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Free DTH Channel, e-Syllabus Calendar, Task Force: HRD Minister Nishank on Dealing with Covid-19 Education Challenge

By: Sumit Pande


Last Updated: April 30, 2020, 10:29 IST

File photo of HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank

File photo of HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank

In an interview to News18, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank said government is trying to use both digital and non-digital mechanism to transact the curriculum even as he appealed to companies and recruiters not to withdraw any job offers already extended to the students.

To tide over the challenges posed by the Covid-19, the Union Human Resource Development Ministry has decided to open a separate division in the ministry on online education as the government prepares to get through the digital divide. In an interview to Sumit Pande, HRD Minister Ramesh Pokhariyal Nishank said government is trying use both digital and non-digital mechanism to transact the curriculum even as he appealed to companies and recruiters not to withdraw any job offers already extended to the students.

Covid-19 has disrupted the academic session like never before. How is the government using Information and Technology to communicate with students?

The Honorable Prime Minister in his LinkedIn article has categorically said, “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.”

The Government of India has also undertaken efforts such as the DIKSHA 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 the teachers and accelerate the process of learning, the Ministry of Human Resource Development has been encouraging the use of DIKSHA (Digital Infrastructure Knowledge Sharing) platform. This platform has engaging content for the students, teachers, and parents to facilitate the process of learning at the times of social distancing and nationwide lockdown.

Simultaneously, teachers training is being conducted through for the up skilling of teachers towards the usage of e-learning resource under the Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching (PMMMNMTT)

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. The learning platforms includes DIKSHA, NISHTHA, NREOR, SWAYAM, SWAYAM Prabha, NROER, – PG Pathshala, Shodhganga, E-Shodhsindhu, E-Yantra, FOSSE, Virtual Labs, SAMARTH, VIDWAN, Shodh Sudhi among others.

Definitely, MHRD is presently and will be putting in more efforts to strengthen the future of e – learning in India to make it more immersive and hopefully more constructive to the teacher and student community than it is today. The higher education institutes will be made for strategic competitive to foster constant innovation and become more resilient.

Those who do not have access to digital affordances may stand to loose out as they will not have access to online classes. How is your ministry trying to reconcile to the problem?

The Honorable Prime Minister of India has desired that we should “evaluate what might be the new opportunities/growth areas that would emerge because of Covid-19”. Keeping this view 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 National Coordinators of Swayam and Swayam Prabha. I have taken four meetings till now on improving online education. One of the crucial outcomes of the meetings is that for the first time we are creating a dedicated division for online learning in MHRD, which is going to be headed by an Additional Secretary. Officers will be called on deputation to work in this division who will work exclusively on online education.

To address the digital divide, MHRD has tied up with Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to air SWAYAM PRABHA channels on the DTH platforms.

Now a student anywhere in India can request, 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 arisen due to unfortunate outbreak of Covid-19.

We are also trying to explore the option of All India Radio, Doordarshan and 2G network to transmit the curriculum to students.

Further, NCERT has released Alternative Academic Calendar for primary and upper classes. Calendar for class IX-XII will be released in the upcoming days. The calendar contains a week-wise plan consisting of interesting and challenging activities, with reference to theme/chapter taken from syllabus or textbook. It adopts both digital and non-digital mechanism to transact the curriculum. It guides teachers to further guide parents and students through SMS on mobile phones or through voice call.

An important component of the mid-day meal is to provide nutrition to the children especially at a time when many being rendered jobless, and migrants returning home. Are the schools serving food to the children during lockdown, if not, can the MDM be started to feed at least the poor and the destitute?

Ministry of Human Resource Development has issued a directive wherein it is stated that since the country is passing through the difficult times of novel coronavirus outbreak, the state governments and Union territories are advised to provide hot cooked Mid-Day meal or food security allowance, whichever is feasible, to all eligible children till such time their schools are closed due to the deadly virus. The modalities for this purpose may be decided by the respective States and UTs, suitable to the prevailing circumstances'. All the precautionary measures to face the situation arising out of Novel Covid-I9 (Corona) virus, as advised by the Central and State Governments shall be followed. The regular Mid-Day Meal shall resume as soon as the schools re-open.

The implementation of the directive is also being monitored by the Ministry.

The lockdown and recession may impact the job market especially those who join the workforce after completing education both professional and otherwise. How do you think this can be tackled?

I have appealed to all private companies, both domestic and international, who have extended offers to the students during campus placement drives held earlier in the year. The government is working on limiting the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the economy and also to ensure that the effect doesn’t last for a long time. Therefore, I make humble request to all the recruiters and organizations to align their strategy accordingly and not withdraw any job offers made to the students. The students recruited are among the best talent of the country and thereby cannot be despaired.

I have also held a meeting with directors of all 23 IITs directing them to ensure that campus placements are not affected due to the situation. All IITs' Placement Committee (AIPC) have also reached out to different recruiters, requesting them not to rescind placement offers made for the academic year 2019-20. Also, a task force is set up in MHRD to look into the placement and internship issues.

What are the main recommendations of the committee that government has set up for holding exams which may be delayed due to Covid. And how is government planning to implement it.

The taskforce on examination and academic calendar in higher education has submitted the reports to UGC. The reports will be discussed in the UGC Commission meeting. Based on the decision of the commission, UGC will issue guidelines/ advisories in the upcoming days, to the universities and colleges. Given the range of outbreak of pandemic in different regions/states, we cannot follow ‘one–size fits all’ approach, everything will depend on the local Covid-19 situation.

The detailed guidelines will be issued in the next few days regarding the measures to be taken for the current academic session as well as next academic session in the larger interest of the student community.

What are the major lessons India can learn from the global pandemic, especially in the field of education? The recommendations new education policy has been pending with the government for almost a year now.

More than 35 crore students and 1.08 crore teachers across 1,028 universities, 41,901 colleges and 10,726 stand-alone institutes and 15,50,006 schools, are unable to attend the classes due to nationwide closure of the education institutes as India prepares to fight against the pandemic. In this difficult times, we have to trust in education’s power to transform; the zeal to learn cannot be bounded by the presence of four walls of the classroom.

At the same time, it has evoked the need for taking in necessary precautions to protect students and educational facilities from the potential spread of pandemic in education institute be it, Covid-19 or any other pandemic in future.

We realize the importance of formation of National Level (NEdTask) and State Level (SEdTask) Education Task Force(s) followed by District and institution level taskforces which will be trained and empowered to build a resilient environment of schools. The national level and state level task force(s) will initiate policies for the functioning of schools both at the time of pandemic and also immediately after the pandemic.

The taskforce will also take imperative decisions and guidelines regarding admission processes, conduction of examination, academic calendar, safety and security of physical infrastructure of schools and higher education. The Task Forces will work at all levels during lockdown and closure of schools and after reopening of schools, until the declaration of pandemic is withdrawn by WHO.

The transformation will reflect not only as a measure to combat Covid-19, but will also act as a strategic move for the planning of future education in India.

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

first published:April 30, 2020, 07:58 IST
last updated:April 30, 2020, 10:29 IST
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