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New Delhi: The human resource development (HRD) ministry on Thursday said it will encourage independent inspection for assessing the quality of school learning and give priority to three areas flagged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi—technology adoption, sanitation and female education.

After Modi’s Independence Day speech on improving sanitation and having toilets in every school, the ministry had four rounds of discussions with various stakeholders including states and different central government departments, school education secretary Rajarshi Bhattacharya said. “We had a meeting with various ministries yesterday (10 September) and 400 crore of funds (will be mobilised) for the programme through various PSUs (public sector undertakings)," Bhattacharya told reporters, adding that this was in addition to private sector initiatives.

“The department is committed to the provision of functional girls’ toilet in every school. A specific swachh vidyalaya (clean school) campaign has been rolled out, which will ensure that a functional toilet is available in every school before 15 August 2015," Bhattacharya said in a presentation. Nearly half of Indian schools do not have toilets.

Realising that the quality of education in schools is not high and the ministry has received several views from states on no-retention policy under the right to education law, HRD minister Smriti Irani said that her ministry is reviewing both the law and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (universal education programme). She did not elaborate.

Bhattacharya said the ministry has asked all states to think about third-party inspection for quality assessment. Indian students are not learning the basics despite a high enrolment number, several studies have found.

“Assessment is good and third-party assessment is even better. But what is more important is training and skill upgradation of teachers. Unless you help teachers improve, the quality of teaching and learning will not improve," said Lalatendu Mahal, a school teacher in Hyderabad.

On girls’ education, the ministry said it wants to address lower enrolment of girls in engineering colleges through a scheme called Udaan.

“The first flight of Udaan is to address lower enrolment of girls in engineering colleges, which is currently about 23% girls as against 77% of boys," the ministry said in a separate statement. “It aims to reduce the quality gap between school education and engineering education entrance systems by focusing on the three dimensions—curriculum design, transaction and assessment. It will do this by enriching and supplementing teaching and learning of science and mathematics at senior secondary level."

Technology adoption will accelerate outreach, improve quality and promote equity by facilitating access to best educational resources for learners and teachers, said R.P. Sisodia, joint secretary in the department of higher education. The ministry is also starting a new programme through which professors of centrally funded institutions like the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) will offer online courses to all citizens for free and those wishing to get a certificate will be charged a marginal fee.

In the first phase, the IITs at Mumbai, Chennai, Kanpur and Guwahati, the IIMs at Bangalore and Kolkata, the University of Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Indira Gandhi National Open University with the help of faculty from foreign universities will be offering courses in areas of engineering education, social science, energy, management and basic sciences. At least 10 million students are expected to benefit in two-three years through this initiative.

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