The Human Resource Development Ministry plans to minimise the disruptive impact of the pandemic

As the Covid-19 crisis threatens to disrupt the academic calendar and delay competitive and entrance examinations, it has led to an environment of uncertainty among students, teachers and parents. In an exclusive interview to Senior Editor Kaushik Deka, the Union minister for human resource development, Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, spoke on how his ministry plans to minimise the disruptive impact of the pandemic while ensuring the safety of all stakeholders, including teachers and students. Excerpts:

Q. Students have lost valuable academic time because of Covid-19. Does the HRD ministry have any plan or guidelines for states to help students make up for lost time?

A. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an unprecedented public health emergency resulting in the closure of schools and higher education institutes. Examinations and the starting of the academic session have been delayed. The HRD ministry is working vigorously to ensure the pandemic does not affect the learning of our students. We are in conversation with various stakeholders--the CBSE and other boards, NTA and agencies involved in logistics--so that we can soon announce dates for the examinations once the lockdown is lifted. We have also set up a task force to deliberate on the academic calendar and examinations. The task force is likely to submit its report soon. We will issue guidelines based on the report. I assure you guidelines will be issued in the best interest of students. I would like to state here that the safety of our students and teachers is my top priority and this will be factored in all decision-making process. Till then, I encourage students to continue their learning by using the plethora of elearning platforms of MHRD. Students can get online coaching for IIT entrance exams, access lectures on physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology on the official website of the National Testing Agency (NTA). For preparing for other entrance exams, the SWAYAM PRABHA DTH channel, IIT PAL, is very helpful. This is the highest subscribed channel of SWAYAM PRABHA. There have been 2,900,000 views of this channel in YouTube in the past three months.

Q. You have said competitive entrance examinations such as JEE and NEET are likely to be held in June. Has the ministry prepared any guideline for maintaining social distancing and other precautionary measures?

A. The HRD ministry is strictly following the advisory issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. The examinations are postponed till further orders. We will be announcing the dates soon. We have set up a task force to deliberate on the possibility of holding online examinations for universities. Further, during the conduct of face-to-face examinations, it will be ensured that social distancing norms are followed. I have instructed the NTA director-general to consult various stakeholders, such as state governments and boards, and submit a calendar soon for various examinations.

Q. Will the summer break be used to compensate for the lost time?

A. Education being a concurrent subject, the setting of an academic calendar for schools in various states depends on the locally prevalent conditions. I have spoken to ministers of almost 20 states and assured them of any help MHRD can provide in tiding over the crisis. As of now, the MHRD has not recommended early declaration of the summer vacations to coincide with the lockdown period. We believe that the safety of the students is our main concern. MHRD has set up a task force in CBSE and NCERT to deliberate on the academic calendar. Recently, I have released the Alternative Academic Calendar prepared by NCERT for the primary and upper primary stages. Very soon, the academic calendar of all the remaining classes will be released and subject areas will be covered under this calendar. This calendar will cater to the need of all children, including Divyang children. The calendar aims to engage students meaningfully during their stay at home due to COVID-19 through educational activities at home with the help of their parents and teachers. It contains a week-wise plan consisting of interesting and challenging activities, with reference to themes/chapters from the syllabus or textbooks. Most importantly, it maps the themes with the learning outcomes.

Q. As parts of the 10+2 examination are stuck, will you ask colleges to delay the admission process?

A. We have also set up a task force in UGC to deliberate on the admissions, academic calendar and examinations. We will be issuing guidelines based on the report.

Q. Will there be any special provision for Class 12 students as they will have less classroom time to prepare for board examinations?

A. As a response to the COVID-19 lockdown, CBSE will assess the loss of instructional time for proportionate reduction in curriculum load for Board Exams 2021. Accordingly, course committees of the board have initiated work on reduced syllabus in various scenarios. For students writing this year’s board examinations, I have directed the CBSE to conduct examinations only in 29 main subjects instead of 83. We will be informing the dates of the examinations 10 days in advance so that students get ample time to prepare. To empower students, teachers, school principals and parents have to find positive ways to deal with COVID-19 using online teaching-learning resources while also improving their learning outcomes while getting education at home.

Q. Several educational institutes, including universities, colleges and schools, have started online classes. However, internet penetration is still not universal in the country. How is the ministry planning to help those students who have no access to the internet?

A. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has expressed the desire that we “evaluate what might be the new opportunities/ growth areas that would emerge because of COVID-19”. Keeping this in mind, I have personally chaired four meetings on online education till now. Meetings were held with directors of IITs, vice-chancellors of central universities and the national coordinators of Swayam and Swayamprabha. One of the crucial outcomes of the meetings is that, for the first time, we are creating a dedicated division for online learning in the MHRD, which is going to be headed by an additional secretary. Officers will be called on deputation to work in this division and will work exclusively on online education. To address the digital divide, MHRD has tied up with the ministry of information & broadcasting to air SWAYAM PRABHA channels on the DTH platforms of Tata Sky and Airtel. Earlier, SWAYAM PRABHA channels were available on DD-DTH, Dish TV and the Jio TV app. SWAYAM PRABHA is a group of 32 DTH channels providing high-quality course content, covering diverse disciplines such as the arts, sciences, commerce, performing arts, social sciences and humanities, engineering, technology, law, medicine and agriculture. Now, a student anywhere in India can request the DTH service provider for these channels without any extra cost as these are free-to-air channels to continue their education and learning even sitting at home in this difficult situation arising due to the unfortunate outbreak of COVID-19. We are also trying to explore the option of All India Radio transmitting the curriculum to students.

Q. Online classrooms and courses could soon be a necessity rather than an option. Has the HRD ministry prepared norms and guidelines for universal online classrooms and courses? Is there any plan to prepare and train teachers for online teaching?

A. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in one of his articles, has written, “After all, the most transformational impact of technology often happens in the lives of the poor. It is technology that demolishes bureaucratic hierarchies, eliminates middlemen and accelerates welfare measures.” To support his observation, he has taken the example of the education sector. He elaborates: “There are many outstanding professionals already innovating in this sector. Invigorating technology in this sector has its benefits. The Government of India has also undertaken efforts such as the DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure Knowledge Sharing) portal to help teachers and boost e-learning. There is SWAYAM, aimed at improving access, equity and quality of education. E-Pathshala, which is available in many languages, enables access to various e-books and such learning material.” To support teachers and accelerate the process of learning, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has been encouraging the use of the DIKSHA platform. This platform has engaging content for the students, teachers, and parents to facilitate the process of learning in the time of social distancing and a nationwide lockdown. Simultaneously, teachers’ training is being conducted for the upskilling of teachers in the use of elearning resources under the Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching. The country is witnessing a greater acceptance of online education as a large number of students and working professionals are joining e-learning platforms to enhance their skills. For higher education institutes too, there are several e-learning platforms. The MHRD will be putting in more effort to strengthen the future of elearning in India to make it more immersive and constructive for teachers and students.

Q. Has there been a surge in student interest in MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) such as SWAYAM?

A. Before the lockdown, the courses of SWAYAM (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) were time-bound for which registration was needed in advance. To help students utilise the lockdown period productively and to promote online learning, SWAYAM courses now can be viewed by any learner free of cost without any registration. This has led to growth in SWAYAM viewership. Within one week of lockdown, the access to SWAYAM and other Digital Initiatives had tripled.

Q. Will Covid-19 further delay the launch of the New Education Policy?

A. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is coherently working at a faster pace on the New Education Policy. We will be submitting it to the Cabinet soon.

Courtesy: India Today

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