Union Budget 2021: Amid COVID-induced challenges, education sector stakeholders ask govt support for schools

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Updated: January 15, 2021 8:05 PM

Union Budget 2021 expectation for education: Industry experts believe that in order to revive the education and edtech sector in the country, government support is necessary, not just in terms of monetary support, but also in terms of formalisation of the online education sector.

budget 2021-22, union budget 2021Budget 2021 expectation for education: Meanwhile, the coaching industry is hoping for proper recognition of coaching centres in the education sector.

Budget 2021-22 expectations for education: From shifting to an online mode to the New Education Policy, 2020 brought with it many changes for the education sector. However, the sector still needs governmental support as several schools have faced severe hardships during the pandemic, struggling to sustain amidst parents’ refusal to pay fees and paying teachers’ salaries. Industry experts believe that in order to revive the education and edtech sector in the country, government support is necessary, not just in terms of monetary support, but also in terms of formalisation of the online education sector.

COVID dampened 2020 but NEP brings hope

“This year’s budget will be the first budget post the introduction of the National Education Policy (NEP) so we expect some crucial announcements in the education sector. The NEP focuses on bringing back drop outs to schools. However, an Oxfam study reveals that school closures owing to COVID-19 may exacerbate student drop-out tendencies in this year. We expect the government to allocate significant funds to support the recovery of school education and bring students back to the classroom. COVID-19 has also provided a push to digitization in the sector. This is a good opportunity to invest in digital infrastructure in schools and leverage technology to make learning accessible. As schools are reopening, teachers are now stepping out. The Government must provide funds to ensure that teachers are included in the vaccination drive along with front line workers,” said Dr Kiran Pai, Director of Vidyashilp Education Group (VSEG).

“The much awaited union budget should direct its resources on implementation of NEP, building teacher capacities & augmenting health and hygiene at school levels. While the education segment faced many challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we look forward to the budget targeted to provide relief and support for this very important segment that plays a pivotal role in nation building,” Prajodh Rajan, Co-Founder and Group CEO of EuroKids International.

Edu-fintech startup Financepeer Founder Rohit Gajbhiye called for formalisation of online education. “The stakeholders are eyeing the Budget 2021 with a lot of expectations as the government has already signalled allocation of 6% of the GDP towards education. This can be a healthy start towards strengthening the sector. Aligning with it, we expect the government to introduce a framework for formalizing the online education coupling it with exhaustive provisions for bridging the digital divide between both ends of the education value chain i.e. the Teachers and the Students. Also, the reducing gaps in quality of education between rural and urban areas has to be on the priority list and technology is pivotal for that. We are also expecting the government to lay the ground for a gradual increase in the annual budget of education to 10% of GDP to create an ecosystem for a vigorous research and development infrastructure in the education sector,” he said.

Changing trends need to be accounted for

Industry stakeholders also expressed their hopes of the government taking into consideration the changing career choices of the youth and planning out Budget 2021 accordingly.

Aakash Chaudhry, Managing Director of Aakash Educational Services Limited (AESL), told Financial Express Online, “The New Education Policy (NEP-2020) has brought the much-required thrust in the Higher Education System in the Country. With an eye on the future, Union Budget 2021 must focus on the implementation of the new policy, quality and tax-free education and skill development. Looking at the current situation, there has been a shift in the nature of jobs and career choices amongst the youth. The budget must incorporate necessary revisions required to meet future job demands and to make India as one of the preferred higher education destinations in the world. With Covid completely changing the dynamics of classroom education, we expect there to be a great amount of focus on online education, especially in the Tier 2,3 cities, in the Budget.”

Sharing his outlook for the education sector in 2021, EduGorilla CEO Rohit Manglik said, “We foresee the momentum to sustain in 2021 as well with the implementation of the AI mission. Besides Artificial Intelligence, we foresee gamification and cloud technology to drive engagement and boost the user experience in e-learning. Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities will emerge as sunrise destinations for the ed-tech players and account for a substantial ed-tech demand. The year 2021 is also expected to witness path-breaking reforms such as the institution of a single educational regulator and the introduction of a common entrance test to central universities to streamline the system and ensure hassle-free access to education.”

Manglik, talking about expectations from Union Budget 2021, said, “ Education is a potent tool for realizing the benefits of India’s demographic dividend. The upcoming Union Budget should prioritize growth with a pragmatic consideration to bridge inequity in access to basic entitlements to all. An increase in allocation for education will be a formidable step to reap the benefits of a conducive policy landscape over the years. Equally significant will be the focus on skill development, teacher training and improving learning outcomes among students. COVID-19 has underscored the significance of technology in education, a trend that is foreseen to continue into 2021. The Budget should strive to encourage the adoption of emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, Internet of Things, into education to boost efficiency and enhance the customer experience. E-learning filled in the void created by the suspension of classroom teaching during the pandemic. Lowering GST on online education will encourage more people to take to it, thereby ensuring equity in access to education and filling in the gaps created by the brick-and-mortar model.”

Kamal Dutta, Managing Director of Skillsoft India, said, “2021 is being seen with optimism, as business leaders are expecting revival of economic activities, resumption of offices, and return of the workforce to their respective workstations. However, it is a period which needs to be managed with caution as sectoral sensitivities need to be addressed due to prolonged duration of lockdown impacting the economy – with sectors like, manufacturing, FMCG, retail, travel & aviation, auto, being most affected. The impact has been such that companies have had to adapt to the new normal of conducting business with clients and customers, and managing teams working remotely dependent on digital communication platforms.”

He added, “Hence, in the forthcoming finance budget, there will need to be budgetary support extended to sectors and relaxation of taxes for companies, especially, SMEs to move up the digital highway and integrate technology into the core processes. Apart from this, with the increased implementation of new age digital technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, IOT, Machine Learning, Big Data and Cloud Computing, will need the workforce to be upskilled to ensure job security in the rapidly evolving, skills-driven economy. For companies to operate in the new normal, organizing employee training, skill-development and leadership programs digitally, while working remotely is capital intensive – the Digital India mission, which the Government has been following for long, in the current scenario will have to increase scale of provisions for companies to be able to tide over the challenges.”

Recognition for coaching centres

Meanwhile, the coaching industry is hoping for proper recognition of coaching centres in the education sector.

“It is hoped Budget 2021 will boost the education sector as there is a need to recover it after the Covid-19 pandemic. In this regard, the new National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has by now set the pace for the growth of the education sector in India. The coaching industry on the other hand has always served as an additional education provider for the country’s education system, whose emphasis is mainly on school education. The coaching industry formed the lives of many poor and middle-class students, helping them shape their dream careers. Most of the technology leaders, top bureaucrats, doctors, lawyers, software engineers have benefited a lot from this industry,” Allen Career Institute’s Keshav Maheshwari said.

Maheshwari added, “Though the New Education Policy 2020 contains numerous statements criticizing the “coaching culture” in India, we feel it will be more meaningful and useful as the stakeholders themselves will implement it. The coaching industry has formed an ecosystem to appeal to some of the country’s best brains to teach and coach perceptive candidates. However, the industry has not got its due recognition for almost five decades, and hence, we urge the government to identify and allocate space to the coaching institutes in the proposed SEZs (Special Education Zones) in the Budget 2021.”

The financial support schools need to revive

Global Classroom Pvt Ltd Founder Dr Sunita Gandhi explained the financial support that government could be provided to schools.

“The Education sector is bleeding at the moment with many schools are on the brink of collapse or already collapsed. If we have to revive anything for our country to become stronger it is the education sector. Several kinds of financial support can be provided to schools, including low-cost and zero-cost loans, which is done in many countries, in order to have the schools be able to pay their past dues and to be able to sustain themselves in the near future. And there should be long term loans not short term loans or grants. This will help manage the disaster that potentially waits, in private education, which provides roughly 50% of the Indian children with education. This will also restore them and build some confidence they urgently need. Teachers have been without a job during the pandemic, and with this kind of financial package, they can be restored to their respectful status as the makers of children’s future,” she said.

She also asserted that the government needs to make education a priority of the government. “Education needs to be a priority agenda of the government. There has been a promise in the New Education Policy to increase the percentage of GDP allocated to Education. This needs to be taken care of urgently. Because when education is the number one policy of a government then as we have seen in many parts of the world that the country’s grow stronger economically. The situation of foundational literacy and numeracy is a big spotlight in the NEP for which financial support will be needed in particular for adult literacy and children out of school. This would be priority pointers for Budget reader’s vision with an education, without which we will create a lop sided reality which will not help us sustain in the future or improve India’s economy as well,” Dr Gandhi said.

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