We know that the Civil Service offers a wide scope to make instrumental changes in the heart of Indian society. Jitin Yadav is one such IAS officer in West Bengal whose field experience has shaped his outlook towards governance and his perspective on a range of issues.
Having served at the remote Mathabhanga subdivision of Coochbehar and Balurghat at Dakshin Dinajpur this 2016 batch IAS officer is presently posted as the Joint Secretary, Department of Mass Education Extension and Library Services.
Digital learning is inevitable
The pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives. However, as a blessing in disguise, it has thrown open vast opportunities in digital learning. Though the rise of online education had started much before Covid hit us, people were still largely apprehensive. Covid has shown us that digital education is a possibility and it will help us to extend the benefits of learning to the vast swathes of rural India at minimum cost provided we have the infrastructural capacity to support it.
Jitin Yadav pointed out that India’s price of internet is one of the lowest in the world. This has also benefited the extension of telemedicine service to the remote expanses of India. However, the challenge lies in the distribution of devices that can use internet services as a means to bridge the education gap. The capability of people to buy smartphones especially in the pandemic-induced economic crisis is minimal.
Jitin Yadav highlighted that the West Bengal Free Tablet Scheme in this lockdown has been a boon for many students. Under this scheme, free tablets were distributed to students studying in the 12th standard so that they can continue their education online.
The price of Internet data packs in India is among the most affordable in the world. This has led to internet penetration among a sizable proportion of the populace. The Joint Secretary said, “If you look at social media, the discussions are highly urban life-oriented. This proves that the digital divide is apparent and should be reduced especially in rural areas.”
Online education can bridge geographical boundaries as well. Investing in digital infrastructure can help reduce other costs like travel and accommodation. The only thing that counts is the motivation to study and confidence. The mad rush towards enrolling in coaching institutes for competitive exams can be eliminated through innovative EdTech platforms which offer services at minimal rates. “India has a vast pool of talented Youtubers who provide services but are not in the limelight,” Jitin Yadav, pointed out. “Knowing how to search appropriately on Google can help to solve most of our queries,” he added.
A Blended approach
The pandemic is on a declining trend. In many states, high schools have reopened. However, the Indian education system should not slip back to conventional methods of learning. According to the Joint Secretary, online education should be continued at places where human interface is not required. At the same time, we should not completely do away with physical spaces of learning.
“How we interact with our friends in schools or colleges contributes to our personality development. If we go completely online students will miss out on the experience of participating in college clubs and societies and sports,” he shared. On the other hand, mundane things like attendance or repetitive lectures in different sections of the same class can be taken online. Students can easily revise by downloading those lectures. This will save time and will enhance the productivity of teachers. The number of classes can be reduced as students can attend those lectures at home.
The hidden potential
India is reeling under the excessive burden of unemployment and underemployment. However, the time has come when youths need to be job-creators and not just job seekers.
Jitin Yadav, IAS believes it is a result of over-dependence on government jobs and not tapping on our enormous entrepreneurial capabilities. There is a huge gap between what we are capable of and what we are at present in the field of start-ups.
According to the ASER Survey 2020, the school dropout rate in West Bengal has declined significantly from 3.3 per cent to 1.5 per cent while it went up from 4 per cent to 5.5 per cent at the national level.
This may be as a result of schemes like Kanyashree where girls are paid an annual scholarship from the age of 13 to 18, for every year and a one-time grant. The scheme is designed to ensure that the girls remain in school and unmarried at the time. Under the Sabuj Sathi scheme, students studying in Class 9-12 are also given bicycles so that they can cycle to school.
The Joint Secretary believes that small incentives like these have done wonders in the rural part of Bengal. This has led to the realisation among people that if they are not attending schools they are missing out on something. This is instrumental in changing the view of people in terms of the symbolic importance being given to them. “If there is no cause and effect there is a correlation,” he emphasized.
Moreover, people have got confidence that education is the only way that will be instrumental in paving the road to success. The feeling that education is the key to being successful in life is getting inculcated in people day by day. The Joint Secretary admitted that the quality of education is a concern, however, he is confident that in the coming years we will make up for it.
Reinventing the Libraries of Bengal
Libraries are not just piles of old books lying idle on shelves. It is only when humans interact with the vast rich resources these spaces offer do the libraries come alive.
West Bengal had a vibrant library movement in the past with 2480 libraries, mostly lying idle and getting ruined. Jitin Yadav highlighted that the footfall of visitors coming to libraries is minimal even before Covid restrictions were imposed.
“We are so engrossed in ourselves that reading, as a hobby, has diminished from our lives. It is rare to see young people sitting together and discussing books. This may be because we see education in terms of scoring grades rather than a continuous process. We are blessed with such immense resources but we lack the motivation to read,” Jitin Yadav explained.
The Library Services Department is no longer dependent on the intrinsic motivation of readers to visit the libraries and are working towards giving the readers some extrinsic motivation as well mostly through IEC activities and some incentives. “We are thinking of giving study materials or starting classes for competitive exams in the libraries themselves. We are also thinking of facilitating some tie-ups with agencies whether online or through the human interface to ease the system of searching for books in the libraries which will save time for the readers,” the Joint Secretary said.
Libraries are not just spaces where people come to read books. It offers a congenial atmosphere where people can come together and exchange their views on a variety of issues.
Many libraries like the North Bengal State Library at Coochbehar have a heritage value associated with them. “We are thinking of converting the Coochbehar library into a museum with the help of the District Magistrate. If the resources can be made available online to the people they can see the rich heritage of the Coochbehar city,” the Joint Secretary shared.
Libraries should be interconnected online so that people residing across India can have access to the resources available. Many libraries across Bengal are heritage buildings where people can visit. This would lead to the growth of Library Tourism in future.
On the personal front
Jitin Yadav, IAS was in love with Physics in school and had graduated from St Stephen’s College, Delhi. “Those three years are the transforming years of my life. I realised that if I do anything with honesty I will excel in it,” he shared. Initially, Jitin Yadav worked in Derivatives Trading. While on the job, he started visiting NGOs on weekends which motivated him to work at the grassroots. “I thought being into IAS would offer me a larger platform if I want to bring comprehensive change in the society,” he shared.
Being fit for work
While working on the ground, Jitin Yadav realised that his performance improved when he started getting fit. So, he tried to take up one sport at a time and he took up badminton. “It also provided me with a good opportunity to interact with people and know the intricacies of how people think, what is their mindset and get close to them,” he said.
Jitin took up photography as well and he tried capturing various aspects of life. While he was posted at Mathabhanga, he was involved in Mathabhanga Photography Club and went on tour to various local areas.
Bengali is the bridge
As a young IAS officer brought up at Gurgaon, Jitin Yadav had never thought that he would be able to speak Bengali. However, Coochbehar helped him overcome the challenge. Interacting with locals helped in improving his Bengali and understanding the place and its dynamics in a short period.
“It gives a positive vibe when locals see someone from outside the state talking in their native language. It also reflects our dedication to the Service. I have felt so accepted here that I have never felt like an outsider even once. The warmth I received from Bengal is overwhelming,” he said.
Just like any other guy
The gap between the bureaucracy and the masses needs to be bridged and social media acts as a great enabler. Jitin Yadav has mastered the skill of using social media by trying to communicate with civil service aspirants. “I want to break the illusion that people who get into the Service are different from those preparing for the Service. It is only a matter of how you are effectively planning for the exam and the strategy you are adapting,” he shared.
Jitin Yadav is a positive individual who usually posts whatever thoughts come up to him on Twitter. He guides some aspirants to whom he is connected with. “If I am talking to someone for 5 minutes on a weekend that 5 minutes may not be that important to me but it may boost someone’s preparation level and transform his life,” he said.
His message to aspirants
“It is important to understand the demands of the exam and understand yourself as well. It is important to understand how your memory is functioning, what kind of a learner you are and how you are going to keep up your motivation levels. It is normal for any aspirant to be nervous in the beginning. Self-control, motivation, dedication and perseverance are the qualities that matter. You are bound to make mistakes but you should learn to overcome them.”