Education budget 2021: Reading between the lines

100 HOT HEADPHONES

IN THE PAST YEAR, AS INDIA, ALONG WITH THE REST OF THE WORLD, grappled with a global pandemic, the education sector underwent unprecedented transformations, schools and colleges remained shut and there was a sudden, unplanned switch to virtual modes of imparting education. Despite poor digital and other physical infrastructure, particularly in remote areas and among the lower strata of society, India embraced online education to avoid a complete breakdown of institutional learning.

Under these circumstances, it’s not surprising that the 2021-22 budget presented by Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman included a special emphasis on improving India’s digital architecture. A National Digital Educational Architecture will be set up to support not only teaching and learning but also educational planning, governance and administrative activities.

Alongside digital infrastructure, a comprehensive overhaul of the education system is also envisaged under the new National Education Policy (NEP) announced in July 2020. Coming after a gap of 34 years, this policy revision was long overdue, and it was expected that the budget outlays would reflect a commitment to this ambition. Sitharaman announced that more than 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to include all components of the NEP and will handhold and mentor other schools to achieve the ideals of the policy. Some other initiatives, likely to aid the implementation of the NEP, have also been announced; for instance, the development of a National Professional Standard for Teachers. In addition to the 3 million elementary school teachers trained digitally, another 5.6 million will be trained via the National Initiative for School Heads’ and Teachers’ Holistic Advancement. The government will introduce CBSE board examination reforms in a phased manner, effective from academic year 2022-23. Instead of rote learning, students will be tested on conceptual clarity, analytical skills and real-life application of knowledge.

Surprisingly, though, the budget has no specific allocation of funds for implementation of the new NEP. In fact, there is a Rs 6,088 crore (or 6.1 per cent) reduction in the budget outlay over the previous year, at Rs 93,224 crore compared with Rs 99,312 crore (BE 2020-21). If it’s any consolation, it’s higher than the revised estimate of the 2020-21 budget, Rs 85,089 crore. Experts say this “hike” is not enough in the year after the launch of the NEP. “If the education ministry is allocated 0.42 per cent of the GDP, states will have to take on the extra burden to meet the NEP’s recommendation to spend 6 per cent of the GDP on education, which is not likely to happen,” says Protiva Kundu, a researcher at the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability in Delhi. Public spending on education currently hovers at around 3 per cent.

Former Delhi University vice-chancellor Dinesh Singh also laments the lack of emphasis in the budget on building a knowledge economy in the country. “I have not analysed the budget in detail, but we must not forget that all developed countries in the world have progressed because they have created a robust knowledge economy. The foundation of a self-reliant India must be based on a knowledge economy,” he says.

Despite inadequate budgetary support, there have been several other proposals for the sector, some new and some rehashed from the past. Such as introducing legislation to set up a Higher Education Commission, an umbrella body for all higher education institutes. Over the next five years, Rs 50,000 crore is proposed to be spent on the National Research Foundation, also announced last year. In terms of new initiatives, the Centre will set up 100 new Sainik schools and a central university in Leh.

The budget also proposes to amend the Apprenticeship Act to enhance opportunities for the youth. The National Apprenticeship Training Scheme for post-education apprenticeship will be realigned and Rs 3,000 crore spent on training graduates and diploma-holders in engineering. Another initiative proposed in partnership with the UAE is to benchmark skill qualifications, assessment, certification and deployment of certified workforce. The collaborative Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) between India and Japan to facilitate the transfer of Japanese industrial and vocational skills will be replicated with other countries.

While these are laudable proposals, the budget lacked a uniform thrust on the education sector and matching fund allocations.

KEY PROPOSALS

Over 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to roll out the NEP

The govt will introduce legislation to set up the Higher Education Commission, announced last year

Over the next five years, Rs 50,000 crore is proposed to be spent on the National Research Foundation, announced last year

The govt will set up 100 Sainik schools across India; a central university in Leh

In nine cities with various research institutes, the govt will create formal umbrella structures for these institutions to have better synergy, while retaining their internal autonomy

The National Apprenticeship Training Scheme for post-education apprenticeship will be realigned; Rs 3,000 crore will be spent on training graduates and diploma-holders in engineering

An initiative will be launched in partnership with the UAE to benchmark skill qualifications, assessment, certification and deploying certified workforce

The TITP between India and Japan to facilitate transfer of Japanese industrial and vocational skills, and knowledge will be replicated with other countries



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