Education a headline hogger in 2009 (Flashback 2009)

December 16th, 2009 - 1:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, Dec 16 (IANS) It was a year of reform in the field of education. From the laudable Right to Education Act to controversial faculty quota in IITs and IIMs, the education sector remained a headline hogger across India. As the curtains come down on 2009, IANS revisits some of the major events:

Budget boost:

After the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) came back to power, the central government announced that the social sector is its key focus and it was evident in the budget outlay. The UPA government’s focus on education fetched it 20 percent more funds this fiscal than in the previous year.

With a Rs.445-billion allocation, the education sector looked at strengthening its base. While school education got over Rs.290.9 billion, higher education bagged Rs.154.29 billion.

‘Historic’ Right to Education Act:

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill finally became an act. The “historic legislation”, as Human Resources Development (HRD) Minister Kapil Sibal described it, has the potential to positively change the education scenario in the country.

After the bill was passed by parliament, it made education compulsory for all children in the 6-14 age group. “This is the first time an effort has been made to universalise education in the country,” the minister said.

Besides free and compulsory education, insistence on having a national curriculum and quality education that gives three years’ time to schools to set up physical infrastructure or face de-recognition are some of its key features. It also calls for 25 percent reservation in private schools for disadvantaged children from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and socially and educationally backward sections.

Abolition of CBSE Class-10 board exams:

In a path-breaking move that brought cheer to hundreds of thousands of students across India, the HRD ministry announced plans to end the Central Board of Secondary Education’s (CBSE) Class-10 final examination from the 2010-11 academic year.

Secondary schools (up to Class 10) will, however, have an online or offline (as the student chooses) “on-demand” assessment option available at the end of Class 10 to enable students to acquire a board certificate for entering pre-university courses or transferring to another state board. A nine-point grading system is now in place for CBSE Class 10 evaluation.

Proposal to allow foreign varsities:

The central government is striving for a consensus on entry of foreign universities and other educational institutions into the country. Though a bill to this effect is yet to be tabled in parliament, the HRD ministry is keen to allow foreign players without forcing reservation on them either in student intake or faculty recruitment.

It has also allowed Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) to go global provided they have fulfilled their shortcomings in terms of faculty crunch and infrastructural bottlenecks in their present campuses.

Sakshar Bharat:

In an initiative that aims to bring equality, generate income and boost the country’s health, a new literacy mission was launched. The Rs.65-billion mission ‘Sakshar Bharat’ has a mandate to make all women in 365 under-developed districts literate in five years.

The number of illiterates in India is probably the highest among all nations of the world and India cannot therefore be satisfied with the status quo. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh too has said that poor infrastructure in the economic sector and female illiteracy in the social sector are “two very critical factors that impede India’s steady climb to a higher and sustainable level of growth”.

Central universities:

After two years of negotiations, parliament and the union cabinet finally approved the setting up of 16 central universities in states where there is no such varsity till date. While the government was making proposals on how to fund these new institutions, the Jammu region and the Kashmir valley were at loggerheads over the location of a central university in the state. After days of widespread protest and virtual division of the state, the government decided to open two central varsities in Jammu and Kashmir and dropped the idea of an IIM there.

Faculty quota:

The government’s attempt to introduce reservation in the appointment of faculty at IITs, IIMs and other higher educational institutions faced a stiff challenge. Faculties of these institutes from all over India skipped classes, went on hunger strikes and even protested in public, but in vain. Three IITs at Kharagpur, Roorkee and Mumbai have started the process to appoint teachers on a caste basis.

Salary row in IITs:

Like faculty quota, the HRD ministry was in an awkward position when IIT faculties demanded a better pay packet on a par with scientists of ISRO and DRDO. A 40 percent cap in the promotion of IIT professors to the next level and appointment of fresh PhDs on permanent rolls are two other issues where the ministry was on the back foot. The consistent nation-wide protest and wide media coverage finally forced the government to settle the issue “within norms” but with certain “flexibilities”.

CAT Chaos:

As the Common Admission Test (CAT) went online this year, thousands of students aspiring to get into IIMs faced a harrowing time. As the server crashed in many centres across India, the test conducting firm Prometric blamed a virus attack. Result: Over 20,000 aspirants could not appear for the test that was conducted in a staggered manner spread over 11 days.

(Prashant K. Nanda can be contacted at prashant.n@ians.in)

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