Indian Minister speaks of ‘collective journey’ towards Education Agenda 2030

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UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova and Indian Minister for Human Resource Development Ms Smriti Zubin Irani unveiling the statue of mathematician Aryabhata
© UNESCO/Pilar Chiang-Joo

Access to education for all girls even in the remotest regions of India is key to the achievement of Education Agenda 2030 said Indian Minister of Human Resource Development Ms Smriti Zubin Irani, speaking at an international conference at UNESCO.

“The last time we had an education policy was three decades ago.  So we launched a consultative process to ask people at the grassroots level what is it they need for their children.”

She said India already boasted a 100 per cent enrolment rate at primary school level and was well on-way to overcoming the challenge of school dropouts at higher levels, and in particular that of girls, by successfully installing 400,000 toilet facilities in government schools, in less than a year, as part of the Swachh Vidyalaya Programme.

Alongside this, projects have been launched to boost girls’ participation in science and maths and smooth the way into education for those from poor families by waiving fees and supplying equipment such as tablets with free study programmes to upload. Other schemes aimed at women in higher education included lengthened and flexible study programmes including a 240-day maternity leave.

“Key to SDG4 is lifelong learning and to achieve that we have a two-year project tackling adult illiteracy and enhancing this with skills,” said Ms Irani.

Achievements in access must be matched by quality

The country is also expanding education opportunities through ICTs including a National Digital Library which supports learners by offering quality learning courses and the e-pathsala scheme which offers free online access to books from grade 1 to 12. The on-line platform SWAYAM delivers specially designed MOOCs for students to learn inexpensively and at their own pace.

She said that the next step was to ensure these achievements were matched by quality and to that end a learning outcomes system was in place whereby all citizens, students and parents could be made aware of the benchmarks used in the education process.

A flagship scheme, the Global Initiative of Academic Networks or GIAN, taps into the talent pool of academia worldwide and has so far brought 400 academics to India to teach in government institutes.

To include the voice of youth in education reforms, the Indian Government has created an outreach programme working with the UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development in New Delhi.

At the conference Ms Irani presented a gift from India to UNESCO of the bust of the ancient Indian mathematician-astronomer Aryabhata which will now be the proud possession of UNESCO, indeed humanity.

Unveiling the bust in the presence of UNESCO Director-General Mr Irina Bokova, she said: “Your organization is most central today as we set out on our collective journey towards agenda 2030. It seeks to complete the unfinished agenda and unkept promises on education for all.”