BY GANESH BHATT
New Delhi, April 24 (IANS) With the nationwide lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic disrupting ongoing Board examinations for Class 10 and 12 and the new academic sessions in colleges and universities likely to be delayed, students across the country are faced with various issues regarding their studies.
IANS talked to Union Human Resource Development Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal 'Nishank' on a wide range of issues. Excerpts:
Question: The coronavirus scare is a big problem. Do you think students have been affected the most? How has shutdown of schools and disruption of studies affected students across the country?
Answer: Coronavirus not only affected the students in schools and colleges but the entire country. Schools and colleges had to be shut, coaching classes stopped and examinations postponed as remaining indoors was the biggest factor in saving ourselves from the coronavirus pandemic. That is why the HRD Ministry had to order shutdown of schools and colleges. We have urged both the students and teachers to follow the lockdown with patience. I am happy that around 33 crore students and one crore teachers across India have followed government orders.
In order to compensate the students for the disruption of teaching, the HRD Ministry has encouraged online coaching. Many institutions have started online classes and the Central government is committed to encourage the trend in the coming times.
Q: How are schoolchildren being compensated for disruption in studies?
A: We have tried to strengthen various HRD Ministry initiatives like DIKSHA or Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing for digital learning in association with the National Council for Teacher Education. There is also the National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER) which gives students the exposure to e-libraries, e-books, e-courses, chance to participate in online events, and theme-based education.
Another initiative is Swayam Prabha, a group of 32 DTH channels devoted to telecasting high-quality educational programmes on 24X7 basis using the GSAT-15 satellite.
The Ministry's directive to educational institutions to start online classes has already been implemented. The government had received around 10,000 suggestions under the online 'Bharat Padhe' campaign. The HRD Ministry will some come up with orders in this regard.
After the lockdown since March 24 midnight, as many as 33,18,532 and 18,88,855 hits and page views have been recorded for e-Pathshala and DIKSHA respectively.
On April 16, I released an alternative academic calendar prepared by the NCERT for primary classes. A similar calendar has been issued for middle classes (6th to 8th).
An academic calendar for Classes 9 to 12 will be issued soon. It will also take care of students with special needs like divyangs through links to audio books, radio and video programmes.
The main aim is to engage with the help of parents and teachers all the students in productive activities amid the nationwide lockdown. This includes topics taken from curricula as well as interesting and challenging tasks in relation to study material.
Q: You had appealed to educational institutions to not increase fees and not to demand fees for three months in one go. How much impact did this have across the country?
A: Our Prime Minister had appealed for adherence to human values during these difficult times. I appealed for no increase in school fees and not to demand three-month school fees that would impact 25 crore students. I am happy that the state Education Departments are working for the benefit of both the parents and schools alike. We will go by whatever decisions are taken by state authorities.
Q: How have those pursuing higher and technical education been affected by the lockdown? What steps have been taken to ensure continuation of their studies?
A: DIKSHA portal has been helpful in helping teachers and to encourage e-learning in the country. We have e-pathshala available in different vernacular languages, which helps access to e-books and other study material. Educational institutions have been directed to rope in more and more students to e-learning.
A Task Force has been set up to study in detail the online- or e-learning and the challenges in the field. The Ministry will come up with the roadmap once the task force does its job.
Teachers have been directed to contact students, who do not have internet connections, on phones and guide them through phone calls or SMSes.
We have again issued an alternative academic calendar prepared by the NCERT.
Q: Lakhs of students live in rural, far-off, and tribal areas with no access to internet. What are the means of reaching out to and teaching these students?
A: I don't think learning is dependent on availability of Internet. The HRD Ministry has reached an agreement with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to telecast Swayam Prabha channels on Tata Sky and Airtel DTH platforms. Earlier, these channels were broadcast on Dish TV and Jio app.
Swayam Prabha's 32 DTH channels provide educators with quality teaching material in wide array of fields like arts, science, commerce, engineering, social sciences, agriculture, medicine and law etc.
We are also trying to rope in All India Radio in teaching the students.
Q: Board exams for Class 10 and 12 have been incomplete. Can you tell when the remaining exams will be held?
A: We have cancelled Class 10 and 12 examinations in view of the CBSE's worries. Now, examinations for only 29 of the 83 main curricula would be held. We will hold elaborate discussions with senior education officials on entrance exam dates, other examinations etc before deciding on the issue. The examinees will get at least 10 days before the resumption of examinations.
We, at the Ministry, are presently trying to know the ground situation regarding possibility of holding the exams and will convey the dates soon while keeping the interests of students in mind.
Q: Is there any plan to promote Class 10 and 12 students to next classes, as was done in the case of Class 8 students?
A: There is no such plan in the works. Class 10 and 12 students will go to the next class only after passing their exams.
Q: The studies of schoolchildren have been disrupted due to the lockdown. Are there plans not to go for September examinations?
A: The Ministry has set up a task force for schools under the aegis of the NCERT. It will soon submit its report on the academic calendar, curricula and other important issues. Thereafter, the HRD Ministry will issue necessary directions to schools, colleges and universities.
Also, since education is a concurrent subject, the states have their own academic calendars, including holidays, teaching hours and evaluation etc.
Q: Are teachers being imparted some specialised training for online teaching?
A: The teachers are being trained under the aegis of Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission on Teachers and Teaching. A one-month webinar is also being held from April 7 under the aegis of CIET-NCERT for the benefit of students, teachers, teachers trainers, and researchers. The webinar aims to include Education Technology and Information and Communication Technology. The webinar will include preparation and transmission of e-content, preparation of AR/VR material, use of ICT instruments and tools in teachers training and evaluation, and apps.
The Ministry is focused on strengthening e-learning.
Q: When will the admissions in universities commence?
A: Due to the nationwide lockdown, the start of academic sessions in universities will be delayed. Whenever academic sessions in colleges and universities commence, exams will be held for terminal semesters. Thereafter, admissions of new batches will be taken up, which will take around a month. The new sessions will start with admissions to graduate and postgraduate courses. However, these sessions could start for old batches after completion of examinations.
Q: What about decrease/increase in 2020-21 academic sessions in universities?
A: A committee set up under the University Grants Commission on academic calendar and examinations will file a report soon. The UGC in consultation with the MHRD will thereafter issue necessary instructions to the colleges and universities.
Q: How many students have so far been brought under the e-learning process?
Minister: It is not possible at present to hazard a guess as one student may have got himself or herself registered on multiple platforms.