In the last few years, university campuses have ceased to remain inclusive spaces that safeguard freedom of expression and individual liberties, said senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. There is a strong need to replace narrow-minded identities with a willingness to embrace differences, he added assertively.
The budget for the ministry is characterised by a "bizarre series of cuts", said Tharoor as he addressed the demands for grants of the Education Ministry in Lok Sabha. Any hope for positive development in the country's primary and higher education ecosystem has been effectively handicapped by the allocations, he added.
Tharoor also pointed out that the pandemic has exposed a serious digital divide and he cited instances of students taking their own lives due to lack of access to smartphones when classes moved online. He also pitched for having a national computer curriculum.
"Whether it is JNU, Jamia Milia or Aligarh or so many others, in the last few years, our campuses have no longer remained inclusive spaces that safeguard freedom of expression and individual liberties.
"Instead, there has been a systematic effort to alter the character of our colleges and universities through the imposition of a singular and dominating ideology. That is not just an assault on the soul of free, diverse and inclusive India...," he said.
Tharoor noted that narrow-minded identities need to be replaced by a willingness to embrace differences.
He congratulated the education minister for rolling out the National Education Policy (NEP) but said the budget for the ministry has been characterised by a "bizarre series of cuts" and that allocations have betrayed expectations.
"Instead of allocations commensurate with the soaring ambitions of the NEP, there is a disconnect between the targets outlined in the NEP and the financial support... any hopes for positive development in our primary and higher education ecosystem has been effectively handicapped by budget allocations," Tharoor said.
Instead of increasing budgetary allocation for education to six per cent of the GDP, Tharoor said it has been actually slashed and is only 2.67 per cent of the government's estimated expenditure and 3.2 per cent of the GDP.
According to him, there is an over bureaucratisation of universities and that the higher education system is overregulated and under-governed. There should be a focus on a result-based system with an emphasis on learning outcomes, he added.
He challenged the government to set up at least ten new Sainik schools without renaming Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya.
Urging the education minister to ensure there is a discussion in Parliament on the NEP, Tharoor said, "This temple of democracy should not be reduced to a notice board and just a budget counting exercise."
Participating in the discussion, BJP member Sanjay Jaiswal praised the NEP and said it will change the wrong education being imparted to children in the past.
He wondered how many children will know about poet Kalidasa who many might know as the Shakespeare of the East.
Jigsaws also urged the government to do something with respect to coaching centres and to ensure that there are no coaching classes for engineering and medical examinations before a student completes the tenth class.
AIMIM's Asaduddin Owaisi accused the government of not doing anything for the upliftment of Muslims, citing figures about lower literacy in the community viz a viz the national average. He also alleged that the government was violating Article 28 of the Constitution by pushing the study of Hindu epics in the National Institute of Open Schooling and asked why Koran and Guru Granth Sahib were ignored.
BJP's Sunil Kumar Soni lauded the government for bringing a new education policy after a gap of 34 years and praised its emphasis on local languages and vocational courses.
BJD's Anubhav Mohanty said there is a need to substantially increase budgetary allocation for school and higher education from the existing 4 per cent.
With PTI Inputs
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