The human resource development ministry (HRD) has acted on only one of the seven “most immediate” suggestions to strengthen the education system sent by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office almost a year-and-half ago, officials admit. While the Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyan (National Discovery Campaign, RAA) was started in July, in response to the recommendation that science and mathematics be popularised at the school level, the ministry has backed off on all the other suggestions, including providing buttermilk to students, for one reason or another.<!– Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –> The Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had on June 9 last year sent its seven-point agenda to the Smriti Irani-led ministry. The letter marked “most immediate”, it is learnt, directed the ministry to explore the feasibility of ideas suggested by the prime minister and suggested ways to expand and strengthen already existing schemes. Eighteen months on, however, the HRD ministry has managed to meet only one of the seven targets. Under the RAA scheme, emerging from Modi’s suggestion that information, education and communication (IEC) be promoted to inculcate the scientific temperament, every government school will be linked with an IIT, IIM, NIT or some other school of excellence located in their states, an official said. “We have launched this campaign in which our schools are linked up with higher education institutions. These technology and management institutions mentor these schools. It is an effort to bring teaching science out of the classrooms,” he added. For the rest, the ministry has either expressed its helplessness or has passed the responsibility to other ministries. The PMO had asked the ministry to start providing buttermilk to students under the midday meal (MDM) scheme. “Buttermilk to be distributed to all schools in MDM to cure amoebiasis and improve iron.” However, the ministry said it could not do so. Updating the PMO through the eSamikSha portal, it said, “It is calculated that to provide buttermilk to 10.56 crore students under MDM scheme, we would need an additional budget of Rs.2,500 crore.” It proposed that states could serve buttermilk under the schemethrough their own resources. The proposal to engage railway kitchens for cooking the midday meal and rope in charitable trusts and institutions running community kitchens also did not get a positive response. The MDM budget in this fiscal year was cut from Rs.11,000 crore to Rs.9,000 crore. “We have already updated the PMO on these issues,” said an official. The prime minister had suggested that the ministry work on the model of NGO Maa Foundation in Valsad, Gujarat, to engage volunteer teachers from NGOs and the social sector to provide after school support to students who can’t cope in the classroom. However, ministry officials said the Right to Education (RTE) act does not permit teaching to be a voluntary activity. “Even volunteer teachers have to be trained as per RTE prescribed guidelines. For the ministry to roll out the scheme, we have to formulate guidelines and processes under the ambit of RTE and it should be able to cater to the needs of the whole country,” said a senior official from the school education department. The ministry also informed the PMO that it was evaluating the process forcreating an online data bank of teachers willing to offer voluntary services. The proposal to set up separate model schools for girls and boys up to class 12 level in every tehsil was also put off for lack of funds. It had been suggested that these schools have a hostel so that meritorious students could be provided after school support. The model schools scheme was announced by the UPA government in 2008. Some 1,200 schools had been made functional and 2,400 schools had got ministry approval to start operations. “The PM had suggested expansion of these schools and setting up hostels. These were not a part of the existing policy,” explained an officer. In August last year, Irani directed the ministry to review the scheme altogether. In the current financial year, the model school budget was given to the states. “Even before we could complete our review, the scheme was handed over to the states. There are no model school funds with the HRD ministry,” added the officer. The suggestion to set up skill development institutions on the lines of Gujarat government’s Kaushalya Vardhan Kendra (KVK), awarded the prime minister’s award for excellence in public administration in 2011, was politely turned down on grounds that it had to be dealt with the ministry of skill development. A year and a half later, the ministry is also undecided on Modi’s vision to rope in college students as part time volunteers to promote IEC activities and in areas of traffic management.

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HRD Ministry implements only one of seven suggestions by PMO