Unlike school education, where the focus is on ensuring access to quality education, the challenge in the Indian higher education sector is both in terms of quality and quantity
The total central government spending on education in 2017-18 made up 3.7% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP). The current calendar year has been an eventful one for the education sector with positive developments and significant investments focusing on training of teachers, developing curriculum and pedagogy, and adapting newer technologies in order to make the Indian education system future-ready.
Key highlights of the year
School education: The much-awaited reforms through the New Education Policy are still on the design table, with a new panel formed by the HRD ministry, led by eminent scientist Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan. The focus of the government this year has been to improve the quality of education. The National Achievement Survey (NAS) was developed by the central government to assess students based on their class/subjects and the recommendations have been included in the Right to Education (RTE) rules. With more than 70% of schools being government-aided, we hope this will go a long way in improving the quality of education.
Greater importance has been given to teacher training this year by the government and it has set a target of training all of them by 2019. The government has also introduced a course for the currently employed untrained teachers to ensure they have the necessary skill-sets.
Technology and innovation played an important role this year. The introduction of ICT in classrooms and creating peer groups online were game-changers. The setting up of Atal Tinkering Labs and Atal Incubation Centres to introduce innovative concepts to young minds and, in the process, encourage curiosity amongst them was another novel idea. However, a lot still needs to be done in order to make the change possible.
Higher education: Unlike school education, where the focus is on ensuring access to quality education, the challenge in higher education space is both in terms of quality and quantity. The Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) focusing on equity, access and excellence in higher education has seen very slow progress in terms of both fund utilisation and reform offtake. The fund utilisation is below 25% in most of the states. To achieve the gross enrolment ratio (GER) target of 30% by 2022, it is estimated that more than 1,000 additional universities are needed in the country to provide higher education. On one hand, there is stiff competition to get admission in quality institutions, while on the other hand, institutions today are unable to meet students’ aspirations and have to revisit their models to improve the quality of education imparted. While the primary focus is on access, the government is increasingly also focusing on quality in higher education. It has taken certain steps in this regard. The government’s initiative to groom 20 universities as “Institutions of Eminence” is a welcome step. This will enable Indian institutions to compete on a global level and enter the elite list of top-100 world institutes.
Vocational education: India also needs to focus on the employability quotient of students. To address this issue, providing vocational education is of utmost importance. With schemes like Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (SANKALP) and Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement (STRIVE), the government is increasingly looking at revamping the educational framework and skill development of students, improving the quality of trainers, and standardising the assessment and certification process so that students passing out meet the requirements of the future workforce. The educational sector today is looking at innovative models such as the Swiss dual system of education, which encourages students to take up apprenticeship programmes so that they have first-hand industry experience.
Education technology: Indian edtech space has a huge role to play in transforming the educational space. It not only ensures penetration of quality education, but also creates an engaging learning environment for students. The government, having realised the potential of technology, launched the app ‘ShaGun’ this year to track and monitor the performance of its flagship programme, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan. Another such initiative was the launch of SWAYAM app (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds), an online portal that provides study material to students free of cost and conducts digital classes with the help of internet and satellite connectivity. There have been innumerable such innovative products and solutions introduced by private players. With huge interest in this space, we expect the solutions to become more customised as players look for the right balance between reach, adaptability and sustainability in their quest to find a compelling value proposition for all the stakeholders.
2018: The year ahead
India’s spend on education today lags behind other BRIC countries. The Kothari Education Commission had recommended an allocation of 6% of GDP on education. In 2018-19, an increase in the budgetary allocation for this sector is expected with greater focus on quality of education, both in school and higher education space. Very few successful public-private partnership models have come up in school education in the recent past. The government could work to create an environment to attract more private players to partner with it, to improve the quality of education and learning experience for students. It is estimated that more than 50% of the current schoolchildren would be entering into jobs that do not exist today. The digital disruption in both manufacturing and services sectors is transforming the job market. Our education system needs to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses in school and make future citizens more equipped to face the globalised world.
In the future, we expect an increase in non-traditional students seeking to learn new skills to ensure growth in their careers. Vocational education will need a greater push with flexible degrees and competency-based programme certificates, which get recognised in the relevant industries and improve the job readiness of students. As we all know, education plays an important role in improving the social fabric of the country. The transformation in the education sector beckons us in the near future and there are great expectations from the government for bringing radical changes and earnestly pursing reforms.
The author is partner & leader, Social Sector, PwC India. Views are personal