Is Prime Minister Narendra Modi worried that Smriti Irani, the minister for Human Resources Development, is beginning to follow in the footsteps of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal? If he is not, it is time he sat up and saw how Irani is following the volatile and autocratic-appearing leader of the Aam Aadmi Party.
There are many people in higher education narrating experiences, albeit in confidence, to substantiate that Irani is high-handed and dictatorial. And, that is how Kejriwal's detractors describe him.
But the comparison does not end there. These days Kejriwal and his deputy, Manish Sisodia, are out in the various localities of the national capital, asking mohalla sabhas—the residents' welfare associations—what the Delhi budget, should be like. The Aam Aadmi leaders want people to take democracy to a new level, and people to take such decisions.
The HRD minister, though a former actor, does not have to stage such acts. She simply told a media house that invited her for their own version of chai pe charcha, that the new education policy will be decided by the 2.75 lakh village education committees (VECs) across the country. The VECs, like the Village Development Committees, have been formed to help with totally local issues. Now, Irani will ask the members, who have hitherto been involved in things like ensuring that village kids enroll, and then don't drop out, mid-day meals are hygienic and safe, the school building is in order and equipped, and that teachers are posted, present and teaching. If they were asked to help with implementing the shauchalayas goal—building toilets in the schools—their role would not have been altered in any way. But the HRD Minister says she is implementing the part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's vision, which pertains to policies that focus on connecting with people!
The New Education Policy will replace the much-altered one of 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister. The Modi government “would like to bring out a National Education Policy to meet the changing dynamics of the population’s requirement with regards to quality education, innovation and research, aiming to make India a knowledge superpower by equipping its students with the necessary skills and knowledge and to eliminate the shortage of manpower in science, technology, academics and industry” says the government's website.
How many people residing in the villages will be able to contribute to this? For that matter, how many in the urban centres will be able to do that? Irani appears to have missed the point that education, at all levels, is best left to people trained and equipped to take a call on it.
One big bane, a study this writer read some years ago, was that majority of those who become teachers, never in fact wanted to be teaching. They simply had no interest. They took on the role for various reasons—proximity to home, ability to get the job, the comparitively few working hours, the vacation after quarterly, half-yearly and annual exams etc. Not even one per cent wanted to teach because they enjoyed it or they wanted to inspire students.
While the UPA government, as Irani said, had a few educationalists, bureaucrats and politicians decide the educational policy, the main inputs of the New Educational Policy will be from the villagers, who have little to do with education. Talk about going to the grassroots!
This when young Indians want world class education, akin to what Harvard and Cambridge give. At the school level, even in villages, those with aspirations to come out of their abject poverty or wretched life want English medium schools and cough up money to attend teaching shops masquerading as private English medium schools. And, those in the urban higher secondary schools would happily go to International Baccalaureate schools if they can afford it. All this because they aspire to be equipped to tap opportunities the world over and be global citizens.
But what would our minister want? What the 'wise old men' in our villages say. Pity is, the farm policy, rural development policy, to name a few, are not based on what these villagers say.
Next, she may have the IITs, IIMs and IIS modelled along lines of what the countryside folks suggest!
With her educational achievements, Irani could become the HRD minister. But not everyone can get that lucky.