AS UNION MINISTER, HRD, Kapil Sibal initiated legislative reforms on Higher Education relating to accreditation, prevention of malpractices, educational tribunals, permitting foreign universities and establishing a National Commission on Higher Education and Research (NCHER). None materialised.
The nation looked forward with great interest to the formulation of a new national education policy. What has happened is the appearance of two documents whose status is unknown. One is titled ‘Inputs for Draft National Education Policy-2016’. It is forty-three pages, the document undated with no indication of authorship!
‘Inputs,’ not ‘policy’ document
It has diagnosed a few problems in education. Like: low participation in pre-school; poor learning outcome; inadequate support to vocational training; a disconnect between school and higher education; inappropriate teacher training and rampant commercialisation of education. Some of the suggestions were: expand early childhood education for all five-year-olds; achieve universal secondary education; eliminate social, regional and gender gaps in education; expand opportunities for skill development and provide opportunities to the uneducated to attain competence and employability.
Other recommendations are: no-detention policy should be limited to class V; schools with low enrolment and poor infrastructure should be scrapped; conduct academic aptitude tests; reform curricula; restructure NCERT; evolve a standard national curriculum for Science, Mathematics and English; introduce digital literacy from Class V; improve science labs and experiments; reform class X and XII syllabus ... It proposed setting up a National Teachers University. The fact that this document is described as ‘inputs’ takes away its value as a policy document.
The TSR Committee...
Subsequently, a committee was appointed by MHRD under T S R Subramanian, a former cabinet secretary. The voluminous ‘inputs’ generated by the earlier consultation process were handed over to this committee with a suggestion that further discussion may be held if felt necessary. The committee was asked to formulate a Draft National Education Policy with Framework for Action.
The committee submitted a 230-page report as National Policy on Education – 2016 on 30 April 2016. Surprisingly this report was not included in the MHRD website. The committee then decided to upload it in the NUEPA website containing extensive details of consultations.
Good intentions, but little action...
The TSR Committee diagnosed the nature of serious problems in education. It included teacher vacancies and absenteeism, high drop out rate, corruption in the appointment of teachers, in the conduct of exams, recognition and approval of institutions, a proliferation of high-cost coaching classes and degree shops, low priority for education by governments... The focus of TSR Committee was on improving the quality of education, restoring credibility, promote transparency in management; to provide information, knowledge, skills and values and to restrain politics on campuses. However, the final set of recommendations did not spell out as to how to go about achieving these goals.
The committee further recommended the initiation of steps to establish a standing committee to advise MHRD; to creat All India Education Service; to create education tribunals; to provide special support to children from weaker sections and to achieve public expenditure of six per cent of GDP on education.
On higher education the committee drew attention to the issues relating to quality; teacher availability; appointments of vice chancellors; accreditation and the performance of state, Central and private universities. It suggested major reforms to revamp regulatory bodies. These are issues that have been discussed over the years with little to show.
It proposed the establishment of 100 Research and Innovation universities at Rs.1000 crore each in years along with a Council of Excellence in Higher Education. It suggested a National Higher Education and Promotion Act as well as a National Education Fund to support tuition, learning material and living expenses of 10 lakh students every year. It advised rationalisation of entrance examinations for professional courses.