Amid the fast altering education scenario, Uttarakhand is striving hard to achieve adequate school infrastructure to promote digital learning, capacity building and providing sufficient resources to encourage girl students, especially, to continue their studies. The state’s School Education Minister Arvind Pandey discusses the nuances. Excerpts:
Q. The education skyline is changing fast across the country. How is the government of Uttarakhand planning to scale up the education infrastructure in the state?
A: Education infrastructure is one of the priority areas of the state government. Schools are being provided with basic amenities as well as digital learning infrastructure. As far as basic amenities are concerned, more than 95 per cent of schools are having these facilities. However, since Uttarakhand is a disaster-prone state, even after achieving our targets sometimes it gets hampered due to natural calamities. Digital learning is definitely a challenge for us. At the upper primary level, 1,774 schools were provided computers under computer-aided learning programme earlier although only a handful are currently in working condition.
At present, 500 secondary level schools are being provided virtual classroom facilities (centrally sponsored) and 711 more schools are proposed to be covered. Corporate houses have adopted nearly 647 government schools and all facilities are being provided to them including digital learning. Smart classes have been developed in more than 60 schools; computers have been made available to 210 schools with the help of corporate houses/NGOs. The state government has initiated to use MLA’s local area funds to scale up education infrastructure in schools on a priority basis.
Q: What are the challenges that your government is facing while creating an inclusive education system within the state?
A: Major challenges faced by the state government in creating an inclusive education system are:
· Inequality and discrimination among students based on socio-economic, ethnic and cultural profile, competency and learning outcomes.
· Teacher’s capacity building.
· To provide resources at school/cluster/block level.
· Support from parents to schools as well as the child.
· Awareness among all stakeholders.
· Lack of community ownership of schools.
· Parent counseling and guidance.
· Adequate school infrastructure.
Q: Do you think it is possible to make education affordable by maintaining quality? What is the process to achieve that?
A: Quality education can be made affordable but it needs certain policy issues to be addressed including:
· Centrally-located residential schools for scarcely-populated areas.
· Teacher’s residence in the school premises or at closer-by locations.
· Fee regulations for private schools are followed strictly and transparent financial support from the government to them.
· Adequate school infrastructure for digital learning in schools — smart classes, virtual classes, interactive board etc.
· Diagnostic test monitored through a centralised portal and corrective measures.
Q: The literacy rate in the state is high but still the literacy rate of girls is less than boys. How is the government planning to increase that?
A: The literacy gap between girls and boys has been reduced from 23.65 in 2001 to 17.4 in 2011 as per last census. However, following steps need to be taken to lessen it and bring equality:
· Under RTE 12(1)(c), 50% of seats are to be reserved in private schools for girls against the 25% seats available in lowest class (Class-1 or pre-primary).
· Incentives like Cycle Yojana, One-time Scholarship for girls taking admission in class IX etc. are put in practice at the secondary level.
· To bring girls to schools, Aaganwadis are being established in primary school premises or nearer to it so that sibling care does not stop any girl from coming to school.
· Schemes of Government of India like Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Hostels are being run effectively.
· Till 2018-19 state-operated girls’ hostels as per KGBV norms for girls at secondary level so that girls studying in KGBVs at elementary level could continue their studies up to the secondary level.
Q: Do you think the digitisation of education system will definitely help in boosting its outreach and help in strengthening the education system in the rural areas?
A: Digitisation of the education system will definitely help in boosting its outreach as well as help in strengthening the education system in rural areas. The state government has initiated this by taking measures like:
· QR Code on books used at the school level.
· Establishing virtual classes at the secondary level in government schools and for that, 500 schools are likely to be connected with the central studio by the end of November 2019.
· A teacher app being developed with the help of NGO partner for digital learning material where the matter is either developed by teachers or added from open sources. Teachers can access it free of cost.
· The state has effectively used DIKSHA portal meant for digital teaching-learning.
However, despite all this, a lot is to be done and the following challenges lie ahead of us:
· To ensure adequate infrastructure in each and every school to achieve digitisation of education.
· Connectivity problem in remote areas and lack of state-specific Radio Channels for curriculum-based content relay.
· Portal to map learning outcomes centrally and suggest corrective measures.
Featured Image Courtesy: Amar Ujala