Monday, February 20, 2012

Centre calls state education ministers to set reform agenda

The Union government has called a meeting of state education ministers to build consensus around its plans for education reforms before the 12th Five-Year Plan kicks off in a couple of months. On the agenda for discussion is a proposal to introduce a common entrance exam for all science and engineering colleges and another to start community colleges on the lines of those in the US and Canada. The meeting called by human resource development (HRD) minister Kapil Sibal on Wednesday will also debate the need to bring skills education in schools as well as the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act across the country, as per ministry documents. Mint has reviewed a copy of the discussion agenda.

An official of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), who did not want to be named, said that while a number of legislative initiatives on education, including the Foreign University Bill and the Education Malpractice Bill, face opposition in Parliament, some reforms can be rolled out through executive decisions and here “taking states into confidence would be of paramount importance.” The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government “has to take reform measures in the next two years before it starts preparation for the general election due in 2014. With education being a subject that touches mass lives, the ministry would like to put in place some visible reforms,” the official said. An MHRD spokesperson confirmed the meeting of state education ministers, but didn’t divulge details.

The Union government has come under attack from many states for not consulting them while formulating policies and initiatives, resulting in reforms initiatives being held up. In that context, meetings such as the one proposed with the education ministers are critical for building consensus, said Yamini Aiyar, Director, Accountability Initiative, at the Centre for Policy Research. “It’s critical to have dialogue with states. The Centre should facilitate, build consensus and set the standard rather than impose,” Aiyar said, adding if the Union government takes suggestions from the states in the right spirit, “implementation will be much better.”

Several committees set up by the Union government have suggested a common entrance exam for all science and engineering colleges, according to MHRD documents. A plan is being devised to merge the Indian Institute of Technology’s Joint Entrance Examinations (IIT-JEE) and the All India Engineering Entrance Examination (AIEEE) conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education, for admissions into 15 IITs (Indian Institutes of Technology), 30 NITs (National Institutes of Technology) and other central science and engineering colleges. Since at least 95% of engineering and science colleges fall under state jurisdiction, any plan to create a common entrance test for these disciplines needs the support of state governments. India has nearly 8,000 engineering colleges.

“The above methodology does not curtail the autonomy of Universities/Institutions and the States to structure their own admission process but provides for a standardized frame of reference for evaluating inter-se merit amongst applicants,” the ministry says in its note, adding, “The prevalence of categorization (reservation for castes, sports quota, ex-servicemen quota, etc.) in the admission process can also be continued unhindered...”

The MHRD also has plans to introduce some 100 community colleges — industry-oriented institutions with one or more specializations and with a high employment-generating potential. “…it would be better if Community Colleges are started on a pilot basis (about 100 or so) in 2012-13 and then after evaluation scaled up gradually...,” the ministry says in its note. “Accordingly, in 2012-13, 80 colleges from the UGC list …and 20 polytechnics in the government system may be identified by UGC-AICTE (University Grants Commission-All India Council for Technical Education) in consultation with the respective state governments for implementing the Community College Programme.”

With regard to RTE (Right to Education), the ministry believes that since education is primarily a concern of the states, the Act cannot become a success without their support. Only 19 states have so far put in place a monitoring mechanism for RTE. States that are yet to put in place an RTE protection authority or state commission for protection of child rights include Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Tripura, Meghalaya and Nagaland. “States are requested to initiate steps to set up a grievance redressal mechanism under the RTE Act,” the ministry says in its document.

Source: Mint, February 20, 2012

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