Much has been debated about the recent Budget and its potential to influence various key sectors, including the education sector. However, it may perhaps be too early to evaluate the precise impact that this years Budget could have on education and skill development in the country. But, in light of the proposals rolled out, the intent of the new government appears to be crystal clearit means business.
Currently, India is spending 3.5% of its GDP on education annually. Gauging the pivotal role that education needs to play in the socio-economic growth of the country, the new government has emphasised its intent to increase the budgetary allocation to about 6% of the GDP.
It is observed that the government has attempted to follow a balanced approach, giving equal priority to all segments across the sector with the focus being on increasing capacity, accessibility and quality of education, promotion of virtual classrooms and online education, launching teacher training programmes for improving learning outcomes as well as addressing key challenges of bridging manpower demand and supply for industry through skill development. Supporting girl-child education also figures prominently on the governments agenda. In this context, some of the key highlights from the Budget are:
School educationtop priority: In a bid to drive quality education and teaching and to strengthen infrastructure, the government has infused R28,635 crore and R4,966 crore for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA), respectively. This is expected to improve accessibility and thus the quality of school education. Addressing the need for adequately trained teachers adopting modern educational tools and techniques which is essential for improved educational outcomes, the Budget has provisioned R500 crore for teacher training programmes. Additionally, R30 crore has been allocated for the school assessment programme, aimed at assessing the quality of school education.
Focus on higher and technical educationhere to stay: The increased Budget outlay of R6,338 crore for technical education comprising, amongst others, IITs and IIMs, is expected to boost intake capacity and improve access. Investments of R500 crore for setting up five new IITs and five new IIMs, and four new AIIMS campuses, are expected to facilitate widespread access to quality education. To increase effectiveness and continued focus on quality, equity and access, the government has increased its Budget outlay for Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) to R2,200 crore. The simplification of education loan norms for higher studies will further improve access and equity.
Linking skills and employability: As a first step to placing India on the global map, the new government in its debut Budget clearly cited skill development of youth as a key focus area. With nearly 65% of Indias population below 35 years of age, the promotion of skill development is expected to provide ample job/entrepreneurship opportunities to the unemployed/underemployed youth.
The announcement of Skill Indiaa national multi-skill scheme with renewed focus on traditional vocational trades such as welding, plumbing and carpentryis reflective of the governments intent to develop an employable reserve/hub of skilled manpower. Further, the initiative to set up a R200 crore technology hub is likely to elevate the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the country. The proposed amendments in the Apprenticeship Act, which will now cover contractual, daily, seasonal and outsourced/agency workers, is expected to open multiple avenues for prospective workers to join the organised, especially the MSME sector, and enhance their skills. This initiative could be the answer to the perennial skill gap that India currently faces.
Other progressive reforms announced: Integrating technology in education through virtual classrooms, massive open online courses, and online education at a budget of R100 crore is also likely to address issues related to accessibility and quality. Further, the provisioning of 1 lakh girls toilets and drinking water facilities at schools in the first phase is likely to give much-needed impetus to girl-child education. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojana is not only expected to benefit 1 crore girls but, in the long run, it may also help increase enrolment rates and reduce dropouts.
The increased Budget allocation for education is a welcome move; however, more clarity is needed on aspects such as the involvement of private investment in education and the tax treatment for CSR funding. The Budget seems to be focused on building new infrastructure rather than focusing on improving the state of existing education infrastructure in the country. Ultimately, what remains to be seen is how effectively the government drives its proposed agenda to achieve the targets of access, equity and quality in education.
Anindya Mallick is a senior director and Rohin Kapoor is a senior manager with Deloitte in India