Considered a tough task master, the 1981 batch Uttar Pradesh Cadre IAS officer Anil Swarup has set many milestones during his illustrious career. After streamlining the functioning of Coal Ministry as Coal Secretary, he has now been assigned an arduous task of setting things right in the School education sector. Unassuming yet perky, demure yet skittish, reticent yet eloquent — this career bureaucrat talks about his priorities in the new role in a free-wheeling interview with Mukesh K Jha & J Sanjiv.
What are your top priorities as Secretary of Department of School education and Literacy?
My first priority is to understand what the education sector is. I have not worked in education sector in the past. So, my first priority is to understand this sector. As a part of this, I have been travelling across the states, visiting schools interacting with students, teachers and officials, to get a first hand briefing of issues in the sector. Ever since I joined the new assignment I have already traveled to about 12 states including districts like Bastar where I have gone to the interior areas to understand how the education is being delivered on the ground. Whatever little I have understood so far is that the success has been in the form of children coming to the schools. Now the challenge is to provide quality education to students so that’s the real challenge.
What are the major reforms which you are looking in the area of primary and secondary education?
No, I don’t have any major reforms in my mind; I am basically a practitioner, so I am looking at how operationally we can see the quality education gets delivered to the children. There are a number of ways in which it can happen. We are trying to identify what is the reason, why so far there has been problem in improving the literacy of children and the quality education that is being delivered. And my initial understanding is that the focus has to be on teachers ; in term of availability of teachers, in term of quality of teacher’s, in term of upgrading the skill of the teachers. So the teacher has to be focused if the quality education has to be given.
As per a report by UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Global Education Monitoring, around 47 million young students are dropped out from school by 10th standard. How do you look at it and what your department is doing in this direction?
It is a fact that a large number of children do drop out after being in school for a while. My job will be to see that they are retained in the school. We are trying to identify the reasons why they leave. Some reasons relate to problem that I mentioned earlier. Inability to provide quality education in the class is one such reason. It gives the students the feeling that they are wasting their time there. If we are able to give quality education in the school through the teachers which we hope to train, then the dropout rate will come down. Secondly we have to also see how we make school education delivered to them. So far whatever we are teaching them is making them literate, alright to a certain extend but the question is whether they are getting equipped for future in terms of getting employment. So it is in that sense we are trying to integrate some sort of vocational training as a part of regular curriculum so that they also become equipped for future in getting employment.
Does the Centre plan to intervene on the matter of arbitrary fee hike by private schools?
No, Union government has no direct role to play. These schools are registered with the state governments. The state governments have control over them. The central government does not exercise direct control over these schools. The central government exercise control over schools like Kendreya Vidyalaya, Navodaya Vidaylaya. These schools are directly run by central government.
What are the main objectives of the new educational policy?
The education policy has be only in two lines, providing quality education to the children; thereafter it varies from place to place. India is one country but there are many countries within India. Every state has its own specific problem. So, central policy may not be able to resolve all the issues. So we have to focus on operation and implementation. The problem in the most of the sectors in India is not in terms of policy or laws rather it is in the implementation. So we are drawing out a clear-cut action plan on delivering things on ground rather than merely focusing on national policy.
Digital Literacy Mission for rural India with a target to cover 6 crore new households within the next three years, a grand scheme to train 6 crore rural Indians was announced in June 2016. How is yours ministry working on it.
We provide facilities but this is a scheme run by Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology. We don’t run that scheme. As far as we are concerned, in our schools the HRD ministry provide facilities of hardware which enables student to understand the technology.
Skill development is one of the important missions initiated by the government of India. How does Ministry of HRD help in realizing this goal?
The government has realized the importance of skill development and created a separate ministry. We are trying to integrate the vocational training courses as a part of regular curriculum right from the beginning. So that the child gets some understanding of vocational training by the time he moves to the class at7th, 8th, 9th and 10th. A child can then take a call to have a special training. So our Ministry is assisting vocational training by integrating it as a part of the regular curriculum in our education.
How do you view the new budget and allocation for your department in it?
I think budget is reasonably good. It is not a question of money that is really critical. It is manner in which how money is spent. So far the focus of expenditure was on the salary of teachers and the buildings. Now the focus has shifted to quality education. For providing quality education we have to focus on processes and for which the infusion of huge fund is not required we have to see the management of use of funds and to see how the quality education could be delivered in the field.
When I say quality of education, we have to ensure that the teachers have come to class; it does not require too much of funding. When we say that we have to train teachers; it does not require too much of funding. When we say that the quality of teachers need to improve; it does not require too much of funding. When I say that the selection processes of teacher has to be transparent and IT based; it does not require too much of funding. So far improving the quality education, I think funding is certainly required but not to the extent of people think it is required. Our focus, as I said shifted from pure infrastructure, human resource to human resources management and quality education.
Infrastructure problem is long pending issue. What is futuristic plan by your department to tackle this issue?
Lot of infusion of fund has happened, lots of schools have been built I don’t think infrastructure per say now is a major problem. Major problem now is quality of education for that purpose by a large the infrastructure has put in place and over a period of time more infrastructures will come. But I think the critical question today is not infrastructure but a quality of education.
In your opinion what will be the literacy rate of India in next five year?
I am not interested too much in numbers, I mean number and outcome will come at their own look at the processes. We are totally focused on the improving the quality of education.
And what about complaints about Mid Day Meal Scheme?
In my understanding mid day meal has improved quiet remarkably with the infusions of NGOs like Akshay Patra. They are doing wonderful jobs in the field. However, there is always scope of improvement. There is very intensive monitoring mechanism of the mid day meal scheme but in the country of this scale and size there is bound to happen some strain here and there.
Any plan to use smart technologies and tools to improve the learning processes?
We are planning to use tablets in every school. We are starting with Chhattisgarh. Tablet will be given to every school for bio-attendance, learning, data housing. The ministry has planned to distribute one tablet each in all the schools of Chhattisgarh on a
pilot project basis. This entire exercise is expected to cost around 70 to 72 crore rupees. It is pilot project which will start from April – May this year.