2014, a year of disputes for HRD ministry

2014, a year of disputes for HRD ministry

Controversy hogged the HRD Ministry ever since the NDA government came to power be it for the rollback of FYUP of Delhi University, for replacing Sanskrit with German as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas or asking institutes to observe events on Christmas.

New Delhi: Controversy hogged the HRD Ministry ever since the NDA government came to power be it for the rollback of FYUP of Delhi University, for replacing Sanskrit with German as the third language in Kendriya Vidyalayas or asking institutes to observe events on Christmas.

As these moves led Opposition parties to accuse the Ministry of embarking on a path to saffronise education, its Minister Smriti Irani retorted saying, if she "challenges status quo," controversy is bound to take wings. "Those who accuse me of being a RSS mascot or RSS representative possibly want to deflect the attention from the good work that we have done... This agenda will be flagged.

"I will be whipped for as long as there is a need to keep attention diverted away from the good work. I am ready for it. I have no problem," she told PTI in an interview. Irani announced a slew of programmes promoting girls education, providing free access to digital content, scholarship schemes and special focus on northeast students, but the row mostly generating off-campus shrouded such initiatives.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's address to students on Teacher's Day in September also generated a lot of heat especially from the Opposition amid reports of compulsory attendance in classes to listen to him. Irani's education qualification too made headlines soon after she assumed charge in May. It took a new turn when she said at a function that she also has a degree from the prestigious Yale University in the US, a statement which she later said was "misconstrued".

Under pressure from UGC to act on its directive, Delhi University on June 27 scrapped its controversial four-year undergraduate programme (FYUP) and reverted back to the previous three-year structure. Hardening its stand, UGC days earlier asked Delhi University and its colleges to admit students only under the three-year programme and not FYUP, a move hailed by both teachers' and students' bodies who made several representations to Irani in this regard.

UGC issued fresh guidelines to all varsities and institutes about the nomenclature of the programmes to be followed, but it was resisted by IITs which challenged UGC's jurisdiction. The matter is yet to be resolved. On November 27, Kendriya Vidyalayas decided to discontinue teaching German as an alternative to Sanskrit as third language, a decision which Irani took in line with the three-language formula and national policy on education.

The Board of Governors (BoG) of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan (KVS), headed by Irani, had in its meeting on October 27 decided that "teaching of German language as an option to Sanskrit will be discontinued herewith". German was kept as an additional subject for students. The move evidently became a diplomatic issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel raising the matter with Prime Minister Modi when the two met at the G-20 summit in Brisbane on November 16. The Ministry, however, stuck to its stand.

The Supreme Court on December 16 accepted the proposal mooted by the ministry that KV students of class VI, VII and VIII will not have to take examination for third modern Indian language Sanskrit in this academic session and they may continue to study German as an optional subject.

While the Ministry rolled out 'Udaan' scheme to improve girl enrolment rates in engineering colleges, Aligarh Muslim University VC Zameer Uddin Shah stoked a row with his sexist remark, triggering sharp condemnation from across the spectrum. Turning down the demand of students of Women's College, AMU, for access to the varsity's Maulana Azad Library, the VC said there would be "more boys" in the library if girls were allowed in.

The University has since then allowed the girls to use the main library. A row also erupted over plans by BJP to observe the birth anniversary of freedom fighter Raja Mahendra Pratap at the AMU campus with the VC warning of a potential "communal conflagration". New MoS in the Ministry Ram Shankar Katheria came under attack for allegedly forging his graduation marksheet, following which he offered to resign if proved guilty.

The Ministry also came under criticism over reports that it had asked the IITs to explore the possibility of having separate eating space and mess for vegetarian students. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury wrote a letter to Irani saying the government has no right to "police" the food habit of students.

The Ministry was embroiled in yet another controversy at the fag end of the year when Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti asked all its schools to observe December 25 as 'Good Governance Day', which required physical presence of students on a holiday. As the issue generated heat both inside and outside Parliament, the government moved on multiple fronts to defuse the row, clarifying that all schools including Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalas (JNV) will remain closed on December 25. It also denied a media report suggesting the schools would remain open on Christmas Day to observe 'Good Governance Day'.

In September, Smriti Irani met the vice-chancellors of 39 central universities at Chandigarh to discuss among others a single legislation to govern all central varsities. The meeting followed Irani's similar interactions with directors of IITs and IIMs after she assumed charge. The Modi government also proposed to set up five IITs and as many IIMs in the country at the general budget to give a boost to education sector, allocating Rs 68,728 to the sector, a hike of 11 per cent over the last fiscal.

On the other hand, a sub-committee under the Central Advisory Board of Education (CABE) the highest decision making body on education in the country, recommended re-introduction of the detention policy in schools, arguing that not having such a system had led to a sharp fall in the learning outcomes of students.

Some states such as Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka have already decided to conduct class examinations in 5th and 8th standards till proper implementation of the continuous comprehensive evaluation. The Ministry is expected to take a call on this at the forthcoming CABE meeting here. Laying stress on girls education, the Ministry during the year asked states to prepare an action plan for construction of toilets for girls in all government schools by July next year in keeping with the goal set up Prime Minister Modi.

In his Independence Day speech, Modi said that all schools should construct separate toilets for girl students within a year.Marking the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan campaign, Irani released a handbook on 'Swachh Bharat-Swachh Vidyalaya' capturing several good practices followed in many states to keep school premises neat and tidy and launched the programme from a Kendriya Vidyalaya school on September 25.

In keeping with her promise, UGC issued guidelines for implementation of a 'choice based transfer system' scheme in universities across all campuses from 2015-16 academic year. The system will ensure seamless mobility of students across higher educational institutions in the country and abroad.

UGC also hiked the basic fellowship amount and scholarships for research scholars in a bid to encourage them. The Ministry also decided to introduce 'Tithi Bhojan', a community participatory model followed by the Gujarat Government in the midday meal programme, across the country.

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