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States can develop academic calendar, alter vacation time: Ramesh Pokhriyal

States can develop their own academic calendar and assessment schedule and choose when to have their summer break depending on the locally prevalent situation, said Union HRD minister Ramesh Pokhriyal. Even as online learning portals see sharp rise in number of hits, the minister said CBSE will assess the loss of instructional time due to the Covid lockdown for a proportionate reduction in curriculum load for board exams 2021.

How has the MHRD handled the lockdown period?

Fulfilling the PM's wishes, MHRD is working 24x7 during the lockdown period with the spirit of 'students - teachers' safety and learning'. In the initial period of lockdown we announced a plethora of measures, starting with the promotion policy for students of various classes. We then decided to postpone various exams. The ministry has set up three task forces to focus on online learning, academic calendar and examinations and to deal with mental health issues of students. Following their reports, respective bodies after due consultation with MHRD, will issue appropriate guidelines for schools, universities/colleges.

Has online teaching been able to make up for the loss of classroom teaching?

Number of hits on key online educational portals in higher education like SWAYAM , SWAYAM Prabha, Virtual Labs, FOSSEE, E - Yantra and Spoken Tutorial has gone up five times since the lockdown. Within a week of lockdown, there were two times increase in the use of DIKSHA ((National Teachers Platform for India). There have been 8.75 crore page views and 57 lakh content downloads in DIKSHA since March 23rd.

Is the ministry thinking of advancing the summer vacation and reducing the syllabus for 2020-21 session?

MHRD has presently not issued any guidelines or recommendation on early declaration of summer vacations. However, education being a concurrent subject, states can develop their own academic calendar and assessment schedule and also decide on having an early or as usual summer break depending on the locally prevalent situation. We have also formed a special taskforce under NCERT to deliberate on important issues such as academic calendar and examinations, which is likely to submit its report soon. CBSE will assess the loss of instructional time for proportionate reduction in curriculum load for board exams 2021. In accordance, course committees of the board have initiated work on reduced syllabus in various scenarios.

How is MHRD harnessing tech to make assessments 100% digital?

To assess possibility of conducting online exams for higher education, MHRD has constituted a taskforce under UGC. We will issue the guidelines based on their report.

Is the ministry thinking of a common undergraduate admission process through NTA, given the short window likely post lockdown?

NTA already conducts entrance examinations of major domains such as ICAR, IIFT, IGNOU, SWAYAM, ARPIT, JEE MAIN, NEET UG, among others. Feedback is being received for conducting common exam from various stakeholders and once opinion of all stakeholders is taken, we will be able to firm up an opinion on this.

Has this unprecedented period also given India an opportunity to boost online education and improve digital infrastructure?

For the first time we are creating a dedicated division for online learning in MHRD, which is going to be headed by the additional secretary. Officers will be called on deputation to work in this division who will work exclusively on online education. To address the digital divide, MHRD has tied up with I&B ministry to air SWAYAM PRABHA channels on DTH platforms. We are also trying to explore the option of AIR to transact the curriculum to students.

Will the NCERT textbooks be available immediately post the lockdown?

The textbooks for the session 2020-21 are printed and will be distributed as soon as schools reopens. NCERT has also prepared an alternative academic calendar for students and students can also access the e - version of the textbooks on E - Pathashala.

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