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'Making education a fundamental right is a top priority'

Jun 25, 2009

India’s Human Resource and Development minister Kapil Sibal, in an interview with Economic Times, discusses his plans to give a facelift to the country’s education sector. He outlines his plans for elementary, secondary and vocational education and the need to regulate private players to ensure quality.

New Delhi: Human Resource and Development minister Kapil Sibal wants to bring in sweeping reforms in the education sector, focus on areas that have till now received little attention and enter into an era of partnership with the private sector as well. In this interview with Economic Times, he discusses his future plans.

Excerpts from the interview:

ET: You have been talking about changes in the education system. In the elementary education segment the issue is about quality. How do you propose to raise the level?

KS: Our focus in elementary education should be on teacher’s training and improving infrastructure. We need to change norms for schools. Urban areas should have different norms than rural areas given the land issue. We have had many players setting up schools just to get the land, that has to stop. These will be focus areas for the government.

When it comes to the private sector, we will need to set up an institutional mechanism to assess quality. This would include setting up entry barriers so that only quality schools remain. Private players with proven track record in education and financial track record who will ensure a good student-teacher ratio will be allowed. At present, I am concentrating on the Right to Education, I would like to see it through in this session of Parliament.

ET: What about learning outcomes, these are rather low across the board whether private or government schools?

KS: We have to ensure an independent evaluation mechanism. This mechanism has to be set up independent of the government. This could be in the form of a council.

ET: Secondary education has largely been a neglected segment. What are your plans for the segment?

KS: Our greatest drop out rates take place in the transition from upper primary to secondary. This must be arrested, if we want to increase the gross enrollment ratio at the tertiary level. The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan will be launched on a mission mode, like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan was. This will be part of the 100-day effort. We will need to go to Cabinet once again for allocations for the mission, which will focus on the secondary segment.

ET: You have been stressing on vocational education. What are your plans to improve vocational education? Do you plan to set up a committee to look into vocational education?

KS: We need to revamp vocational education, make it up to date. It should be possible for students to move from class XII to polytechnics. Vocational education is an important component, because not every child who goes to school ends up doing research or pursue academics, a lot of children become entrepreneurs. As the economy expands there will be a large demand for skills as well. Students need to be given choices, for that vocational education needs to stand on its feet.

There will be no more committees; the time for committees is over. The people of this country, the students will not wait for another four years for a committee. We will work out something to revive and revamp vocational education.

ET: What about increased private investment in education?

KS: We should allow private players. Once they fulfill the criteria, that is the entry requirements, they should have full freedom. There should be different models of private involvement—PPP, private management, charitable trusts. We could consider private players using the physical infrastructure of existing government and municipal schools.

ET: What about allowing private players to take out profit from the institutions?

KS: If you start prohibiting people, they will find underhand ways. We could consider an amendment that allows private investors to take profit from one education institution and invest it in another. At present that is not allowed, they have to plough back the profit into the same institution.

ET: Are you considering introducing school vouchers?

KS: This is something that needs elaborate discussion. However, I don’t think there are enough quality schools to support this kind of a scheme.

ET: Higher education is an area where you are considering major reforms. What are your plans for a single regulatory body and other reforms suggested by the Yashpal Committee and the National Knowledge Commission?

KS: We plan to move forward on higher education reforms and it is part of the ministry’s top priority. We are still working on it.

ET: Do you plan to allow Indian universities to set up campuses abroad as suggested by the Planning Commission?

KS: This is not part of my immediate priority. I want to focus on school education, higher education, allowing foreign education providers in the country, and Indian universities setting up campuses abroad comes fourth on my list. I can tell you this, that I am serious about the foreign education providers Bill. We need to get Cabinet approval for the Bill.

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