Published: 08th July 2021
Dharmendra Pradhan takes charge: Five challenges that will test the new Minister of Education
He took charge as the new Minister of Education in the newly reshuffled Modi cabinet. This is what lies ahead for him
On July 7, 2021, a little before the cabinet reshuffling and expansion, the country's first Minister of Education Ramesh Pokhriyal resigned, along with 12 other ministers. Soon, speculation about who will lead the education ministry flooded the internet. Some said that former Congress heavyweight Jyotiraditya Scindia would be handed the portfolio. Others betted on former Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal.
So when news about the 'Ujjwala Man' Dharmendra Pradhan taking charge as the new Minister of Education broke, quite a few eyebrows were raised. This was partly because he had, until then, served as the Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, at a time when the fuel price keeps shooting up on an almost weekly basis.
But honestly, should we really be surprised? After all, Pradhan has served as the Minister of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship from September 3, 2017 till May 2019. Under him, the department saw quite a decent amount of growth and the emergence of new programmes, including the online counseling programme, Skill Saathi.
Challenge #1: Implementing the NEP during a pandemic
However, in his new role, Pradhan has a plethora of challenges that lie ahead. Like every other sector in the world, the pandemic has affected the state of education badly. Even though his predecessor, Ramesh Pokhriyal, had stated that the pandemic will not affect the rolling out and implementation of the new National Education Policy (NEP), that claim was hollow, at best. This is because most educational institutions in the country have suspended physical classes since March 2020. The economic slowdown has also affected the sector badly since, even now, only 3.5 per cent of the GDP is allocated to education. The NEP says that 6 per cent of the GDP has to be allocated.
Challenge #2: Vaccinating crores of Indian students for exams
Surpassing the criticism against the vaccination policy and a speculated country-wide shortage, the Pradhan-led MoE will have to struggle to vaccinate students who are above 18 in time, to reopen higher education institutions. Until now, the country with a population of approximately 138 crore people, has only administered a little over 36 crore vaccine doses until now. The MoE will have to develop a more viable policy with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to overcome the barrier.
Challenge #3: Bridging India's digital divide during COVID
Owing to the pandemic, most educational institutions in the country have switched to taking classes online. While a few consider this a boon, a lot of others are struggling, owing to the large digital divide. A recent survey says that close to 40 crore people don't have access to the internet in the country. In this scenario, the ministry will have to work out a scheme to ensure that students do not miss out on classes.
Challenge #4: Keeping researchers happy and off the streets
Former MHRD/MoE ministers Pokhriyal and Prakash Javadekar have faced flak from students and student organisations across the country for not paying heed to the demands of students. While Javadekar's term saw one of the longest-running and massive protests by researchers, seeking an increment in their fellowship stipends, Pokhriyal's regime saw numerous protests against fee hikes in universities and sporadic issues of social injustice in universities.
Challenge #5: Weathering Twitter storms by students
Since March 2020, a lot of these protests went online, with students asking the ministry to not conduct examinations in the middle of the pandemic. However, most of them were not addressed or resolved. At the same time, Pokhriyal was also criticised for not speaking to students or the press directly.
The road ahead will definitely be a tough one for Pradhan. Will he manage it better? Only time will tell.