She is not known to walk the beaten track. Even as she continues to be a staunch Narendra Modi supporter, Madhu Kishwar, academic, feminist and writer, clears the air that her recent tweets questioning Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani’s educational qualifications and now the ministry’s stance to seek roll back of the four year undergraduate program in Delhi University, is “not about any personal or political agenda against her.”
Kishwar, senior fellow at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, spoke with rediff.com's contributor Upasna Pandey and expressed deep concern and anguish over the way in which the DU Vice Chancellor Dinesh Singh, whom she describes as “one of the best in the country” is being pressurised by the University Grants Commission into rolling back the FYUP under “pressure of DU Teachers’ Union which is left-dominated.” (Dinesh Singh resigned as VC on Tuesday). This is coupled with tremendous support of Student unions to go with the HRD ministry’s stance, she says.
You were the first to tweet about Smriti’s educational qualifications and now you are opposing the HRD ministry’s stance on FYUP. Please clarify.
I don’t know Smriti personally and neither am I involved in party politics or her rival. I have maintained my distance from political issues always and have no personal agenda against the minister.
I have worked extensively in the education field and am anguished by the state of our institutions and quality of education and teachers. Even if we compare our IIT and IIMs with the best in the world, there are not of very high standing. We need to take teacher training very seriously and cutting edge disciplining among students and raising quality benchmarks of institutions.
In such as scenario, we needed a person with knowledge of the world to take us ahead in the 21st century, as is the promise of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But I was disappointed when someone with insufficient educational background and inexperience is appointed as our HRD minister. That’s what I tweeted about.
As soon as she took up the job, our HRD minister issued a directive on introducing buttermilk or lassi to school children as part of the mid-day meal. This would require a cold chain to the last mile for this to reach in edible condition to each school, which is not available on the ground. So this may do more harm than good. There are many other ways of improving nutrition in the mid-day meal which could have been explored.
The second directive has been on rolling back the FYUP, which appears to be a tool to dislodge one of the best VCs in the country. He has introduced reforms and even put his head on the line to do this and this is how he is being pressurised now.
Student and teachers’ unions are backing the UGC on the FYUP roll back. How do you justify your opposition on this?
The three-year programs in DU were boring. Simply put there was a need for urgent reforms.
Last year, after much deliberation and keeping the need of the industry and job market, the VC along with the ratification and approval of the DU academic and executive council, introduced the FYUP and all students who enrolled in this last year are now adversely affected.
The FYUP disrupts the status quo in DU, which includes culture of abseentism by teachers and students, lack of accountability among teachers and the FYUP requires hard work and engagement between the teachers and students. This is something which is not desired by the left-led DU teachers’ unions which were in control of the appointments and designing course curriculums. They are fiercely opposing the FYUP and have been able to push for the roll back on this.
Please note that students get the benefit of opting through multiple exit points, at the 2-year level where they get a diploma, three-year level where they get BA degree and the 3+1 year level, where they become eligible for any foreign university.
So you think that UGCs stance is not relevant?
I think the minister should have fully applied her mind and not be guided by motivated people. If there needs to be any reversal or change on FYUP, they could have tried to build consensus, appointed a high-level independent committee to review this. But the committee appointed also has people who are opposed to FYUP.
I believe that the way the UGC is issuing directives to DU is unfair and may even be against UGC’s own regulations. We need the minister to carefully sift through the facts of the issue.
How do you view the performance of UPA’s HRD minister Kapil Sibal in comparison to Smriti Irani?
I think Sibal is very bright and well educated and he understands the education sector and was doing things with an open mind. He was backing the DU VC on a good program which is the need of the hour. I have serious issues with the way the Congress-led UPA government let the education sector languish but I think there is no comparison between Irani and Sibal as HRD minister.
DU VC Dinesh Singh is at the centre of this face-off, how do you see him holding his position?
He is one of the best vice chancellors we have in the country and I was quite surprised when I found that he is deeply inspired by Modi and believes in his promise of making India a leader in the 21st knowledge century.
He was quite looking forward to the new government and nurturing the educational reforms under the National Democratic Alliance government. So I am sure there is disappointment over this face-off with the UGC.