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NEP 2020 Is Bharat Centric, Innovative and Futuristic: Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’

Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, India’s former education minister who brought the inclusive, transformative and futuristic education policy, in a freewheeling interview with Education Post’s Tanay Kumar

Education Post25 May 2023 04:47

Of late, there has been a lot of debate around the new National Education Policy (NEP). These include both bouquets and brickbats. But as they say, beyond the two sides of the coin lies the hand that scours and forges the metal and mints it. Let us hear it straight from the man who helped draft the NEP-2020. Dr. Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, India’s former education minister who brought the inclusive, transformative and futuristic education policy, in a freewheeling interview with Education Post’s Tanay Kumar, shares his thoughts on education, value system, literature and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for the country.

Any policy framework is convergence of great ideas coming from various quarters. But that confluence is rarely reached without debates and differences of opinion often leading to deadlocks. How tough was the task of arriving at a consensus on the NEP-2020?

I am delighted to say that we followed one of world’s largest consultation processes involving each and every stakeholder. We started the process of formulating the policy through consultation with an inclusive, participatory and holistic approach, which took into consideration expert opinions, field experiences, empirical research, stakeholder feedback, as well as lessons learned from the best practices.

The drafting committee for the NEP-2020 submitted its report to me on the very first day of my joining. The Draft National Education Policy 2019 (DNEP-2019) – based on the foundational pillars of access, affordability, equity, quality, and accountability – was uploaded on the education ministry’s website and also at MyGov Innovate portal eliciting views/ suggestions/comments of stakeholders, including the public.

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After the submission of the draft, governments of states/UTs and ministries were invited to give their views and comments on the DNEP-2019. I made it a point to connect with all stakeholders across various states. A brief summary of the DNEP-2019, which was also translated into 22 languages (mentioned in the eighth schedule of the Constitution), was circulated among various stakeholders and uploaded on the ministry’s website. Meetings were held with the state education secretaries of school education and state secretaries of higher and technical education. An education dialogue was also held with parliamentarians from various states, including Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala, Karnataka, and Odisha.

The NEP-2020 envisions an India-centric education system that contributes directly to transforming our nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all.

You have always given credit to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his extraordinary leadership in framing the NEP-2020. How has he inspired you?

You must have heard our Prime Minister saying at various forums that the NEP-2020 will give a new direction to 21st-century India. He emphasizes that the development of energetic youth, who are the engines of a country’s development, should begin right from their childhood.

Underlining the need for social reforms, the Prime Minister has remarked that it is necessary to develop a greater learning spirit, scientific, logical & mathematical thinking and a scientific temperament among youngsters. I consider myself fortunate to have worked under such a great and visionary leader.

His biggest strength is his extraordinary ability to connect with people. Under the guidance of PM Modi, we have decided to equip our children with 21st-century skills, that include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, curiosity and communication.

Attending the 56th Convocation of the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, in 2019, the PM said, “In front of me, there are both a mini-India and the spirit of New India. There is energy, vibrancy, and positivity. I could see dreams of the future in your eyes. I could see the destiny of India in your eyes.”

The Prime Minister further added that the foundations of the 21st century will rest on the three crucial pillars: Innovation, teamwork & technology. Fortunately, I was accompanying the PM and I could see the powerful impact of his speech on the students. We could all see our PM as the undisputed youth icon, who successfully brought about an attitudinal shift.

We realized that our youth should learn computer programing language from the beginning, understand artificial intelligence, join internet of things, cloud computing, data science and robotics. If you compare NEP-2020 with earlier policies, you would see that they were a bit restrictive on that front.

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The policy has drawn a lot of global attention. It received applause from various top-ranking universities while many countries have shown interest in it. What do you think has contributed to its instant international appeal?

Analyzed by more than 100 top institutions of the world, including Cambridge, Harvard, and Michigan, this policy has been described as historic, transformative and extremely practical. It was nice to see universities from Sweden, South Korea, Norway, Mexico, Japan, the Netherlands, Canada, and many more countries writing to us and congratulating us for our wonderful efforts. Appreciation for practicality and scientific research was greatly appreciated. On the sidelines of my visit to UNESCO, my office received a call from the education ministers of 16 countries for possible bilateral meetings. I am glad to share that almost every minister was curious to know about our NEP-2020. They expressed a sincere desire to know how we could enhance our bilateral ties as far as education is concerned. I would give the credit for the successful formulation of this policy to all the stakeholders related to the education policy, including you, who made this policy a reality with their hard work. The NEP-2020 was not only welcomed in India but also abroad for its quality, innovation, and transformative measures. In fact, the NEP-2020 is the foundation stone for creating a self-reliant and prosperous India.

You have often spoken about India’s rich cultural heritage. In fact, you created a research center for the purpose within the ministry during your tenure. How do you believe this knowledge about our past is important?

Since the beginning of the civilization, India has been the Vishwa Guru. When the world was struggling in darkness for their survival, India was teaching about the identity of humans with the supreme (Aham Brahmasmi). We were talking about consciousness (Chit). When the world was using primitive agriculture methods, we were performing surgeries. People from all around the world came to India in search of knowledge and to gain from its priceless wisdom.

The country that dazzled the ancient world with its academic brilliance with luminaries like Sushruta, Kanad, Aryabhatta, Nagarjuna, Bhaskaracharya, Charak, Patanjali and Kautilya deserves to regain the pedestal of being the Vishwa Guru.

The concept of university first emerged in India. Since ancient times, many educational centers have gained fame and attracted students from far and wide. This led to the creation of several prestigious universities in India.

Especially after 8th century, Bharat established itself as the most famous and largest knowledge center in the world. Indian scholars and universities had no match in military science, architecture, languages, chemistry, astronomy, astrology mathematics, physics and ayurveda. People came from throughout Asia and the Middle East to study at its great centers of learning like Takshashila, Vikramshila, Vallabhi, Kanchi, Varanasi, Pusphagiri, Dharaj, Patliputra and Nalanda.

Yes, we have created an Indian Knowledge System (IKS) under the Ministry. The principal aim is to create a platform for facilitation and coordination among different stakeholders involved in trans-disciplinary work related to Indian Knowledge Systems. The mandate of IKS Division is to catalyze the synergy between the traditional and modern science scholars and help in the development of inter-and trans-disciplinary proposals.

With NEP, we have laid a strong foundation for building a new India, which is strong, prosperous and known for its knowledge-based society. Bharat can become Vishwa Guru again because we know how to spread of rich traditional knowledge, true love and great compassion for the benefit of entire humankind. We believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, the world is one family. And now is the time that the entire world also imbibes the spirit.

One of the key features of the NEP-2020 is that it is ‘Bharat Kendrit’? Please elaborate.

‘Bharat Kendrit National Education Policy’ emphasizes promoting regional multilingualism, ancient knowledge, creativity and critical thinking, ethics and human values, holistic education, equity and inclusion, and life skills during the teaching and learning processes. Focusing on the Indian value system and traditional Indian knowledge, the NEP also lays stress on modern international standards in the teaching-learning process, teachers and faculty, accreditation and continuous review process and research, innovation, and development.

Under the able leadership of Prime Minister Modi, the NEP is committed to providing equitable and inclusive quality education at all levels – early childhood (fundamental), primary, middle, secondary, technical-cum-vocational training, and higher education. As a part of our initiatives, we have made sure that all Indians, irrespective of sex, age, race, or ethnicity, and persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous peoples, children, and youth, especially those in vulnerable situations, should have access to lifelong learning opportunities that help them acquire the knowledge and skills needed to exploit opportunities to achieve decent work in their life.

We do understand that we need to expand our educational infrastructure and facilities as required for the Indian people. The NEP-2020 envisages that the synergy in curriculum and pedagogy of our education system must be holistic in developing a sense of respect towards the fundamental duties and Constitutional values, bonding with Indian values, and consciousness about the changing world. The value-based education will not only transform the Indian system but will bring stability to the whole world.

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India has a population of youth. How will NEP-2020 help India at this crucial juncture in the global arena?

Our nation, one of the youngest in the world in terms of population, is enjoying a demographic dividend. But we know that India is also grappling with unemployment. The best part is that the whole world considers India a soft power which has the potential to become a world power. This potential is attributed to several factors, the primary one being its demographic dividend. India is also a rapidly expanding in economy and military power

Approximately 65% of our population is below the age of 35. The huge transformation post-NEP implementation will have a great impact on this population group. In the coming decades, while some of the powerful nations will witness a decrease in workforce numbers, India is expected to have an increase.

In the NEP-2020, we are committed to developing India as a skill hub of the world. Further, we are making all efforts to create a conducive environment for budding entrepreneurs. We will create a world-class training infrastructure so that we can supply workforce to the entire world. India, which has a dedicated and committed leadership coupled with a strong political will power, is undergoing a massive socio-economic and governance transformation. I remember former Australian Premier Tony Abbott commented that India is considered as a democratic superpower.

Apart from providing quality manpower, there is a big focus on infrastructure development as well. How are we creating world-class infrastructure?

Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA), a joint venture company of Canara Bank and the Ministry of Education, provides financial assistance for the creation of educational infrastructure and R&D in India’s premier educational institutions. It finances higher education institutions (HEIs), Kendriya Vidyalaya (KVs), Navoday Vidyalaya (NVs), AIIMS and other educational institutions under the Ministry of Health.

HEFA’s role is widely expanded to cover all educational institutions under higher education, school education and institutions under the health ministry. Till date, about 100 institutions have benefitted from this scheme. The equity contribution is proposed to increase to ₹10,000 crore and the balance requirement of ₹90,000 crore will be raised by HEFA through market borrowings and issue of bonds, including government-guaranteed/ government-serviced bonds.

You have launched a very ambitious program called Vedas and World Peace. What precisely is this program and what are the objectives?

Realizing the importance of Vedic knowledge and technologies for the country and the whole world, ten global universities joined hands to start a worldwide campaign to make young generations aware of the immense potential of Vedic sciences and encourage  them to propagate and utilize Vedic knowledge for peace and prosperity of the world.

The idea to initiate this great campaign was conceptualized in 2019 in a meeting with Dr. Tony Nader (the successor to respected Mahesh Yogi), on the sidelines of the UNICEF international summit held at Paris, where I represented India. Dr. Nader is a medical doctor and a globally recognized Vedic scholar trained at the prestigious Harvard Medical School (MD) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Ph.D. in Neuroscience).

During our discussion, we pondered over existential and philosophical questions that plague us all. Why have we come here on earth? What is the purpose of life? What should we do with our short lifespan on this earth to attain nirvana? Why do people struggle and why do they suffer from the diseases and pain all around the world? Why are people not happy?

We felt that there is an urgent need to educate our youth about the huge potential of Vedic science and technology. It was also observed that lack of human values is the main reason for the immense challenges faced by younger generations. The key importance of Vedic education gets highlighted in distinguishing between the execution of the activities and their significance.

It instills a sense of ‘meaning’ behind what one is supposed to do and thus aids in personality development. Challenges posed by climate change, violence, poverty, disease, inequality, stress, discrimination, hunger, and drugs can all be met successfully with Vedic knowledge and the application in the form of different Vedic technologies. It is high time we realized that Vedic knowledge is an answer to the challenges confronting the world.

NEP-2020 lays a lot of emphasis on teacher training and their constant upgrade. Please tell us more about this.

In Paris, I met the education minister of Finland, a country renowned for its education system and teachers. I was curious to know how a remote and sparsely populated country had quickly gained international recognition for its top-ranking education system. During our conversation, I was told that the country attracts the best talent in teaching and Finnish education authorities are dedicated to hire qualified, creative and innovative educators who can actively participate in shaping the national curriculum.

Being a teacher myself, I have known the importance of teachers in the education system. I am happy that NEP2020 has laid strong emphasis on the role of our gurus along with the desired attributes of teachers for nation-building. If you compare it with earlier policies, it is for the first time that teachers have been put at the center of the most needed fundamental reforms in the education system.

The policy has also emphasized re-establishing teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, as they shape the future generations of the country. As a step forward, the NEP-2020 has also elaborated on the recruitment of expert teachers in a transparent method, to give autonomy while also instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability in every teacher. We must understand that the ideal and good quality teacher can be responsive and adaptive to the changing needs of society in this dynamic world.

Understanding that bringing any innovative practice may be an important attribute of an ideal teacher, we are creating an ecosystem that will provide continuous learning opportunities to our teachers.

For the first time, we have put a lot of emphasis on experiential or real-world learning. The roles of our teachers have been clearly defined and authorities have been asked to reduce curriculum content to enhance experiential learning and critical thinking. Facilities are being created for hands-on learning, arts and sports integrated teaching methods, and fundamental reforms in the education system.

As a step forward, the NEP-2020 has also elaborated on the recruitment of competent teachers in a transparent method, to give autonomy while also instilling a sense of responsibility and accountability in them.

I am very proud to share that one of the key suggestions from our teaching fraternity was the inclusion of traditional Indian knowledge and a value-based education system as an integral part of our curriculum. In addition, they also wanted a role in the curriculum development. Taking a serious note of that suggestion for the NEP-2020, we have devised a mechanism whereby our teachers will assist in the curriculum development.

You have been a teacher and you have highlighted the role of teachers at various forums. How important are they in NEP-2020?

The NEP-2020 strongly believes that teachers have the most important role in the implementation of the new education policy. The primary measure of value education originates from creating a supportive classroom environment. We strongly believe that only a teacher can create a structure and an environment in which students feel free to express their thoughts and feelings or even experience.

Influential teachers can help you become tolerant of multi-directional opinions. Determining whether certain values are more important than other values is also one of the roles of a teacher. The areas of teaching, examining, teaching/ learning strategies and adapting each major contemporary approach to values of education are many of the roles that the teacher has to play.

In my view, a teacher has to act as a factor, which stimulates, informs and warns the learners in terms of value situations in life. I believe that good teachers make the students think and reflect on human actions and events, by actively engaging learners in discussion, dialogue and practical activities. Dedicated teachers motivate students for works of art, natural beauty, human relationships and moral values, so that moral sensitivity could be developed.

Teachers help to create an atmosphere of love, cooperation and security in the school conducive to the development of high ideals and values. Well-trained teachers have mind and heart along with necessary qualities for the pursuit of knowledge: Curiosity and willingness to know, sincere desire to accept ignorance and to keep knowledge updated, and practice, humility and honesty. They have a social philosophy, with concern for social sensitivity, social justice, and human rights. It is necessary that they fulfill their professional obligations according to the highest standards and ethics of the teaching profession.

You once said that you want to make teacher selection more competitive than administrative positions. Why do you feel it is so important?

The NEP-2020 institutional processes and training should help teachers acquire value-based abilities and provide them with concrete conditions, ample opportunities and appropriate learning experiences. They should infuse a nationalist feeling into the students. Especially, creating awareness about future problems related to food, water, energy, environment, pollution, health, and population, in particular, is important.

Regardless of caste, creed, gender, and wealth, a teacher should give equal importance to all students. Human beings are considered the best beings on this earth. The greatest contribution to this superiority is due to his or her knowledge and good education. The NEP will ensure that our teachers are well equipped in every sense. The most powerful means of progress of any society is through education.

Good education can be expected from a good society. Education and society are two sides of the same coin. The responsibility of excellent education is always on the shoulders of good teachers; Vidyadhanam Sarva Dhanam Pradhanam; that is, ‘education in our country is considered the best wealth of all the wealth available’. The more this wealth is shared with others, the more the wealth increases.

You often mention Swami Vivekanand, his philosophy and his teachings. Could you explain a bit about how his lessons are relevant in the modern times, especially when you talk about India’s youth who have the responsibility to build a New India?

For Swami Vivekanand, education was both moral and intellectual. He had a strong belief that nationbuilding was possible through education and that perfection could be achieved only through education.

I have closely analyzed his ideas on education, and I am happy to share that we have made sincere efforts to include them in our policy.

The teachings of Swami Vivekanand are very relevant in the current challenging times. Violence, unrest, inequality and lack of resources have created serious complications in the world. Quality education is the only answer to all the challenges of our times. We need to work hard on our education system. Swami Ji’s concepts of divinity of soul, morality and ethics need to be explained to our youth. Our people will have to make required efforts in the right direction to do the necessary tapasya once again, with new thinking for modern times.

Swami Vivekanand said that all the wealth of the world cannot help one little Indian village if the people are not taught to help themselves. In the NEP, we are precisely helping our people develop their own skills and be self-sufficient.

One of the major changes in the NEP2020 is changing the ‘Regulatory System’ to an ‘Advisory System’ to ensure the highest standards? Please elaborate.

We did feel that higher education institutions (HEIs) were overburdened with the number of regulatory mechanisms implemented by national, state and regional regulatory authorities. In the NEP-2020, the only institution for higher education will be the Higher Education Commission of India (HECI) with four supporting institutions, engaged in different functional areas.

The proposed National Higher Education Regulatory Council (NHERC) will be the single regulatory body for the institutions. There will be a system of mandatory public disclosure by the educational institutions of its major functions, like finance, audit, governance, infrastructure, faculties, syllabus, and educational outcomes, on web portals for public review.

National Accreditation Council will be engaged in identifying the strengths in HEIs and categorizing them into different levels and handholding them to work out the gray areas and grow. Higher Education Grants Council (HEGC) will be engaged in funding and financing institutions and the General Education Council (GEC) will work on the maintenance of standards and ensuring quality in HEIs through the National Higher Education Quality Framework (NHEQF). All these initiatives will reduce the burden of regulation and exposure to different levels of accreditations and transparent quality parameters will build confidence among the HEIs to benchmark their own goal and contribute to achieve it.

The NEP 2020 talks about setting up Learner-Centric Academic Campuses with complete academic infrastructure. How will this transform our education set-up?

The academic system followed in this country is mostly run on the prescription mode. Syllabus, subjects and teaching methodology, all of them are prescribed either by the statutory authorities or universities, according to the available resources, both physical and human. But integrating online learning and clustering of the institutions for sharing the resources will open opportunities for the learners to design their own courses of studies within the broad framework of the degree requirement.

Credit bank facilities and flexibility in time for certification and award of the degree will promote the learners to design their own academics, combined with internships, training and work experience. To achieve the benefits of the NEP-2020, the HEIs have to develop physical and human infrastructure to support the diversified multidisciplinary studies. The institutions have to develop laboratories, libraries and all academic resources, including classrooms, discussion rooms, conference facilities etc. to fulfill the requirement of experiential learning.

A culture of engagement has to replace ‘lecture methods’ in classrooms. Sustainability of learning systems for faculties will be very much essential to providing freedom and diversity in learning and to bring experience of different cultures, religions, regions and nationalities in collaboration with several institutions.

The establishment of a system of continuous training and teachers’ upskilling for their capacity building and motivating them to contribute to the building of the next generation is the only solution to the problem.

Autonomy in governance of academic institutions will help our institutions attain strategic competitiveness. How will this be achieved by the NEP-2020?

The NEP-2020 has recommended abolishing the system of affiliation and giving full autonomy to all the HEIs for designing their academics and administrative systems. The regulatory mechanism should be less interfering, but more powerful to oversee that the national and regional vision for growth of the society, both economically and intellectually, are being fulfilled.

Role of the statutory bodies will be more advising and handholding. If it is being implemented in true spirit; the teachers will be the center of academic institutions, starting from designing curriculum, delivery and evaluation system. This may bring a lot of new content into the framework of academics, relevant to the regional and national development.

Autonomy of teachers will help them have freedom of thought and achieve uniqueness in delivery – unbiased by any prescribed redundant system to the classroom – and may also help develop collaborative learning with students. Empowering teachers may give effective leadership to the HEIs for their long experience and understanding of academics.

NEP-2020 has recommended a complete restructuring of the school education system. What are your thoughts?

As per the policy of 1986, amended in 1992, present school education has been functioning with 10+2 system with enrolment of children in the age group of 6-18 years. As per the recommendation of the NEP2020, it will be shifted to 15 years of learning (5+3+3+4) that includes foundational stage (3-8 years), preparatory stage (8-11 years), middle stage (11-14 years), and secondary level (14-18 years).

A child will be enrolled at the age of three as it can ensure proper childhood care and growth for millions of children. There are possibilities that this restructuring will help to use education as a social tool for growth and development by inculcating habits of learning from an early stage. Importance to language skills (literacy) and analytical skills (numeracy) helps children with proper conceptualization and communication.

Learning and understanding one language helps in learning other languages. The emphasis on mother tongue-based learning will help kids stay connected to their original thoughts and express them in its originality, without any shortage of words.

India is currently facing a brain drain. Lakhs of Indian students are going abroad. What steps have been taken in the NEP to retain our talented youth and also to welcome foreign students?

The last few decades have witnessed a phenomenal rise in Indian students going abroad for higher studies. Most of them settle there and never come back. Every year, more than 750,000 students are going abroad for higher studies and spending huge sums of money. To counter this, we have taken a number of measures, including allowing foreign universities in India.

By inviting the top 100 foreign universities to set up campuses here, other Indian institutions can also have easy collaboration and can adopt world-class methodologies in teaching. Some people are criticizing the move to allow foreign universities in India, fearing that this may lead to fee hike. But there is a fee regulator body under the new provision.

Besides, we have specifically launched the ‘Stay in India’ program, under which we encourage Indian students to stay back home. Further, scholars from foreign countries are being invited to top Indian schools. We have excellent teachers and by creating world-class infrastructure, we can make India a preferred destination for international students.

When COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, India did not have the required infrastructure. How did we strengthen our digital infrastructure for elementary and higher education? Was the pandemic an opportunity for us?

I strongly believe that with determination and dedication, any crisis could be turned into an opportunity.

The unprecedented disruption caused by the Coronavirus outbreak had set off an accelerated move toward online teaching. Fortunately for us, digital learning tools and technology helped us fill the gaps where traditional classroom teaching falls behind. Digitization in the education industry has changed not only the learning but also the teaching process to a great extent.

More emphasis was laid on online resources, platforms, bandwidth and availability of technological solutions rather than physical spaces. We realized that these facilities are dynamic and will evolve with the changing times. We do understand that the future of learning lies in ‘Blended Learning’ We have invited suggestions through ‘Bharat Padhe Online’ campaign for e-learning.

At the school level, through ‘Operation Digital Board’, we aim to strengthen the existing infrastructure of our schools. Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA), e-Pathshala, National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER), Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds (SWAYAM) and other e-platforms are providing quality and engaging digital resource materials to teachers, students and parents, which are relevant to the prescribed school curriculum.

A lot of online resources were made available on SWAYAM, National Program on Technology Enhanced Learning (NPTEL), e-PG Pathshala, e-Yantra, e-ShodhSindhu, Free/Libre and Open Source Software for Education (FOSSEE) and other e-learning platforms. We made dedicated efforts towards further supplementing these resources. We made several efforts to develop quality Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) for SWAYAM. ‘Operation Digital Board’ program was to increase the setting-up of digital classrooms.

Digital/smart board was provided in all government and government-aided schools having secondary and senior secondary classes. This addressed the problems of bandwidth and connectivity. To address the digital divide, the Human Resource Development Ministry tied up with the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to air SWAYAM PRABHA channels on their DTH platform Tata Sky and Airtel DTH operators, DD-DTH, Dish TV and Jio TV App.

SWAYAM PRABHA with its 32 DTH channels covers new content every day for at least four hours, which would be repeated five times in a day, allowing the students to choose the time of their convenience.

There has been a considerable change in the research environment in the country. Your big focus is on promoting research and development in our institutions. What specific steps have you taken for it?

We are dedicated to developing a world-class research infrastructure. The ministry has been promoting research through schemes such as Prime Minister’s  Research Fellows (PMRF), Scheme for Promotion of Academic and Research Collaboration (SPARC), Impacting Research Innovation and Technology (IMPRINT), Strengthening TeachingLearning and Results for States (STARS), Impactful Policy Research in Social Sciences (IMPRESS) and Scheme for Trans-Disciplinary Research for India’s Developing Economy (STRIDE).

PMRF is a vision of development through innovation. The institutes which can offer PMRF include all the IITs, all the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs), IISc Bengaluru and some of the top central universities/NITs that offer science and/or technology degrees. STARS is dedicated to accelerating inter-disciplinary and transformative research in science.

IMPRESS, a scheme to support the social science research, is to address the major science and engineering challenges. SPARC facilitates academic and research collaborations between category-wise top-100 (NIRF) Indian Institutions and the best institutions in the world from 28 selected nations to jointly solve problems of national and international relevance. STRIDE supports research projects to accomplish SDGs with focus on interdisciplinary research.

Last year, you have created several new institutions, including Sanskrit universities. What initiatives have you taken for the promotion of Sanskrit and other Indian languages?

We have created three central universities namely, Rashtriya Sanskrit Sansthan (RSKS), Delhi, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha (now university), New Delhi, and Rashtriya Sanskrit Vidyapeetha (RSV), Tirupati. Two new central universities in Andhra Pradesh have been established, namely: Central University of Andhra Pradesh and Central Tribal University of Andhra Pradesh.

Further, the Central Institute of Classical Telugu has been shifted from Mysuru (Karnataka) to Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh and is being strengthened. We are working on various programs for the development of foreign language institutions, Urdu universities, the Urdu Council and the Sindhi Council.

A lot of focus is being laid on the recruitment of language teachers. We are dedicated to the development of high-quality learning in vernacular languages by encouraging research in vernacular languages. SWAYAM offers 100 courses in 8 regional languages – Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu. You will be happy to know that we have an option that students can study MBBS and engineering courses in Hindi. Initially, only some states are doing it, but l am sure that other states will also offer these courses.

We have worked hard on National Digital Library (NDL), which is a repository of e-content on multiple disciplines. We also believe that primary education offered in mother tongue can be very beneficial. Efforts are underway to encourage primary-level learning in the mother tongue, as it has been scientifically proven that imparting instructions in the mother tongue is really helpful. Efforts are underway to strengthen our regional languages, including Hindi and Sanskrit.

What steps have you taken for improving teaching in our institutions?

Our former President Ram Nath Kovind Ji said, “The NEP spells a long-term vision with a far-reaching impact. It will strengthen the culture of ‘inclusion’, ‘innovation’ and ‘institution’, in the sphere of education.” Honestly speaking, most of the strategies are good but the real challenge is implementation. The huge task of implementing this policy lies with our teachers.

There are several schemes under the Ministry of Education to improve skills of our teachers, such as Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT) which addresses current and urgent issues of supply of qualified teachers, attracting talent into the teaching profession and raising the quality of teaching in schools and colleges.

Leadership for Academicians Program (LEAP) prepares academic heads who are potentially likely to assume leadership roles in the future. Candidates were shortlisted and selected as per determined criterion in the first round. Annual Refresher Program in Teaching (ARPIT) is an online professional development of 15 lakh higher education faculties using the MOOCs platform. Lakhs of students have been receiving benefits from SWAYAM.

Besides, the National Initiative for Technical Teachers Training (NITTT) is a comprehensive training policy for technical teachers by the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Under National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement (NISHTHA), we will be training 42 lakh schoolteachers to make them strategically competitive.

It will be for the first time that teachers will be given the right to participate in setting school goals and policies in the long run. The critical aspect of teacher autonomy is deemed to empower teachers and motivate them to perform better. The NEP will also work to build vibrant teacher communities for better networking and reducing isolation among teachers, helping them to create institutions that are competitive strategically.

How do you want to lay the foundation for the all-round development of students through the NEP?

Education is not intended to be an in-depth study of only a few books, nor its aim is limited to earning a good livelihood, but the basic aim is to be able to serve the society, country and the world at large by acquiring the capabilities possible for a human and refine them to their best standards.

The development of moral qualities in youth is also very important, because without morality, the creation of any ideal society seems to be a farce. Today, our young generation lacks some basic human qualities like humility, honesty, respect for elders, courtesy, sense of service, tolerance, sacrifice, etc. Customs- and valuesbased education in the school environment provides help in the development of these qualities and making life better.

The development of positive social trends is also an important component of a person & individual values. Many incidents happen in the society on a daily basis and if a person is in despair every moment, then their life will become difficult. In addition, through valuesbased education, the younger generation can be made aware of the evils prevailing in the society. They can raise their voice against the dowry system, corruption, terror, hooliganism and red tape. The syllabus prevalent in schools is filled with technical data, which contains facts, figures, rules, laws, etc.

There is no scope for the youth to take part in the subtle things of life. But in the midst of all these struggles, it is also necessary to pay attention to the remaining aspects of life, in which the role of school and teachers is incomparable.

Could you give us an update on the implementation of NEP-2020?

Efforts are underway to encourage multilingualism in education and tests to ensure that lack of knowledge of English does not impede the educational attainment of any student. With this objective, states are publishing bilingual/trilingual textbooks at the foundational level and content on DIKSHA platform which are also made available in 33 Indian languages. The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) has introduced Indian Sign Language (ISL) as a language subject at the secondary level.

The National Testing Agency has conducted the JEE exam in 13 languages. AICTE has developed an AI-based translation App and study material is being translated into Indian languages. Technical Book Writing scheme is being carried in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. Engineering courses are being offered in six Indian Languages in 19 engineering colleges across 10 states from 2021-22. Provision of additional 30/60 supernumerary seats in regional languages and up to 50% of sanctioned intake in regional languages has been made by AICTE.

Indian Knowledge System is being promoted as per recommendations of NEP2020. An Indian Knowledge System (IKS) cell has been established in AICTE and 13 IKS centers have opened across the country.

Does the education ministry have any plan for students with special learning needs?

Certainly. The ministry has constantly been working towards promoting a culture of technology, innovation and research. Several students with learning disabilities require special interventions and can’t be homeschooled or taught online.

There is a need for inclusive e-learning modes for children with disabilities. The Directorate of Education (DoE) issued guidelines to all government schools in a bid to develop a home-based intervention plan for children with disabilities. We are working towards ensuring an easy transition for children with special needs when it comes to learning. I believe that every child is entitled to equal learning opportunities.

International collaborations are very important for making a student ready for global competition. What are the steps the government taking on this front?

With the crisis (Ukraine war) looming over our heads, the students who were initially looking to enroll in universities abroad were left in a quandary. We took several measures to ensure they get world-class education in India itself. Students from Indian institutes hold various leadership positions in some of the top corporations globally and that validates the quality of the Indian education system.

Initiatives like SPARC facilitated academic and research collaborations between NIRF’s top 100 Indian institutions and the best institutions from 28 selected nations to jointly solve problems of national and international relevance. This was to ensure visits and long-term stays of top international faculty/researchers in Indian institutions to pursue teaching and research.

We are trying to raise our teaching and research standard bar through Global Initiative of Academic Networks (GIAN) and GIAN-plus. Under these schemes, we have encouraged foreign professors to travel to India and take courses. Similarly, a mechanism has been devised, so that our teachers visit prestigious institutions abroad forging new collaborative relationships.

Topmost schools across the globe will be setting up campuses in India. The UGC had announced the draft regulations to make it easier for foreign universities and educational institutions to open campuses in the country. These regulations include a 90-day clearance process and provide the institutions autonomy in setting their own rates.

How do you see your arduous journey from a far-flung village in Garhwal Himalayas to being India’s education minister? How did you come to join politics?

I was born in Pinani village in Pauri Garhwal district of Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarakhand. I received my primary education at a school in my village, high school from Government Inter College, Damdeval, Pauri Garhwal, which was eight kilometers away from my village.

I started my career as a schoolteacher. I have also been a journalist. I was fortunate that our former PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee Ji, was close to me. He was a constant source of inspiration for me. Every time we met, he used to ask about my latest book. In fact, it was Atal Ji who persuaded me to join politics. Thanks to the Almighty, I have been able to win love and support of my electorates. I have fought elections from Badrinath to Haridwar. I became cabinet minister in Uttar Pradesh twice. I was a cabinet minister in Uttarakhand and then became the Chief Minister of the state. In the last term, I represented Haridwar Lok Sabha constituency and was nominated as the chairperson of the Parliamentary Assurances Committee. I feel I am a soldier of my party. Whatever task is assigned to me, I try my best to accomplish it in the best possible way.

You are unique combination of politics and literary skills? How have you managed to write so many books given your busy schedule?

I consider myself blessed that my books have been received well by readers across the country. My first collection of poems, Samarpan, was published in 1983 and after that around 75 books have been published by various publications worldwide. There are over 25 research projects (Ph.D. and D.Litt.) on my literature, many M.Phil. dissertation and Ph.D., D.Litt. thesis have been submitted by many scholars on Nishank’s literature in major universities including Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University (Uttarakhand), Kumaun University (Nainital, Uttarakhand), Sagar University (Madhya Pradesh), Rohilkhand University (Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh), Madras University (Chennai), Kurukshetra University (Haryana), Hamburg University (Germany), Lucknow University and Chaudhary Charan Singh University (Meerut, Uttar Pradesh).

Through my literary works, I have been able to connect with the common people. My books have been translated into various languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Oriya, Gujarati, Urdu, Marathi, and several other Indian languages. Besides, my books have also been translated into several foreign languages, including Russian, Spanish, Nepali, German, Spanish, Creole, along with English.

You are the father to three daughters. You have initiated several schemes for the benefit of girl students. What fields have your daughters chosen?

I have always valued our daughters more. They are very sensitive and dedicated. It is extremely important that we, as parents, show positive, unconditional love to our daughters so that they can grow to be healthy, highly functioning adult. My concern and sentiments for daughters are evident in my working style.

I am happy to share that the NEP-2020 envisages equitable and inclusive education for all, with special focus on children and youth, especially girls, from socially and economically disadvantaged groups. Here I want to add that policy’s focus is important because despite effort to educate women, the dropout rate for girls is still high after secondary education. I consider myself fortunate to take various steps for the betterment of our daughters.

My eldest daughter Arushi is into films. She is an actor and producer. My second daughter is a doctor in the Indian Army and my third one is a lawyer. I am extremely proud of them.

Any message for the students?

I want to tell all youngsters that hard work, patience, and total commitment are the key to success. There are no shortcuts in life. We must make the best use of time and other resources allotted to us. Values are very important in our lives. If we do not follow a value-based life, things will get difficult for us. Honesty, humility, sensitivity, and dedication are some of the traits required to move ahead in life.

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