The first thing that the new minister of human resource development, M.M. Pallam Raju, should consider doing is change the name of his ministry. It should simply be called ministry of education. This will give focus to his job instead of making him the minister of what was once the labour and industrial relations department in corporate bodies. There is a more serious dimension to this nomenclature. The name, human resource, induces the person in charge to look at teachers and academics as part of a labour force and therefore not worthy of too much respect. The renaming of the department could well initiate the process of refashioning the government’s attitude to educational institutions and to those who teach in them. The prevailing attitude, as articulated often by Mr Raju’s predecessor, has been for the government to curtail the autonomy of academic institutions as much as possible on the ground that most universities are fully or partially funded by the government. This presence of the government — often bordering on interference — has stifled the pursuit of excellence in bodies of higher learning. Mr Raju should step back and allow the vice chancellors and constituted bodies of universities to run the institutions. This should ideally be the first step in the government’s gradual withdrawal from the sphere of higher education and to opening it up to private players.
The government’s activities should focus on primary education, where the needs are the greatest. Here the effort should be to abandon the charade of making people literate (read able to sign names) and aim at providing quality education to the underprivileged. This is where the prime minister’s aspiration of inclusive growth can acquire substance. There exists an artificial distinction in India between popular and quality education. This obfuscates the primary problem of facilities. The majority of government schools in India do not have adequate facilities for providing any kind of education. There are no blackboards, no books, no laboratories and even no lavatories. The education minister should immediately address these issues instead of pretending to be a super vice chancellor of India — which is how the previous incumbent saw himself. The task before Mr Raju is a challenging one and perhaps the most important one. He should listen to good advice and proceed immediately.