Published: 31st December 2021
The year that was: 12 things that shook India's education sector in 2021
While school closures caused immense learning loss and a huge number of dropouts, the question was whether it was safe to open schools amid the raging pandemic
The second year of the COVID-19 pandemic was in no way easier on any of us. And the worst affected in these couple of years have been the students. The divide that the digitisation of education caused in India was immense. School closures increased the number of dropouts and worsened the situation. But that's not all that happened.
Some good, some bad, some worse — we take a look at major issues and events that made news in India's education sector in 2021.
To be back to school or not?
This was really the conundrum for many states for a long time. While school closures caused immense learning loss and a huge number of dropouts, the question was whether it was safe to open schools amid the raging pandemic. Karnataka saw an influx in COVID cases whenever they reopened school — be it in August, late October or November. Students got infected and so did teachers. While Delhi and Tamil Nadu were some of the few states to resume classes the earliest, states like West Bengal waited till November to do so. But with the new Omicron variant raging across India and the world, is it time for another long term closure?
Change of guard in the MoE
Ramesh Pokhriyal, who held the office of Minister of HRD and then that of the Minister of Education handed over his duties to Odisha BJP MP Dharmendra Pradhan in July this year. While Pokhriyal brought in the much-debated, appreciated and criticised National Education Policy 2020, Pradhan is now in charge of implementing it across the country and institutions. The Odisha leader had previously earned accolades for implementing the Ujjwala Yojna. But only time will tell if he will be as successful with the NEP, which has seen some severe opposition from sections of the student community, teachers and intellectuals.
CBSE makes a pattern change
After a year of uncertainty and haphazard examinations at all levels, CBSE finally changed its format of examinations. Under the new system, students will appear for the exam twice and answer questions based on only 50 per cent of the syllabus each time. The first-term, will have MCQs while the second-term exams will have both descriptive and objective questions. Will this help? Well, like any other issue, there are two sides to that as well. Only time will tell if this new format proves to be beneficial in the learning process of the school students.
The pandemic forced a digital shift that would have taken more than a decade to be adopted. While this hastened the developmental process and the EdTech sector saw an unprecedented and unforeseen boom, it also deepened the socio-economic divide. Not everyone in India has access to the internet yet — internet penetration in India is still at around 37 per cent. This not only isolated a major chunk of learners but also forced a lion's share of them out of schools and colleges. The country also saw massive protests due to this but the government has to date maintained that its portals have helped lakhs of students continue their education. The number that was left out is not yet accounted for.
The Right to Education Forum's policy brief said that about one crore girl students were at the risk of dropping out right at the beginning of the year. In August, Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan came up with a worse set of data — 15 crore children were out of the education system at that time with the dropout rate standing at 17 per cent.
Reopen campus protests
Campuses of both schools and colleges and universities have been shut for over a year. The digital divide had made things worse and students were dropping out. This pushed the students and teachers to demand reopening campuses. Protests across varsities, including the likes of the University of Delhi, the Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Banaras Hindu University and Jadavpur University, rocked the country.
Marks Jihad in DU?
If you want to incite hatred about an issue in India, add the word Jihad to it — that seems to be the going trend. The term "marks jihad" coined and used against students from Kerala, and the evaluation system of the Kerala State Education Board, by a Delhi University professor, sparked a severe political controversy in October. Students from the Kerala Board had scored very high marks including several of them scoring a perfect score. This resulted in a huge chunk of them securing admission in the very first phase of the Delhi University admissions.
Caste matters in the IITs
It started off with an IIT Kharagpur professor abusing SC and ST students for their caste identities. The video that showed her abusing her students went viral and the local police had filed a suo moto case. This was back in May 2021. While there were other cases of casteism on Indian campuses, the other instance that made it to national headlines, was when an IIT Madras assistant professor quit allegedly due to the caste discrimination that he had faced at the Humanities and Social Sciences Department. Deepa Mohanan, a PhD scholar at the Mahatma Gandhi University's International and Inter-University Centre for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, went on hunger strike against caste discrimination from Dr Nandakumar Kalarikkal, the director of the Centre and also accused the university's VC. Dr Kalarikkal was soon removed from the post.
Dogs of Madras
IIT Madras was heavily criticised after around 50 dogs dies in its shelter. While there were a few who supported them, the entire country including Tamil Nadu Finance Minister PTR Palanivel Thiyagarajan criticised the incident. Of the 186 stray dogs that were originally kept inside the IIT Madras enclosure, 57 had died, said the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries, Tami Nadu.
Longest running union
The pandemic had frozen life for over a year. While no one was stepping out of their homes, it is evident that university student union elections won't take place. This made the current Jawaharlal Nehru Students' Union hold office for the longest time and a few of them have even left the institution and moved on. But they still hold their posts. The current office bearers including JNUSU President Aishe Ghosh were elected in 2019 and have since been in office. An election is long pending and students hope they will see a new union soon.
Twelve new faces — VCs to the fore
President Ram Nath Kovind appointed new Vice-Chancellors to 12 central universities this year. The list included Dr Tankeshwar Kumar to the Central University of Haryana, Prof Sat Prakash Bansal to the Central University of Himachal Pradesh, Sanjeev Jain to the Central University of Jammu and Kshitij Bhushan Das to the Central University of Jharkhand, Battu Satyanarayana was appointed as the VC of Karnataka University, Muthukaligan Krishan to the Central University of Tamil Nadu and Basuthkar J Rao to the Central University of Hyderabad, Kameshwar Nath Singh to the Central University of South Bihar, Prabha Shankar Shukla to the North-Eastern Hill University, Alok Kumar to Guru Ghasidas University, Syed Ainul Hasan to the Maulana Azad National Urdu University and N Lokendra Singh to Manipur University. These appointments were long pending but one of the appointments still pending even after the term ended long ago, is of the VC of JNU. Dr Mamidala Jagadesh Kumar still holds the post even amid severe protests and clashes with the student community. Even the ABVP has demanded a new JNU VC's appointment.
NDTF breaches DUTA after 24 years
In yet another interesting election result for the Delhi University Teachers' Association, a candidate of the RSS-affiliated National Democratic Teachers' Front has been elected to the post of president of the Delhi University Teachers' Association. This is the first time after 24 years that the candidate from the right-affiliated teachers' group was voted as the President. AK Bhagi of NDTF defeated his nearest rival, Abha Dev Habib of the Left-affiliated Democratic Teachers' Front (DTF), by a margin of 1,382 votes.
The year 2021 did not have too many good pieces of news as far as education is concerned. Will things normalise in 2022? Will that help stabilise the tumultuous and changing education landscape in India?
Answers to these will hopefully be found this year. It's a wait we need to endure.