Karnataka minister BC Nagesh interview: Resuming schools right move, attendance improving

Published on Aug 27, 2021 12:23 AM IST

Karnataka was one of the first states to resume classes for Classes 9 and 10 during the pandemic

Karnataka education minister BC Nagesh.
Karnataka education minister BC Nagesh.

Karnataka was one of the first states to resume classes for Classes 9 and 10 during the pandemic. While the attendance in schools during the initial days has been low, newly appointed primary and secondary education minister BC Nagesh said that the numbers are increasing, and the government will take a call on reopening other classes on August 30. In an interview with Arun Dev, he also elaborated on the state’s plans to implement the national education policy.

Schools in Karnataka reopened on Monday, but 21.08% attendance was reported for Class 10 and 19.5% for Class 9. Do you think parents don’t agree with the government on the decision to reopen schools?

These numbers are good and in fact, they are increasing. Some districts have reported more than 50%. Even before the pandemic, the number of students returning after holidays is often low. This time, we think it will take about a week or two for the attendance to normalise since people have gone out of the cities and towns during the pandemic. We expect the numbers to pick up soon.

The decision to reopen schools was the right thing to do because online education had several issues like lack of connectivity or access to devices. Even the surveys said around 40% of students were not getting access to education, so it was important to restart schools.

What is the status of vaccinating the teaching and non-teaching staff at the schools?

In all the districts we have achieved over 85% vaccination and 100% in some. This will be completed at the earliest.

When will the schools reopen in the five districts where they are shut, considering that at least three have reported less than 2% positivity rate, which was the criteria for reopening schools?

A review was held on the matter. The decision to reopen schools has been left to the deputy commissioners, who will decide based on the situation in those districts.

When will the other classes resume?

We will take a call on that on (August) 30.

As said earlier, close to 40% of the students had difficulties in accessing online education. What steps are being taken to address this?

To address this issue, we have asked all schools to conduct bridge courses, which would be a revision of the lessons imparted in online classes.

Karnataka is one of the first states to implement the National Education Policy. How will it change the education system and how does the government plan to roll out this policy?

We have seen reforms in the education policy in 1968 and 1986. The challenges, such as not having enough schools or not enough people getting education, of that time were addressed by then governments in those policies. Now, we have reached a point where many educationists are of the opinion that the current system of education is putting a lot of burden on the students. So, in the new system we are implementing, we don’t want to have examinations and ensure that children learn while playing. We want to develop that scientific temperament in them. Instead of teaching them in classrooms, we want them to learn from experiments.

On the implementation aspect, we want to induct the first batch of students under the new NEP by 2022.

There have been demands in the past, especially from the BJP, to change the history lessons in the syllabus regarding the rulers like Tipu Sultan and Mughals. Do you have any such plans?

The history we are learning now is written by the British. For generations, we have been taught about the British conquests and our failures. Our history books said British united India, but if you look at it not politically, we were united culturally, maybe through the family system or other practices.

That being said, there is no plan at present to change the syllabus.

The previous education minister had tried to bring a solution to a tussle between schools and parents over the fees. What is your approach to the problem?

We are attending to every complaint (on fee issues) that’s coming to us. The previous minister had proposed a fee formula, which was challenged in the court and the decision has been stayed. At present, we can’t do much since it is sub judice. But, whenever a complaint comes to us, we try to address the issue in the best way we can.

But, we are very clear that no one should have to discontinue education because they couldn’t afford the fees.

There has been a debate over whether Kannada or English should be the medium of education, with many arguing that education in English is important for a student’s future. What is your position on the issue?

I believe a child would be able to grasp better in the language he or she is comfortable, which is their mother tongue. Learning in Kannada doesn’t mean that they would not have knowledge of English. That’s not correct.

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    Arun Dev is an Assistant Editor with the Karnataka bureau of Hindustan Times. A journalist for over 10 years, he has written extensively on crime and politics.

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