MHRD: Accelerating The Process Of Learning Even During Lockdown

Dr Ramesh Pokhriyal ‘Nishank’, Hon’ble Minister, Human Resource Development, shares his views on E-learning, enumerating the various initiatives undertaken by MHRD and NBT, India, while talking about his journey as an author.


AABP: Kindly do let us know about the initiatives undertaken by the MHRD in the lockdown period to help students avail best content?

HRD Minister: In order to support teachers, and accelerate the process of learning, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) provides a plethora of educational applications and platforms at both school and higher education level. The platforms make available engaging content for students, teachers, and parents to facilitate the process of learning at the times of social distancing and nationwide lockdown.

To encourage reading, MHRD has provided students with a huge database of digital books that can be found on National Digital Library and National Repository of Open Educational Resources (NROER).

NROER provides homogenous collaborative resources for students and teachers. It has 697 Collections, 5,906 Documents, 1,357 Interactive, 1,863 Audios and 6,157 videos. The National Digital Library has a repository of over 4.3 crore e-content material (Text/Audio/Video/ Simulation/Graphics) on multiple disciplines from primary to PG levels. The e-content has been collated from 250 sources; in 300+ languages.

For curricular and research, students can use platforms like DIKSHA, NISHTHA, SWAYAM, SWAYAMPrabha, NROER, PG Pathshala, Shodhganga, E-Shodhsindhu, E-Yantra, FOSSE, Virtual Labs, SAMARTH, VIDWAN, ShodhSudhi among others. There has been an increase in the consumption pattern of the e-learning platforms. 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 to 5 times since lockdown. Within a week of lockdown, there was 2 times increase in the use of DIKSHA (National Digital Platform for Teachers).

I also launched a #MyBookMyFriend campaign on the occasion of World Book Day i.e. on 23rd April (2020), with an objective to encourage reading. Through this initiative, I urge people across the country to read inspiring books in a year, and share their current book using the hashtag #MyBookMyFriend.

AABP: Since reading is important, especially during the lockdown period, what are the initiatives of MHRD to ensure books reach the readers?

HRD Minister: As per the MHA guidelines, shops selling books have now been allowed to open. Parents and students can visit the nearby shop, although taking into account all the necessary precautions and measures of social distancing, wearing a mask while going to the shops, and sanitizing their hands.

The step was imperative to our belief that books are the primary avenue to all knowledge for all age groups as it offers access to information, aspirations and happenings of both the past and the present. Thereby, we have been encouraging reading and development of libraries from the past through our ‘Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat’ scheme. However, at the same time I would want to reiterate that MHRD has made available all learning resources online on various e-learning platforms as discussed earlier.

AABP: Reading is a habit, which needs to be cultivated. How is MHRD working in this direction?

HRD Minister: MHRD is vigorously working for promoting reading as a habit. Measures have been strategically adopted at the policy level and implementation level. The ‘New Education Policy’ recommends that all communities and education institutions – schools, colleges and universities – will ensure an adequate supply of books that cater to the needs and interests of all students, including persons with disabilities and other differently-abled persons.

The policy suggests constructive steps for increasing access, affordability and quality of books in all Indian languages of both print and digital versions, deployment of library staff and devising career path for them, strengthening all existing libraries, setting up rural libraries and reading rooms in disadvantaged regions, making widely available reading material in Indian languages, opening children’s libraries and mobile libraries, establishing social book clubs across India and across subjects, and fostering greater collaborations between education institutions and libraries.

Further, MHRD is also coming up with the ‘National Book Promotion Policy.’ The policy envisions a knowledge society imbued with an awareness that comes from reading of books and the positive ideas embedded in them. It also envisions a reading and learning society in which books will be available and accessible to everyone utilising the advancements made through Digital Technology. The policy lays emphasis on ‘Improving the Accessibility of Books and Library Movement.’ Also, for readership promotion, the policy recommends measures for inculcation of book reading habit, conduction of book fairs and exhibitions, enabling libraries to act as nodal points for reading promotion, development of children’s book hubs and reader’s clubs, implementation of scheme of book coupons, integration of library services with post-literacy programme, promotion of neighbourhood library system and conduction of literary festivals and national readership surveys.

At present, an annual library grant is being provided in all Government schools to inculcate the reading habits among students of all ages and strengthen school libraries in tandem with the activities under ‘Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat.’ I am happy to share that the budget allocation was increased by 50% from 473.96 crores to 711.65 crores in 2019-20 vis-a-vis 2018-19; leading to increased number of libraries.

Along with setting up of libraries, we encourage schools to make libraries functional, and to develop and display print-rich environment in the libraries. We recommend that in case a primary school has space constraints, Reading Corners with Children’s Literature can be set up. Graded Reading Series (e.g. Barkha Series developed by NCERT) for self-reading of children and developing reading skills as whole and children’s magazines are to be made available in the library for facilitating reading for joy and creativity. The child-friendly components in the light of ‘Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat’, such as Reading and Activity Corner, Poem Corner, Message Boards, Folk Stories, etc. are to be taken into account while including books and other reading material for the library. Bi-lingual story books may be given special priority. Age-appropriate series of books are to be provided – ‘Bulbul’ for Pre-primary and Primary classes, ‘Mynah’ for Upper Primary and ‘Koel’ for Secondary classes.

States and UTs have also been advised to set up Readers’ Club in schools in a phased manner to promote the habit of reading. Various activities may be organised for promotion of book reading inschools. Teacher capacity building to be an important part of these activities. National Book Trust, India through its Children’s wing NCCL has set up more than 80,000 Reader’s Clubs in various schools across India. NBT, India also provides quality ageappropriate reading material in more than 50 Indian languages and dialects (including tribal languages).

Besides these, MHRD encourages the use of e-platforms like National Digital Library, NROER and others as listed earlier.

AABP: In such times of pandemic, how is National Book Trust, India reaching out to readers, and what are the special initiatives undertaken by them?

HRD Minister: In the wake of Preventive Measures of the Government of India to contain the spread of Covid-19, and to encourage people to #StayIn and #StayHome, the National Book Trust, India has started its initiative of #StayHomeIndiaWithBooks! Through the initiative, NBT, India is providing its select and best selling titles for FREE Download. The 100+ books, in PDF format, can be downloaded from the NBT’s website, which are available in many Indian languages covering all genres of fiction, biography, popular science, teacher’s handbook, etc. The books are majorly aimed for children and young adults.

Secondly, NBT, India has launched the Corona Studies Series, that has been especially conceptualized by NBT to document and to provide relevant reading materials for all age-groups for the post Corona readership needs, under the first-sub series of books focused on ‘Psychosocial Impact of Pandemic and How to Cope With’ prepared by a Study Group comprising of seven psychologists and counsellors constituted by NBT. The titles launched following the Study, look at the various aspects of psychosocial impact on seven different segments of the society through personal interviews, case studies and community perceptions based on the response to the on-line questionnaire floated through the website and their social media handles.

The Study, which was conducted and analysed between 27th March and 1st May 2020, recommends ‘Strengthening of Preventive Mental Health component of the National Mental Health Programme’ as a long term strategy to prepare a resilient and well-adapted post Corona society, along with physical health, and socio-economic adaptability.

Further, in order to promote the #MyBookMyFriend campaign, to encourage the youth to read so that more people engage in this positive activity during these difficult times and gain from it, NBT, India, in collaboration with various schools has launched an Essay competition on #MyBookMyFriend where the best entries will be gifted books and participation certificates. In addition, a quiz competition on books and reading is also being launched by NBT, India.

AABP: Share your views on online learning. Can it replace classroom learning?

HRD Minister: The pandemic has surely derailed the classroom process, but the learning process cannot be stopped. Thereby, MHRD is putting in every effort and resource to make learning possible through both digital and nondigital methods.

I believe that e-learning can be made supplemental to the classroom learning and also ensure that learning reaches far flung areas. Therefore, I encourage all the students to continue learning using the e-resources. E-Learning surely provides opportunities for enhanced learning, flexibility of learning at your convenience, uniform quality content delivery, re-usability of the content, less paper for handouts and books, saves time by enabling quick access to information and the ease of research across subjects. As we are seeing, the teachers and students are putting in remarkable efforts.

I believe, the future of education sector will now be embellished by ‘Blended Learning’ and ‘Flip-Learning Classrooms.’ Thus, e-learning will be made more immersive and constructive to the teacher and student community than it is today. The school and higher education institutes should become strategic competitive to foster constant innovation and become more resilient.

AABP: What is the way ahead to promotepublishing so that India can become a Global Publishing Hub?

HRD Minister: We are coordinating with all stakeholders. Lockdown has caused some obstacles but we will definitely overcome them. As I often keep mentioning that India itself is a big market. If we count our teachers and students, we have more than 350 million people. Besides a large number of people are directly or indirectly connected to publishing. I think we can be globally competitive if we focus on quality and innovation. Digital and E-learning are the ways to move ahead.

AABP: Please do brief us about the #MyBookMyFriend campaign. How was it conceived and what was is the purpose?

HRD Minister: The world today is facing an unprecedented crisis – a severe pandemic that has left the masses wondering what the ‘new normal’ will be in the days to come. In such tough times, we look with hope towards positive steps being taken by various individuals and organizations to keep our future alive and bright.

On the occasion of World Book Day on April 23rd, the #MyBookMyFriend Campaign was launched to encourage people, especially young minds, to read books of interest during the time of lockdown. In these difficult times, reading books will effectively shape the minds of people and young children in coping up with the mental and psychological distress, and will hopefully work as a constructive step towards fighting this pandemic together. As I often say, “There could be no better friend, better strength, better motivator, or a better mentor than books. ”It is a matter of great encouragement that many celebrities and people of renown have come on the forefront to support #MyBookMyFriend campaign – from Amitabh Bachchan to Prasoon Joshi, to Shraddha Kapoor, Esha Pandey, Acharya Balkrishan, Rajkumar Rao, among others. The power of books has to be leveraged to combat the psycho-emotional bond with oneself and with society and further stimulate our intellect and creativity. Thus, I encourage everyone to express their love for books and reading.

AABP: Tell us about your journey as an author, what inspired you to write books?

HRD Minister: I developed a passion for writing from a very young age. Infact, I started writing as part of penning down my day-to-day experiences and my thoughts about them. Gradually, I started writing for magazines and newspapers. I also had a short stint with the All India Radio Station as a Presenter.

My first collection of poems, imbued with patriotism, was highly appreciated by the readers. Since then, I have been writing continuously.

AABP: Which authors do you look up to?

HRD Minister: There are many authors who have inspired me through their writings, however, I have been deeply inspired and touched by the writings of Swami Vivekananda, Maharishi Aurobindo, Munshi Prem Chand, and Rabindranath Tagore.

AABP: Please tell us something about your childhood and early education?

HRD Minister: I belong to a poor and ordinary family. My father was a gardener and my mother a housewife. Since childhood I have closely seen and experienced poverty and misery. From an early age of adolescence, I started supporting my mother by working with her in the fields, tilling the land, cutting wood for fuel, and getting fodder for the cattle from the forest – all these chores I did while studying side-by-side.

I completed my early education from the school in my village. Thereafter, I used to walk seven kilometres, passing through dense forest, to reach Damdeval High school, where I completed my high school studies. Since our economic and financial condition was not strong, my parents discouraged me from obtaining secondary education, and also since there was no inter-college nearby or even far away. However, looking at my persistence, my parents sent me to an Ashram in Haridwar for free studies. There, while doing several jobs for the Ashram, I completed my studies.

AABP: From being Minister of Development, Uttar Pradesh, to Minister of Culture, Minister for Finance, Minister of Health in Uttarakhand, and then Chief Minister and at present a Cabinet Minister, how do you take out time for writing?

HRD Minister: I have given a great importance to management in my life. Be it politics, social or literature, I try to use every single minute of the day in the most efficient way. Despite my busy schedule due to political responsibilities, I do ensure to take out some time for my passion of writing. For me, writing is as important as is food for sustenance. Even when I am travelling, whether it be in a car, train or plane, I keep my writing alive. Besides, I have also reduced my sleep time. For last many years, I sleep for just about four or five hours, and so in the remaining 20 hours, I make sure to make some time for my passion of writing.

AABP: More than 70 books of yours have been published in various genres, where do you find topics for writing? And what is your favourite genre to write in?

HRD Minister: I have touched almost all the genres of Hindi literature in my writing. I have tried, even if a little bit, to write in all of the genres. As for the topics, in my poems and stories, I have tried to write in simple words about our society and the common man – his sufferings and his problems. You can say that the common man and his sufferings take the preference of topics in my writings. During my regular busy political schedule, I meet hundreds of people every day. And while listening to their problems, their pains and while trying to solve them, I get topics for my writings.

I have been in publishing line for the last 40 years and served in various capabilities. Lots of my stories are inspired by real time experiences. Apart from stories, novels and poems, I have written a lot on Indian culture, tourism and personality development, in addition to writing for children as well. But if I have to choose my favourite genre, I must admit that I prefer poetry, because one can say a lot in just a few words.

AABP: Research on your literature has also been done in many universities of the country. Apart from this, songs, music and films have also been made. Tell us a little more about it.

HRD Minister: Yes, it is my good fortune that more than two dozen major and minor researches have been done on my literature, while others are in process. In addition, songs written by me are played on many stations of All India Radio across the country. Audio, videos of many of my songs have also been released by a few companies, including T-Series, Rama among others. Films have also been made on my novels titled Major Nirala and Beera. A few television serials are also under production.

AABP: For your literary creations, you have received honours from many countries. Please share with us your experience as a litterateur.

HRD Minister: It is a matter of great privilege that almost all the Presidents of India have honoured my books, including Atal Behari Vajpayee ji. As regards to other countries, it is my pleasure that my books have been honoured by more than a dozen countries including the President and Prime Minister of Mauritius, the Prime Minister of Nepal, the Prime Minister of Uganda, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, and other dignitaries.

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