By Vinay Sharma,
Indian Union Budget 2021-22: As the financial year ends and the new academic session begins, the education sector is gearing up for the next academic session. While 2020 was incredibly challenging for all businesses, the education sector too was particularly affected because it brought to a standstill a generational process of education for millions of children worldwide, India being no exception. Education for 270 million children in India. Good news is that we are seeing a steady decline of corona cases along with implementation of vaccination. All this has accelerated the school opening across the country which started with sporadic opening from October onwards.
Govt will play a critical role in outlining the agenda, policies and initiatives which will propel this sector forward keeping the interest of all stakeholders i.e., students, teachers, parents, schools, education service providers etc. Implementation of NEP which aims to transform education through its various initiatives is going to be a key part of this. The forthcoming budget is a good vehicle to provide the signaling and resources needed for the implementation of this plan. There is a need to incorporate learnings from the last year and take adequate measures and provide allocation for uninterrupted learning for India’s children and youth in a seriously altered landscape.
The sudden disruption brought in its wake a sharp realisation that digitalisation would be an important component to put the process back on track. The Covid-19 pandemic led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital technologies due to the social distancing norms and nationwide lockdowns.That is why the Edtech sector grew at a blistering pace as its broke new grounds and permeated to tier 3 and 4 towns of India. Online education was also present before the pandemic, but schools and the education sector has been slow and reluctant on many counts, preferring traditional method of teaching-learning. Almost overnight, COVID 19 changed that and became a catalyst for a shift to online education.
Budget can play a critical role in two ways – one, defining and driving the significant initiatives to take education sector forward and secondly, removing some of the bottlenecks in the implementation of the new NEP and education reforms.
Even post covid, after the schools open, we would see technology being an integral part of teaching and learning process. We have also seen significant challenges in the implementation of education technology with a ‘digital divide’ between students/schools in top cities having the resources for online leaning vs a large mass of students in remote and smaller towns, and also from economically weaker sections who haven’t been able to benefit from online learning because of lack of devices and connectivity infrastructure.
The upcoming Union Budget 2021 can aim at this key challenge – the lack of access and affordability of high-speed internet as well as computer and smart phone devices in smaller towns and villages. Government interventions that make this possible will greatly assist a larger fraction of the population to benefit from the vast and high-quality online education resources that are now increasingly available. Additional allocation for funds to drive this digital education in this budget is also a critical need at the ground level. Strong data protection laws which will enable trust in our systems and expedite digital adoption by tutors and students.
If the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was a testament to the importance the government provides to the sector, the COVID-19 crisis has made it amply clear that this is a sector that needs far more attention and priority from the Government of India in Budget 2021. Budget estimates for Financial Year 2020-21 towards the Education sector can be a beacon to the Government’s intentions and an allocation of 6 per cent of the GDP towards Education can be a robust start in this direction.
In addition, the government must ensure additional finances to support safe re-opening of schools. The central government must provide support to states for a back-to-school campaign and additional financing for existing out of school programmes.
Also, implementation of NEP is a gigantic task comprising of – creating the learning material ,books, digital, assessments, defining processes, tracking and measurement methodogies, skilling the teachers basis new pedagogies, assessments framework and measurement of outcomes. This type of implementation needs a PPP approach with govt defining the policies and budget allocations and then involving private sector companies in various aspects of implementation and delivery. Govt won’t have the funds and resources to do this without involving the private sector. This can be outlined in the budget with respective heads and allocations against these. This will spur new energy in the sector, create healthy competition and bring out quality outcomes.
Teacher upgradation and skilling is a key pillar for the much needed improvement in quality of outcomes, adaption of new pedagogies and implementation of technology envisaged in NEP. It calls for a well thought out PPP plan which will involve participation of various agencies both govt and private to ensure successful implementation on the ground. This needs separate focus and allocation of funds in the budget.
The Budget should also allocate funds to the gender and social inclusion funds, recommended under the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) and provide adequate financing for effective implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
The new National Education Policy has provided a particularly good foundation for major reforms in education. In the coming Budget 2021, India can take stronger steps to achieve the objectives of the policy – enhancing access, quality, research, and innovation in education – in a dramatically altered, post-covid world.
(The author is Head of Digital & services, S.Chand and Co. (Mylestone and Learnflix). Views are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online.)