Coronavirus: India’s education minister aims to ‘save’ academic year

Nishank’s popular social media feeds become a main source of information as universities prepare to reopen in August and September

May 7, 2020

India’s Covid-19 lockdown, which began in March and has been extended until at least 18 May, has left millions of high school and university students anxious about everything from exams arrangements to tuition fees.

To address these concerns, Ramesh Pokhriyal “Nishank”, head of the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has taken to social media to answer questions directly from students. His hour-long webinar on the afternoon of 5 May, promoted with the hashtag #EducationMinisterGoesLive, drew almost half a million Facebook views and more than 10,000 Twitter likes.

Dr Nishank, who oversees the country’s education sector, has turned social media into the main channel for updates concerning students. Even the news page on the ministry’s official website simply provides links to his personal feeds, which include a combination of formal announcements, poems, personal tips and inspirational slogans.

During his webinar, Dr Nishank confirmed that the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) and the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), admissions exams for technology and medicine programmes, would be held in July and August.

He also said there would be no fee hikes at Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), International Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) or National Institutes of Technology (NITs) as families face an economic downturn. Previous tuition fee increases at IITs have resulted in mass student protests.

The webinar repeated some information that had been already been announced by the University Grants Commission, which has issued a new 2020-21 academic calendar. Current students will restart on 1 August, and new students on 1 September. This is a shift from the regular academic year, which starts in July or August.

The UGC recommended that universities develop virtual classroom and videoconference facilities, give staff training in the systems and upload materials to websites, with the aim of shifting about 25 per cent of syllabi online. The UGC also urged flexibility in modes of conducting exams, which could be done in-person or online. Assessments could be based half on various evaluations and half on the previous semester’s performance.

During his webinar, Dr Nishank reassured students that “plans are being made to ensure that the year is saved”. He encouraged them to use government resources online, such as the National Digital Library, or to take up reading books or writing in a diary “to beat the stress and anxiety due to the present situation”.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com

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