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States free to declare early summer break for schools if they wish to, says HRD minister 

Schools across India have launched the new academic session through online classes, but some have sought an advanced summer break to minimise lockdown impact.

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New Delhi: States are free to develop their own academic calendar and declare an early summer break during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown, Union Human Resource Development (HRD) Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’ has said.

Speaking to ThePrint during an exclusive interview, Pokhriyal was responding to a question about calls from multiple schools to advance the annual summer break, which usually lasts from May through June, to ensure the lockdown doesn’t affect the curriculum. 

“The HRD Ministry has currently not issued any guidelines or recommendations on early declaration of summer vacations to coincide with the lockdown period,” Pokhriyal said. 

“However, education being a concurrent subject (under the jurisdiction of both the central and state governments), states can develop their own academic calendar, early or as-usual summer break, and assessment schedule depending on the locally prevalent situation,” the minister added.

Schools and colleges around the country have been shut since mid-March to enforce social distancing in order to check the spread of coronavirus. 

Every year, the new session of schools starts in April. With the lockdown in place until 3 May at least, the central government has asked institutes across India to start the fresh session on schedule through online classes, also making available a host of portals such as DIKSHA and Swayam Prabha and educational channels to ease lessons.  

In the guidelines issued for the second phase of the lockdown, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs also advised that schools maintain the academic calendar through online lessons.

However, before the lockdown was extended, some schools had approached the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) with the proposal to advance the break to minimise the lockdown’s impact on classes.


Also Read: HRD minister Pokhriyal has many PhDs, his office says & slams complaint against his degree


Alternatives to internet

Talking about the ways in which the new academic session was being managed, Pokhriyal said the government was trying to make sure all students are able to “continue learning during these times, whether through online lessons or offline”.

Since the proposal of online classes has proved tough to implement in remote areas with patchy or little internet connectivity, Pokhriyal added that the government was exploring the possibility of delivering lessons through the All India Radio (AIR). This, he said, was besides the educational channels the government had made available via direct-to-home services like Tata Sky and Airtel. 

“The HRD Ministry is putting in every effort to reach out to the students, even those living in the most difficult circumstances,” he said. 

“I believe the eagerness to learn cannot be limited to non-availability of the internet. To address the digital divide, the HRD Ministry has tied up with the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting to air Swayam Prabha channels on DTH platforms.”  

Swayam Prabha is a bouquet of educational channels run by the government, covering disciplines such as arts, science, commerce, performing arts, social sciences and humanities, besides engineering, technology, law, medicine, agriculture etc. They cater to school as well as college students. 

“We are also trying to explore the option of All India Radio to transmit the curriculum to students,” the minister added.  

Pokhriyal said there had been a surge in the viewership of the online content provided by the ministry. According to the data shared by the minister, since 23 March, there have been 8.75 crore page views and 57 lakh content downloads on DIKSHA, a government-run platform for students and teachers to access educational content.

‘In the best interest of students’

Asked about the ministry’s plans regarding higher education institutions, including the conduct of exams stalled by the lockdown, Pokhriyal said a task force set up by the government was looking into the issue. 

The ministry has constituted two separate task forces for school and higher education, to look into various issues like the academic calendar and conduct of exams in light of the disruption caused by the lockdown. The committees are expected to submit their report soon.

“To assess the possibility of conducting online exams for higher education, the ministry has constituted a task force under the University Grants Commission (UGC),” Pokhriyal said. “We will issue guidelines on the basis of its report. The decision taken will be in the best interest of students.”


Also Read: Classes to continue online until 3 May, no plan to advance summer break: HRD ministry


 

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