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July 15, 2009

Some Sense, Sibal’s

On NDTV’s Walk the Talk programme when asked as to what was the ‘‘nastiest’’ thing that had been said about him after he became HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal said that it was ‘‘he is moving too fast’’. He then went on to add: ‘‘I think those who are making that remark are reacting rather quickly. I am not moving too fast. I am 18 years late. If I can do it today, I will do it today. But the system does not allow me to do it today.’’ When asked as to whether by saying he was 18 years late he was trying to link it to 1991 when economic reforms were initiated in the country, Sibal’s was an emphatic ‘‘yes’’ — implying that reforms in education right from the primary to the university level ought to have been pursued simultaneously with economic reforms. Sibal admitted that in the existing system, a college would be ‘‘punished for raising its own money’’. He said that such mindset must change. The HRD Minister was also candid about the vested interests that would be obdurate in maintaining status quo: ‘‘In higher education, the stumbling block is going to be existing institutions, the bureaucracy in those institutions and those who have nurtured themselves and their interests. When I try to change the system to have an overarching independent regulatory authority by subsuming the UGC and the AICTE in it, you start hearing voices.’’ Will Sibal silence such voices and defeat their designs? This will be known after six months by when the minister has promised of an overarching regulatory body in higher education by doing away with an outdated array of monitoring entities as are presently existing and that cannot, in the present circumstances, contribute meaningfully to the country’s competitive edge.

As Sibal has rightly pointed out, the tragedy of higher education in India is that when we talk about higher education we are ‘‘serving only about 12.4 per cent of the populace’’ because ‘‘for every 100 students completing high school education, only 12.4 reach college’’. A country that aspires to be a knowledge society cannot achieve the target by virtue of a mere 12.4 per cent segment catering to knowledge needs and creating intellectual property. Sibal wants to take that figure to about 30-35 per cent, higher than the global average of 27 per cent reaching college after high school education. But for this to happen, the nature of transition from high school to college must change in the sense that — and we propose a radical shift here — every student who reaches high school has the right to reach college as well. Why make him fail to reach the next level of education? Generally speaking, if a student is failing to reach college, it is not because he has failed to learn his subjects due to deficiencies inherent in him and cannot, therefore, be allowed to reach the next level of education, but because the very anachronistic education system has failed him at the high school; it is, in other words, the teaching methodology and its concomitant framework that has failed him. This must change. Therefore, let there be a complete overhaul of the education system right from the primary level so that the experience of education becomes a fruitful intellectual continuum where no one will ‘‘fail’’ in the traditional sense of the term but where a pragmatic grading system based on an evaluation of students throughout the year will identify who is what and who will be best where. Since Sibal is talking sense as HRD Minister, he should make a beginning right now. SOURCE: THE SENTINEL

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