The Economic Survey 2018 had rightly highlighted the immediate need of remodelling the social infrastructure for inclusive and sustainable growth. The education sector has a huge role to play in the government’s development strategy to enhance human capabilities and make India a knowledge economy. Poor results and declining standards of education have been barriers to continuity of education for most students. Further, the dropping expenditure on education in the last few years has resulted in low outcomes and limited improvement in quality. However, the positive story that comes out of this year’s Budget is the government recognises and has addressed the challenges facing the sector. A significant budgetary allocation to improve the education infrastructure augurs well for learners. The Budget focuses on creating job opportunities for the increasing young population to augment economic progress. For me, the three major takeaways from the Budget are the increased focus on learning outcomes, enabling the ecosystem with technology intervention, and teacher training. Digital India was launched with a vision to transform the country into a “digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.” Various companies have leveraged technology to empower students, offer skill development programmes, and use it to reach out to teachers and youth across the country. With this Budget, the government has again emphasised more use of technology on movement from traditional blackboards to digital boards, which will offer enhanced learning experience to a large number of students. We are confident that the promotion of digital platforms and use of technology will increase reach, and ensure digital learning, heightened innovation in schools and map learning outcomes with school curricula.
Another significant step in the Budget was the importance given to improving the quality of teachers, including measures such as an integrated BEd programme for teachers. Training and workshops will enable teachers adopt newer methods and technologies; this will lead to improvements in the education system. Teachers need to be trained to detect learning difficulties early and use appropriate strategies to tackle these difficulties. Providing children with learning materials to evaluate their own progress, and training teachers to support their use, can help children make great strides in learning. Though efforts have been made by the government in the past, but the acknowledgement of the importance of teacher training, and specific and distinct plans have been brought in this Budget. There is no denying that a robust education system leads to economic growth; other advantages include a better functioning government and healthier people. But while outlay for education has been increased, is it enough? The speed at which we are moving towards digitalisation and automation, will it be adequate for long-term growth? Certainly there is a will to deliver results, but it is also time to redouble our efforts. We must set targets for education and take steps to achieve those. The structural issues in India’s higher education system are the root cause behind the demand-supply gap in the skill market. Private institutes, which account for two-thirds of higher education institutes in India, provide good education, yet there are major barriers for these institutions at all levels—entry, operations and exit.
Restrictions exist on entry of foreign universities, foreign collaboration and foreign faculty. According to FDI policy for education, a foreign entity can invest 100% in India but as a not-for-profit, and only section 25 companies with no foreign investment can invest in institutes. Relaxations on such guidelines can have foreign institutes and companies willing to invest in distance education and faculty exchange with Indian institutes. Even today, there are schools that do not have basic infrastructure. The government could create a fiscal policy with conditions to encourage investments in new schools as well as existing ones, and PPP models could be explored. Private schools can adopt government schools, so that students are comfortable in their own space. Loans at low rates of interest could be given to schools to improve infrastructure. Although the increase in education cess is a welcome move, for the long-term the government should invest in R&D that results in new models of instruction. Innovative assessment supported by data systems can guide teachers to better understand the needs of their students on a real-time basis, which, in turn, can make a dramatic difference in teaching methods and student performance.
By: Ujjwal Singh
The author is vice-president, Product & Innovation, Pearson India