Amid widespread protests against the government’s Agnipath scheme, Union education and skill development minister Dharmendra Pradhan tells TOI’s Manash Gohain that Agniveers will form a highly trained precious community for the country. Addressing the controversy over rationalisation of school syllabus, Pradhan said a curriculum should be dynamic. In his first interview as the education minister, Pradhan said that DU and Jamia Millia Islamia are doing excellent work and global rankings are not the sole indicator of quality institutions. Excerpts from the interview:

Is rationalisation of school syllabus by the NCERT an attempt at selective deletion of content which BJP is not comfortable with?

NCERT is the government’s intellectual thinktank with strong history, heritage and it has competent people. Such debate and discussions regarding the curriculum is not happening for the first time. No curriculum is static and priorities change with time.

Out of 100 indices you are speaking of five indices. But shouldn’t we today link mathematics with coding? Shouldn’t language be linked with IT and coding? Shouldn’t industrialisation 4.0 be part of the syllabus? Shouldn’t we align with global job opportunities? Due to the pandemic, not only NCERT but almost all states have reshuffled the syllabus and rationalised it based on their priority. Therefore, this should not be looked through ideological lenses.


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Was there a communication gap in sharing the benefits and advantages of the Agnipath scheme?

Before this was placed in Cabinet, the government in the last two years deliberated about this in great detail. At a certain stage the education ministry was also involved.

Unlike earlier, when armed force needed a lot of manpower, today’s warfare is technology driven. We need to make our armed forces young and committed and we need to create a big base. Agnipath is making the base big, which is why 75:25 is being envisaged after four years. Till then they will be part of armed forces. As far as exit is concerned, if they have joined at the age of 17 or 18 after completing class X, he will automatically come out as a higher secondary pass student. Also the entry-level training and on-job training of the Agniveers, can be converted to credit points like in general education. They will be mapped under credit framework and lead to degree equivalence. So a class XII pass student in these four years can come out with a degree. So when they come out they’ll have a skill certificate, adegree and a service fund.

Like in many developed countries, the “people’s army”, as stated by our home minister, will get priority and reservation in CRPF. Already states like UP, Assam, Uttarakhand and Haryana have said Agniveers will get absorbed in state forces and the corporate sector has proactively come forward with affirmative action for them. I believe we will have a highly trained precious community. Whenever a new scheme is launched it needs to be communicated in a sensitive way which the government is doing from day one. It has been announced by the defence minister and the chiefs of our forces and so there was no communication gap. There are some who are politicising it like they do every vision of our PM. We are not going to respond to those voices.

In the recent global university rankings, apart from IISc and the IIT, general universities like DU, JNU and Jamia have dropped. Your views.

It will be wrong to assess quality based only on rankings. QS is a reputed institution as well as Times (HigherEducation). They have certain parameters like international students, which probably in universities like DU is not very high. The priority and nature of Indian educational institutions are different from that of the foreign counterparts. DU is a government institution and our priority is to give quality education to Indian students in which universities like DU and Jamia are doing excellent work. IISc’s growth is not because of QS rankings. For many years now, in many such international assessments, IISc has been on the top in international citations.

Private universities have been a big draw as has been seen from the CUET application trend?

For the government, all universities are the same. In the last 30 years a lot of good private institutions have been established due to enabling policies. Apart from meritorious and students from middleclass background, government institutions also provide opportunity to children from underprivileged backgrounds due to their affordability. However, quality private universities and their growth is equally important for us for research activities.

May 15 was supposed to be the deadline for finalisation of positions papers of the National Focus Groups for the four National Curriculum Frameworks. Why is there a delay?

There was no such deadline. A steering committee headed by K Kasturirangan, who also led the committee which drafted the NEP 2020, has undertaken a collaborative consultation with focus groups of the NCF, state governments, state SCERTs and held district level deliberations. Based on my understanding, by the forthcoming Saraswati puja we will be ready with the ECCE (till class II) curriculum as well as the textbooks.

Some states seem to be at loggerhead with the Centre on implementation of NEP or during consultations of the NCF?

On June 1 and 2, we convened a national school education ministers’ conference in Gandhinagar. 95% of the states participated. We expected two things from them — status on NCF and their best practices in recovery of learning loss. All states are responsibly working based on their priority and requirements. Regarding NEP, I have read in newspapers that there are some disagreements on a few areas from a couple of states. In a democracy, we welcome that. Government is not making the curriculum, but has entrusted this on an apolitical public intellectual like Kasturirangan, giving complete independence to consult and deliberate with the civil society to prepare a framework keeping in view the government’s vision.

Your views on internationalisation of higher education in India?

There are two aspects of this priority area. First is the GIFT City announced in the last budget based on which any foreign university coming to set up its campus will be out of the ambit of India’s existing policy framework.

Second is that NEP clearly mentioned that the existing rules and regulations will need amendments so that high quality foreign universities and institutions in multiple modes — campuses, dual degree, joint degree or twinning degrees can operate in India. UGC is working on necessary regulations.

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