HT Lenovo Smarter Ed Conclave: NEP facilitates integration of tech with education, says Karnataka minister Ashwath Narayan
Karnataka is the first state in India to implement the National Education Policy (NEP). State’s higher education minister Dr C N Ashwath Narayan spoke to Sharan Poovanna about what the state has done to implement the policy at a session in Hindustan Times’s Lenovo Smarter Ed Conclave on Friday. Edited excerpts:
How do you think NEP can change the frame of the education system in the country?
In the backdrop of emerging technologies and bridging digital divide, NEP was much awaited for the country and system, particularly to have a better future in the 21st century. There is a lot of lacuna in learning as it is working in silos and we are not trying to integrate with the industry. There’s a total disconnect between academic, industry and a complete mismatch particularly with regard to research and innovation.
Probably, the one way it can happen is through education, innovation and technology. NEP permits the flexibility or the integration of the technology and facilitates effective integration of technology. We do have a lot of challenges, but we are very well placed particularly after the Covid-19. Our government has been working in this direction, establishing platforms for comprehensive learning management systems as part of the digital learning which has been developed in Karnataka. Even edu-tech companies do not have the kind of content development we have done with over 350,000 pieces of material, designed and evenly crafted along with the classrooms. We now have internet-enabled smart classrooms, providing more than 300,000 devices (tabs) to children studying in government institutions. The unified college management system has been established to connect in real-time with all private colleges, aided and government colleges which will come under this rule. Data capturing can happen based on this and a lot of interventions can be done.
For the teachers as well there is a digital divide since their average age is around 40-45 years. How do you overcome these challenges?
We are trying to ensure there will not be any digital divide in the state by providing all required facilities like upskilling of teachers. We are trying to train more than 10,000 teachers in this year on how they can cope with the changes. This is a way forward to address all challenges for enhancing the economy, bringing in social equity, inclusiveness and empowering youngsters to have a better future. And to get placement, cope up with emerging technologies as it becomes a huge area and connect with the industry. With the NEP, the syllabus has been completely rewired and revamped to connect with the industry and cater to their demand.
We are building the system in such a way that even the most digitally illiterate can make use of the system. I do not think we will face a lot of challenges as in higher education we have a lot of younger professors and the process will be a smooth transition.
What kind of regulatory mechanism will be in place to fix issues like fees in private educational institutes, higher education?
With regard to higher education, we do have a higher education council in which all universities are members and I am the chairman. There is a lot of change which is facilitated through coordination and they (universities) have a lot of autonomy. With the NEP, there should be a lot of structural and administrative changes and legislations need to be brought in. We started working in this direction at the ongoing session to bring the Karnataka Shikshana Ayoga that will become the umbrella for primary, secondary education for entire education system that becomes a common body which will be headed by the chief minister. We are working on strengthening of the Higher Education Council and many other verticals will also come up. Some regulatory bodies will take some more time. Since the time is 15 years for stage-wise implementation which will happen initially and we have brought a lot of academic reforms for 2021.
How does Karnataka plan to achieve higher GER on par with developed economies?
The GER has increased for now after our government took over and is now at 32% from 28%. We have increased absorption capacity to get 200,000 additional children admitted. Enrollment of students should increase in primary, secondary and higher education. I am very pretty sure that we are going to achieve 50% GER target by 2040 because if a big state like Karnataka achieves it in 10 years, it may be impetus to several other poorer states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, where a large number of school dropout is there when compared to Karnataka.
There has been an adverse impact psychologically also on students due to Covid and the time lost. How has the government and education sector suffered or employability suffered because of Covid?
From school to college children, everybody has been badly affected. We did our best and provided online education but even then there have been a lot of setbacks. We will ensure that we overcome all shortcomings in days to come and effectively address these by integrating technology. We have vaccinated all college students, teaching and non-teaching staff to bring them back to campus. Since NEP follows 360 degrees of learning, nothing will be in isolation as all activities will be possible through collaboration that allows children to go beyond campus and learn.
How will you accommodate those opposing the NEP who accuse the policy of muting scientific temper?
The NEP only has positives where the student gets what they want. We are just worried that the transition is happening very fast. It was planned for implementation from 2021 and will be given 15 years time for complete implementation. The administration and all the structural facilitation is happening excellently. Connecting with the industry and academia is fantastic. I don’t think there is even a single negative point and some are opposing it for the sake of it.
There are fears on the NEP and how it may prioritise Hindi over Kannada, other languages?
At school level, students have been allowed to take three languages which include two Indian and one foreign. In higher education we do have two languages and it will be a choice of the student. In Karnataka, Kannada is mandatory in school and college. The nationalist policy is going to strengthen local languages and it is not an imposition of Hindi. And it is meant to promote and ensure that our identities will remain with us and it will continue to flourish and sustain any challenges.
How will the policy bring in synergy between industry and academia?
Since we are allowing institutions to collaborate with industry, the best facilities will be available for students. Earlier it was a namesake internship for just 2-3 months which we have made to 9 months in engineering as well as other courses. We are insisting industry to pay stipend otherwise, it has no value. If you belong to any particular place or locality, you can ensure the institution of your locality grows to international standards.