Education minister Dharmendra Pradhan speaks to TOI’s Manash Gohain on the textbooks controversy, CUET and NEET as well as the status of the National Curriculum Framework for school education and Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). Excerpts from the interview:
CUET-UG was almost a disaster in the first year. What has been the learning?
Last year’s learning helped us deliver the test better this year. JEE and NEET have a fixed pattern and these exams are confined to limited subjects. But CUET is all encompassing — science, humanities, commerce. For such an exam, to make questionnaires, understand the pattern of from where the majority of candidates will come and for which subjects makes it a complex process and multi-dimensional. Since we were conducting it for the first time last year, glitches happened in some places. But barring a few places, it has been delivered successfully this year and the NTA team did a good job. Also, institutional participation has increased significantly.
What are your views on opposition to NEET?
NEET is being conducted based on the Supreme Court’s direction. After seven years of experience, NEET is now a credible entrance exam accepted across states. This year’s result is proof. A few institutions and some people are opposing it, especially in Tamil Nadu. However, their opposition is not based on any reasoning. It is political opposition and students of the state have responded to that by topping the charts and excelling in the exam. Students have demolished the opposition.
NCERT’s rationalisation is being criticised and you are being accused of ‘subtle saffronisation’ of curriculum.
There is a deliberate attempt by a small group which considers itself omniscient. They have an agenda to defeat any reform. NCERT is an autonomous body and it was felt during the pandemic that the content should be reduced. The syllabus was reduced from the 2021-22 academic year and two batches of students have already studied it. Why are they criticising now? They have some motive. Their design is to deny Indian students modern education. My understanding is that NCERT has reduced repetitive content. In history too, content which was comparatively more was reduced. Periodically, NCERT adds or deletes certain topics, which is a routine activity. To make a hue and cry of this is motivated and a reflection of their isolated thinking. The government and PM Modi are determined to decolonise the education system and make it worthy of 21st century standards as well as rooted in Indianness. This is an orchestrated group whom the country has rejected. But this is democracy, people can express their opinion.
Are you satisfied with the reforms in education in the last nine years?
Certainly, after a gap of 34 years, a national education policy came. In the last four decades, the world has changed immensely. If there was one sector which needed change, it was education and NEP addressed that aspiration. The work started in 2014. India has always played a lead role in global development. India has become even more relevant now. For example, in emerging areas like digitisation, India is a global leader. India is in a leadership position in sustainability. India’s role in changing geopolitics has been enhanced significantly. While we are playing such a key role globally, it becomes imperative to bring the education ecosystem of the country to that level. Therefore, NEP is a philosophical document looking into the changing global scenario and global expectations. NEP is one of the major achievements of the Modi government.
Three key areas of NEP — HECI, digital university and new textbooks — are yet to see the light of day. Will these be delivered before the general elections?
We are at an advanced stage in all three. Textbooks for Classes 1 and 2 are already printed and when schools reopen after the summer break, NCF recommended books for Classes 1 and 2 will be implemented. For Classes 3 to 12, final recommendations for the NCF will be ready this month. States are aligned and NCERT is in total control — textbook committees, oversight committees are being set up and we are trying to ready all NEP recommended, NCF envisioned textbooks by 2023 itself. Multi-level consultation has happened for HECI and digital university and we are trying to place the bills in Parliament soon. In fact, the new regulations for deemed to be university and foreign universities are a step towards HECI and so is the new curriculum for higher education.
Why is the NCF silent on Indian languages?
We have placed the pre-draft in the public domain for opinion. Nothing is being implemented without thorough consultation with stakeholders. NEP has recommended the primacy of Indian language. We have printed books of Classes 1 and 2 in all languages. CBSE’s medium of instruction is Hindi and English. Now, NCERT books will be available in all languages in the digital platform initially. Now if a Tamil boy wishes to read the NCERT book in his native language, he will be able to do that and he can also choose the language in he wants to take his exams. Language is a unifier, not a divider.


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