Wednesday, May 5, 2010

INTERVIEW WITH KAPIL SIBAL/SEEDHI BAAT

Union Minister for Human Resource Development Kapil Sibal speaks about education reforms being pursued by the UPA Government, the recent Cobalt-60 disaster, the slew of bills to be introduced in Parliament and their impact, and the challenges that lie ahead. Excerpts:

Q. You are the first education minister who doesn't pursue a political agenda, but an agenda of reforms. But deliverance is not as much as much it should have been?

A. I think whatever has been achieved so far is our agenda and it needs to be carried forward. I don't think it could have been more rapid.

Q. So far, this good work is only on paper. Are there problems in implementation?

A. Yes, implementation is difficult as long as laws are pending, order is not established and the environment is not conducive. We have created the necessary environment, implemented certain things instantly, for example doing away with Class X board examinations. We have passed the Right to Education Bill, but to implement it, everyone will have to come along.
Q. Problems appear unexpectedly as you proceed ahead. For example, had you even thought that Cobalt-60 would be traced to Delhi University?

A. As far as Cobalt-60 is concerned, we have given autonomy to our universities. The Government doesn't ask them about stray radioactive materials. The universities will have to look after the security aspects themselves. Now, since this tragedy has taken place, we have asked the University Grants Commission (UGC) to frame guidelines. The measures suggested by the UGC shall be binding on all the universities. This tragedy was caused by Cobalt-60; someday something else might cause similar tragedy. Universities are flush with money, researches are undertaken and several types of chemicals are bought by them. Secondly, we are also inquiring about different rules being followed by different ministries. I think every thing will be in order in few months.
Q. Were you aware that the university had auctioned the machine on its own and has now put it in a room under lock?

A. This is a very serious matter. There are certain rules associated with nuclear energy and they should have known it. It should not have been kept in a room. It should have been buried underground. The vice-chancellor has started an inquiry; we shall take stringent action as soon as the report is out. Q. What is your take on Mayawati's announcement to accept 45 instead of 50 per cent marks as the minimum eligibility to sit for the B.Ed. entrance test?

A. This is a matter of grave concern. If we are to take education to a higher plateau, the standards will have to be followed very strictly. Once we have said that 50 per cent marks are required to appear in the B.Ed. entrance test, it is not fair that some states reduce the qualifying marks to 45 per cent. This must be annulled. Those who get their degrees would not get good jobs, and even if they do, the jobs will be negated in the courts.
Q. There should have been one common entrance test, isn't it? Or each state takes a separate test?

A. Each state takes a separate test, but national standards apply to all of them. A similar situation had emerged in West Bengal few years ago; they too had done quite a lot of staffing in the same manner. Those recruitments are a problem now. But total solution has not yet been achieved. If the same is repeated in Uttar Pradesh, it will lead to a big conundrum. Mayawati's announcement doesn't conform to the law.
Q. Education is in the Concurrent List and so both the Central and the state governments can take a decision. Can there be dispute over it?

A. No, disputes don't generally occur. For example, since the Right to Education Bill has been passed by Parliament, it will supersede the state laws. In case of any dispute, the central act will be binding.
Q. People say that though the Right to Education seems very brawny on paper, there will be problems in its implementation.

A. It is not possible to put the onus of ground implementation on the Central government. The state, guardians and panchayats too have an important role in it. They will have to fulfill their social responsibilities. This bill requires every school to provide basic infrastructure, or else face closure. We have taken strong measures to see that the bill is implemented.
Q. Education still doesn't have the status of industry in India. Shouldn't it get it now? Do the governments, the state and the Central, have some role in deciding the fee structure in educational institutes?

A. Education should be granted the status of industry. The Central Government doesn't decide on the fee, the state government does it. This structure has to be changed. Wait for three-four months to see how it happens.
Q. You are bringing foreign universities to India for better education, but people are still opposing you and that too when so many Indian students go abroad for higher education.
A. We have to change it. Now foreign people will have to be brought to India and this would be possible only when we can provide education of international standard here. We are going to present four bills in Parliament to this effect which will be consequently referred to the standing committee. We are planning to introduce the Education Tribunal Bill and the Educational Misconduct Bill. We will also establish a national certification authority to check poor quality institutes. The fourth bill is related to the foreign education, the Foreign Educational Institutions (regulation of entry and operations) Bill.
Q. Education in India has had a leftist leaning. Why is it so?

A. We have changed it all. We want the mode of appointment of the vice-chancellor to be changed, with no interference from the government. The government would not interfere even in the certifying committee and agency. I promise the people of India that education of high standards shall be made available to them. New central universities and IITs are coming up.
Q. Like others, you also seem to be depending a lot on star power. Or else why did you appoint Aamir Khan as the brand ambassador for sanitation to promote cleanliness schools?

A. We wanted an inspiring leader to be the brand ambassador so we decided on Aamir.
Five sharp questions:
Q. Would you forcefully enforce a 25 per cent quota within the Right to Education Bill?
A. Sure, we will.
Q. Would you allow people with 45 per cent marks to appear in the B.Ed. entrance test like Mayawati has suggested?
A. No, we would not.
Q. Would you advise Indian students to not to go to Australia?
A. No, because the Australian government is also changing the system.
Q. A change which you dream to bring?
A. To raise the gross enrolment ratio to 30 per cent from the present 12.4 per cent by 2020.

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