with the Indian reality and ethos as also equip them with the theoretical tools to analyse and thus solve Indian problems. However, precious little has been achieved in this respect except stray attempts by some university departments.

No meaningful reform is possible without an elaborate critique of the content of courses of studies taught in our educational institutions. And this can emerge only through a wide-ranging debate on the issue in society and the teaching community. It is time the Union HRD Ministry started this debate if it is interested in meaningful reforms.

Teaching methods generally followed in our educational institutions need a basic change. At present, a teacher comes to the class, delivers his talk and goes back without any meaningful interaction with students. It is a monologue while teaching should be a dialogue between a teacher and the taught.

The practice of dictating notes to the class is pernicious. The monological practice along with the penchant for dictating notes takes a student as a passive receptacle. Whatever is filled in the container is emptied out in the answer-sheet in the examination. This shallow acquisition of knowledge based on rote learning leaves a student barren of ideas after the examination is over. There is need of elaborate critique of the existing methods of teaching followed by an in-depth refresher course for teachers. Educators need to be educated.

The method of examining students is an integral part of the educational practice. Any distortion in this respect can have far-reaching effect on the education system. The University Education Commission (1948), under the chairmanship of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishanan, had stated that if they had to suggest one single reform in the university education, it would be that of examinations.

The Kothari Education Commission (1964-66), while emphasising the need for examination reform, stated: “This is one of the areas in education about which one can say that the problem is known, its significance is realised, the broad lines of the solution — at least to begin with — are known; but for some reasons or the other, an effort to implement it on any worthwhile scale or in a meaningful manner has yet not been made. What is needed is a vigorous and sustained action”.

While conceding the impossibility of doing away with the system of external examination, the Kothari Commission recommended the introduction of more frequent periodical assessment. The practice of internal assessment has been adopted at many places. Semester system has been introduced in place of annual examination. Yet a lot more needs to be done in this respect.

At present a student tends to cram a number of topics from help books and guides of questionable academic merit. As some students do not read textbooks, the knowledge they acquire is superficial and often misleading. Question banks can be designed in every subject to minimise students’ reliance on such books.

Copying in examinations has become a menace at many places. Multiple question papers can be designed to curb mass copying. Strengthening of flying squads is another device to curb copying.

Scrapping of Class X examination and to have a national-level education board are ticklish issues. Since education is a Concurrent subject, state governments should be consulted before taking any final decision in this regard. The entry of foreign educational institutions in India is fraught with dangers.

In the absence of an elaborate and strict regulatory control, the move is likely to open floodgates for substandard foreign institutes to mint money in India. This has been the fate of several other countries which took this step. There is need to learn from their experience and plug the loopholes.

The move to replace various regulatory bodies like the UGC etc. with one unified central body needs serious analysis. India is too vast a country with countless diversities to be handled by one central body. There is need to have an evaluation study of the existing regulatory bodies and remove the infirmities, if any.

The idea of putting a curb on mushrooming of substandard institutes and deemed universities is laudable and should be given a concrete shape with an iron hand.

The idea of 100-day time schedule for revamping our education system perhaps shows that the HRD minister is in a tearing hurry. No meaningful reform in any sector, least of all in the present fossilised education system in India, is feasible at a roller coaster speed.

If the minister can succeed in carrying out some basic reforms in our education system with focus on content of courses of studies, methods of teaching, examination system along with overhauling the present dysfunctional administrative structure governing our education system in his full tenure of five years, the nation would remain beholden to him for all times to come.

The writer is Member, Administrative Reforms Commission, Haryana, Chandigarh

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Set Indian policy right
Changing balance of power and Delhi’s dilemmas
by Harsh V. Pant

GIVEN the ad-hocism that seems to characterise Indian foreign policy most of the time, it is highly likely that Mr S.M. Krishna’s first visit outside South Asia as the External Affairs Minister of the new government to Japan is just a coincidence. However, India must now use this opportunity to convey a substantive message about its foreign policy priorities to the rest of the world.

Ever since Mr Barack Obama’s assumption of office as the US President, Indian foreign policy establishment has seemed to be on the defensive. Even as the Obama Administration has ignored and marginalised most of the initiatives of the previous Bush Administration towards India, India has projected an image of a country that is willing to wait as if one fine day the new dispensation in Washington would recognise that reverting back to the failed Cold War era policies vis-à-vis South Asia would not work. But the Obama Administration has little time or inclination to set its India policy right at least in the short term.

Moreover, there is a larger problem that is confronting American foreign policy at the moment. There is no larger frame of reference through which the Obama Administration is viewing international relations. Partly because it is heavily preoccupied with a daunting domestic agenda and partly because of Obama’s lack of interest in foreign affairs, the world’s most powerful actor is content to be on the sidelines of the global agenda. In the absence of a geopolitical vision and coherence, the US now finds itself in a peculiar position of being besieged on all sides.

North Korea has called America’s bluff by blatantly defying the United Nations and openly targeting the US homeland. In response, the US could only issue threats that even its friends realise it has little capability of operationalising.

Meanwhile, Obama’s Iran policy is in tatters. The much hyped ‘engagement strategy’ of the US has been dealt with a heavy blow by the recent turmoil in Iran. Initially, Obama confined himself to calling upon the Iranian leadership to respect free speech and democratic process but later he was forced to respond strongly. It is clear that now more than ever, President Obama must not appear over eager to engage Iran after what may turn out to have been a rigged election.

Unless Iranian fury touches off sustained nation-wide protests that destabilises the 30-year-old Islamic regime — an unlikely scenario since the mullahs and the military have the guns – Obama will find his administration engaging a regime whose duly, or unduly elected president holds views that the president himself, in his now-famous Cairo speech to Muslims called “baseless,” “ignorant,” and “hateful.”

Those who have opposed US efforts at engaging with Tehran have now got a boost and their argument that the theocratic regime in Tehran is a repressive one has been proven correct. The US is back to square one in so far as its Iran policy is concerned and it can only wait and see how the present crisis in Tehran plays itself out.

Still these are problems that pale in comparison to the challenge confronting the US in Asia-Pacific where the rise of China has upset the traditional balance of power. Initially the new Administration toyed with the idea of G-2, a global condominium of the US and China whereby China can be expected to look after and ‘manage’ Asia-Pacific. This was enough to shake up the US allies in the region from their slumber. Having realised that their security concerns were being sidelined in Washington, Tokyo, Seoul and Canberra made a concerted effort to make the new Administration realise that such an arrangement would permanently marginalise the US in the strategic landscape of Asia-Pacific.

Moreover, major players in the region started re-evaluating their security doctrines. Even Kevin Rudd, the great Sinophile, has come up with a security strategy for Australia that seeks to hedge its bets vis-à-vis the potential threat from China and an unwillingness on the part of the US to play the role of regional balancer.

Washington soon realised its folly and has recently sought to make amends. Now the talk is of G-3 – a forum that would bring together three largest global economies later this month for the first time. This is again a short-sighted idea primarily aimed at pacifying Japan that had felt marginalised with the growing coziness between the US and China.

It remains unclear what substantive results such a forum can achieve given the very different visions that Beijing and Tokyo have vis-à-vis the region and their bilateral differences.

But for India, these developments pose a new set of challenges. It is clear now that China is going to be a central player in Obama Administration’s efforts to re-establish the strategic contours of global politics. Given American economic dependence on Beijing, this makes perfect sense for the US priorities.

Meanwhile, India is getting marginalised in the strategic scheme of things. From being viewed as a rising power and a balancer in the Asia-Pacific, India is now back to being seem as regional South Asian actor whose only relevance for the US is in making sure that Pakistan fights the Taliban with full vigour without getting preoccupied in Kashmir.

Consequently, while India cannot ignore Washington given that China and Russia are actively engaged in strategic dialogue with the US at various levels, India will have to find ways and means to ameliorate the balance of power situation in the region that seem to be rapidly turning against New Delhi. In this context, reinvigorating ties with Japan is very essential for India.

Though Indo-Japanese ties have improved in recent years, much remains to be done. It is imperative for Tokyo and New Delhi to work together to restore some strategic balance in the region. If this is not done, then overtime they will find themselves marginalised in the strategic landscape of Asia.

Mr S.M. Krishna and his Japanese counterpart will hopefully agree to take India-Japan bilateral relationship to a more substantive level in accordance with their nation’s strategic priorities.

The writer, who teaches at King’s College, London, is presently Visiting Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore

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On Record
No justification for steel price hike: Virbhadra
by Ajay Banerjee

Virbhadra SinghUNION Steel Minister and former Himachal Pradesh Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh is firmly in the saddle in his new office at New Delhi’s Udyog Bhawan. He has laid down an ambitious 100-day agenda that promises to change the steel industry.

Elected to the Lok Sabha as far back as 1962, he brings with him a vast administrative experience that will help him in his present assignment. Being a senior leader, North Indian states expect him to put his weight behind common issues like railway connectivity, power generation, road network, special incentives and industrial growth.

Excerpts:

Q: What are your plans for the steel sector?

A: The target is to boost production capacity and modernise the existing PSUs. For this, Rs 13,000 crore is to be invested during the present financial year. The Centre’s aim is to double the production capacity in three years — from 65 million tonnes per annum to 124 million tonnes.

Q: Last year the prices of steel went through the roof impacting construction and infrastructure development.

A: The government will crack down on those indulging in price manipulation. In the past, there has been an increase in steel prices and that was not justified. I can assure you that at present there is no justification for steel price hike. I will not allow any increase as there was no reason for the same. The cost of inputs for steel production like cooking coal and iron ore are going down.

Q: How can you stop this? Will you have a steel price regulatory authority?

A: There is no such move at present.

Q: Leading global players like Mittals, Tatas and Jindals are from India. Do they have any reservation since most iron ore mines are located in the Naxalite-hit areas?

A: I have had a talk with leading players for the lease of iron ore mines. So far none of them have expressed any reservation regarding the location of the mines. Anyway the government is trying its best to tackle the problem.

Q: North India can gain by the presence of ministers like you and others from Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, J&K and Delhi.

A: Industrially, the entire north India has been left behind states like Tamil Nadu or Maharashtra. As these states had better infrastructure, the industry was attracted to the south. Getting investment is not the only thing. There has to be entire package of good roads, railway connectivity and education facilities. North has to catch up fast. It is picking up, but bottlenecks in infrastructure remain.

Q: Northern states are divided over tax holiday given to Himachal. Why?

A: HP is not the lone benefactor of this concession. Uttrakhand and J&K were also part of the package. Originally, the concession was meant to be till March 31, 2013. Punjab and Haryana protested and the cut-off date (called the sunset clause among industry circles) was re-set for March 31, 2007. It has now been extended till March 31, 2010. We from Himachal will seek extension till the original date of March 2013. I don’t think the government should succumb to pressure from any quarter.

Q: Is the tax holiday extension harming other states?

A: The income-tax holiday for industries in Himachal is anyway till 2013. It is just a matter of excise concessions. Earlier, when the tax holiday was given, the excise duty was 15 per cent; now it stands at 7 or 8 per cent. So, now this excise exemption is the only extension in tax-holiday for industries coming up in Himachal Pradesh.

Q: The climate change will adversely affect fruit crops that sustain the economy in HP. Any comments?

A: Yes, the fruit crop is suffering. Snow level is dropping and forcing farmers to move plantation of fruit orchards to the upper reaches. Any change in climate can pose serious social and economic problems for Himachal.

Q: What about the demand to increase HP quota in defence services?

A: I will take up the matter of increasing the quota in defence services since boys from Himachal are keen on joining the forces and have been serving the nation well. The demand is fully justified.

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Profile
Work for him is duty and dharma
by Harihar Swarup

HOW many people in India quit office owning moral responsibility for a deed not of their making? Very few. Delhi Metro Chief E. Sreedharan is one of them. Indeed morality has been the biggest casualty in public life — be it in political, bureaucratic or any other sphere.

Five labourers and a Metro engineer died and 15 injured when a pillar came crashing down at the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation site in South Delhi. The chilling fact was not lost on Sreedharan and he resigned as the DMRC Managing Director. His resignation was promptly rejected by Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

Though Sreedharan has abided by the wishes of the CM and other senior leaders, he remains a dejected man; dejected not for himself but for the fact that the Delhi Metro’s safety record has crashed.

How one wishes India produces more people like Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, builder of the marvels known as Delhi’s Metro Rail network and, earlier, the Konkan Railway. Aptly, he has been described as one of the builders of modern India, truly a “Ratna” (jewel) of Bharat, decorated with the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest award of the land.

Thousands of commuters, who travel by Delhi Metro every day, silently express their gratitude to this 74-year-old Railway engineer as they board the swanky air-conditioned trains.

Gone are the days of endless waiting at crowded bus stops and jostling their way in rickety vehicles. An hour’s journey has been reduced to barely 10 minutes. With more than 56-km on track and remaining phases left to complete, the $2-billion Metro project is on schedule and, more important, strictly within the budget.

In just two years, the high-speed underground train will be accessible to every resident of Delhi. Indeed, this is India’s public transport revolution.

What is the mantra behind the success of the man who is known to make impossible things possible? Punctuality, picking up the right people for right job, teamwork, discipline, honesty and adhering to deadline have been Sreedharan’s yardsticks.

He motivates people around him and rewards them for completing assigned task before time. Every officer in the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation keeps a digital board which shows the number of days left for the completion of the next target. On his part, Sreedharan clocks in at work on the dot at 8.45 a.m. every day much before his staff arrive. For him, the job at hand is not just a duty but dharma. He is hardly ever seen in public and he rarely gives interviews or attends public functions except some classical music concerts.

Remember it took two decades to build the Kolkata Metro and all the chaos and hardship that the people had to undergo. It was a result of bad planning. In Delhi, Sreedharan faced no such problem. When people in old Delhi (Chandni Chowk area) objected to demolition of their houses, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation used the tunnel boring machine technology to solve the problem. The same technology is being adopted in South Delhi’s densely populated areas and, at the same time, it is ensured that there are no major traffic bottlenecks and no demolitions.

The Konkan Railway Project was mooted by the then Railway Minister George Fernandes in 1990. However, later, he himself gave up the idea, dismissing the project as impossible. A month later, Sreedharan met him with a well-charted plan and told him “we will have to work in a different fashion”.

Fernandes was so impressed by the plan that he got the Union Cabinet approval for the project within three days and the work began in right earnest under the newly constituted Konkan Rail Corporation. When the government was short of funds, Sreedharan raised public bonds to help expedite the project.

The end product was an engineering marvel with laying of a rail network across the mountainous Western Ghats. The distance between Mumbai and Kochi was reduced by one third.

When Sreedharan disclosed the plan to build a metro rail in Delhi, everybody laughed, terming the project as impossible. “We have seen the chaos while building a small, one-line metro in Kolkata”, they remarked. But the former Railway civil engineer made possible what looked like a fantasy. Besides other states in India, many foreign countries too now want to replicate the experiment.

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