The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, chaired the full Planning Commission meeting here today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s closing remarks on the occasion:
“We have had a wide ranging discussion on a subject which is vital for the continued progress of our country. We have covered all the critical areas in education, although I believe that more work needs to be done to give a final shape to the Skill Development area.
The approach presented by the note of the Planning Commission has received broad support. The proposed scale of Central Government funding for education in the 11th Plan amounts to almost Rs.2.5 lakh crores in constant prices, which is a four-fold increase over the 10th Plan. The share of education in the total Plan will correspondingly increase from 7.7% to 19.4%. This reflects the high priority being given to education by our Government and represents credible progress towards the objective of raising public spending of the Centre and the States combined to 6% of our GDP.
The proposals discussed today are at varying degrees of conceptualisation. While some are ready to be operationalised in a few weeks, others will take longer to take final shape. The Planning Commission, the Ministry of Human Resource Development and other Ministries concerned with Skill Development must now move quickly to operationalise the approach agreed to today by preparing detailed programmes for each of the major new initiatives.
I wish to emphasise a few points in particular:
1. Focus on Quality Education in Elementary Education
The Sarva Siksha Abhiyan has made breakthroughs in providing universal access in most parts of the country even though I recognise that the quality and quantity of high incidence of drop-out rates I think constitute, I think serious drawbacks. It must now move to a phase where the goal would be to extract the maximum value for the money being spent. It should rapidly move its focus to quality improvement. It should even be called the Second Phase of SSA. The Ministry of HRD should work out minimum standards which must be met by all schools, whether public or private, and also chalk out the details of how to ensure that the objective is actually achieved. Special attention needs to be paid to districts with concentrations of SC, ST and minority populations. The Mid Day Meals (MDM) scheme has to be rapidly expanded to cover 60 million additional children at the upper primary level by the end of year 2008-09 and I am glad to report that the Cabinet had today approved this ambitious proposal.
2. Secondary and Higher Secondary Education
We are setting out a goal of universalising secondary education. This is clearly the next step after universalising elementary education. While the goal is laudable, much work needs to be done before we are in a position to launch the Scheme for Universalisation of Access for Secondary Education (SUCCESS). Its details need to be quickly spelt out and discussed with States so that we are fully ready to launch it from the year 2008-09. We must not underestimate the complexity of this task as the principles for universalising elementary education cannot be easily transferred to secondary education. The physical, financial, pedagogical and human resource needs are quite different. We also need to recognize the role currently being played by the private sector and the policy design must factor this in. Detailed strategies and plans would need to be worked out rapidly for each state. Special attention would need to be paid to Districts with SC/ST/OBC/Minority concentration. The points that are made by Shri Sharad Pawar when we are dealing with children from disadvantaged background I think their special needs need to be kept in mind. The recommendations of the Sachar Committee need to be seriously considered and factored into our planning processes while planning for this programme.
To kick start the initiative, the proposal for setting up 6000 high quality model schools with costs to be shared by the Centre and the States needs to be finalised within the next few weeks. The mechanism for setting up and managing these schools – whether in the government sector or through private participation in some aspects – should be worked out by the Ministry of HRD, in consultation with the Planning Commission. It must be recognised that about 60% of secondary schools are under private management and the Ministry and the Planning Commission should focus on incorporating the role of the private sector wherever possible. An outline of the proposal should be available within two months.
Expanding secondary education would run into capacity constraints on many fronts – in getting an adequate number of mathematics and science teachers, in ensuring better attendance of teachers, in ensuring a high quality of education and in ensuring accountability of schools. This would require attention to be paid to teacher training and managerial control aspects. The Ministry of HRD, there is no doubt that elaborate specific proposals for meeting this need.
3. Higher Education
The Higher Education System has been relatively neglected in the past decade. It was the investment made in this system in the 50s and 60s which has given us a strong knowledge base in many fields. We are committed to rapidly expanding this sector as well.
There is now general agreement on setting up 16 Central Universities in States which do not have a university, 14 Central Universities in other States, 8 IITs, 7 IIMs and 5 Indian Institute of Science, Education & Researches. I am already getting requests from a large number of states for locating these institutions in their states. I am sure that with the large number of institutions we are considering, we would be able to satisfy every state to some extent.
Some of these universities/institutions should, ab initio, be targeted to achieve world class standards. For the Central Universities aimed at world class standards it will be necessary to be more ambitious in terms of infrastructure, especially if they are to include departments of science, medicine and engineering. This involves higher costs. The scope for private participation in these universities should therefore be systematically explored. The location of these institutions should be determined in a manner which balances the desire for achieving a greater geographical spread with the potential synergies arising from co-location. Location decisions should not be purely based on land availability. We should encourage States to compete for the location of these prized Central Institutions.
These are decisions which would define the educational growth trajectory of states for many decades to come and must be taken with utmost care. The details and the roll-out of this high visibility programme should be worked out by an Inter-Ministerial Group consisting of the Ministry of HRD, the University Grants Commission and the Planning Commission and outside experts which the Planning Commission can appoint within a fortnight. Locational decisions should be taken within the next two months.
Once the broad policy framework is clear, we should make a start with detailed planning for the proposed Central Universities aiming at world class standards. The proposal in the Planning Commission note to set up distinct teams, to go into details of the structure and operationally relevant issues for each university is a good idea. We should have a creative approach to the design of these new centres of learning. Ideas such as common entrance tests, the semester system, flexible syllabi, student body diversity, inter-institutional student transferability, faculty recruitment and transferability, autonomy and governance reform should all be well thought out in this design. The final approval of funding for these universities should be given on the basis of the reports of these teams.
We should also seriously look at the proposal for fee increases to reasonable levels in a graduated manner accompanied by a scheme of extensive scholarships and loans which would ensure that no student is denied education because of his or her financial constraints This is a reasonable approach and the Planning Commission should work out these proposals in greater detail.
We must also seriously examine the role of private initiative in supplementing public funding for higher education. We obviously cannot rely on the private response alone but we should welcome it as a supplement. I believe that there is a role for private initiative in this area. Many states have developed good quality private institutions. We should carefully examine the policy issues that need to be addressed to promote growth of such institutions in the future.
Finally I would like to draw attention to an aspect of quality education that has been touched upon but not adequately elaborated. The IITs and IIMs have acquired a “star status” globally and we have ambitious plans of expanding the number of such institutions. However, there are large potential capacities within existing institutions which can be easily captured. Some of the existing IITs and IIMs are well endowed with land and have the capacity to expand the size of the student population by three fold. We are currently planning an expansion of 54% for providing reservation to students from other backward classes (OBCs). In fact I feel we should set up a committee to go into the optimum capacity of the existing IITs and IIMs. The Planning Commission and the Ministry of HRD should set up a group for this purpose.
The role and functions of apex institutions like UGC, All India Council of Technical Education, Medical Council of India, etc, need to be reviewed in the context of the large number of changes that have taken place in higher, professional and technical education in the last many years and the demands of a new knowledge economy. The Planning Commission in consultation with the Ministry of Human Resource Development and other concerned Ministries should set up a Working Group to suggest a specific reforms agenda in this area.
4. Vocational Education
One area where I believe that we have slipped a lot in our commitments is in vocational education and skill development. I had mentioned on 15th August that we will develop the capacity for enrolling one crore children under this stream. The proposals, however, are too sketchy – both in vocational education and skill development. I would like to Planning Commission, in consultation with all concerned Ministries to finalise this proposal before 2nd October so that we see some real action on the ground this year.
In conclusion, I compliment the Planning Commission and the Ministry of HRD for having put in sustained effort in giving shape to our commitment to improve the quantity and quality of our education system. However, what I would like to emphasise is that we cannot discuss options endlessly. We need to work with a sense of urgency and work to fixed timelines if we have to see action on the ground. Otherwise, we will continue with a theoretical exercise within these four walls for some more years. We need to work hard to ensure that all that we have agreed today takes off in a reasonably short time frame. Proposals for setting up 6000 schools covering all blocks, having 30 Central Universities and providing large capacities in vocational education must be finalised within the next two months. Locational decisions must be taken fast. It is only then that the common man will have faith in our ability to deliver on our promises.”