NEW DELHI: Just like every other country, in 2021 India hopes to bounce back from an unprecedented and devastating problem. The coronavirus pandemic etched its name on the year 2020.
Along with mental and physical turmoil, it inflicted great amounts of personal as well as economic losses. So naturally almost every sector wished for major reforms and an overall boost from the Union Budget 2021.
The education sector was no different. More so, after the announcement of the new National Education Policy (NEP) this was the first Union Budget so the whole industry was waiting to see how NEP"s proposals will be implemented.
The finance minister (FM) said that NEP 2020 had received Kgood reception" before moving on to the following major announcements:
1. 15,000 schools will be qualitatively strengthened to include all the components of NEP These schools will also mentor other schools in their regions to achieve the standards envisioned by the new policy.
2. 100 new Sainik schools will be set up with partnership with private schools and states.
3. The FM had talked about setting up a Higher Education Commission in Union Budget 2019-20. Legislation for it will be introduced this year.
4. A Central University will be set up in Leh to boost accessible higher education in Ladakh.
5. 750 Eklavya Model residential schools will be built in tribal Unit cost of each school will be raised from Rs 20 crore to Rs 38 crore. While for hilly areas this will be raised to Rs 48 crore. This step aims at creating a robust infrastructu re facility for tribal students.
6. For the welfare of 4 crore Scheduled Caste students, the post-matric scholarship scheme will be Rs 35,219 crore will be spent over a span of 6 years, ie, till 2025-26.
7. The National Apprenticeship Training Scheme, an initiative launched in 2016, will be amended to amplify apprenticeship opportunities for youth. Rs 3.000 crore will be spent on The Apprenticeship Act to provide post-education apprenticeship training to Engineering graduates and diploma holders.
Sitharaman also highlighted a couple international collaborations:
1. An initiative with the UAE to benchmark skilled qualifications, assessment and certifications, accompanied by the deployment of certified workforce.
2. A collaborative inter-training programme between India and Japan to facilitate the transfer of Japanese industrial and vocational skills, techniques and knowledge. This is being planned for other countries too.
3. On school education level, funds for Kendriya Vidyalayas have risen from Rs 5.516 crore to Rs 6,800 crore. Allocation for mid-day meal schemes and Navodaya.
Vidyalayas have been increased by Rs 500 crore each. What's not so good
While these are positive steps, there are some serious concerns that cannot be ignored. The above numbers might give a good feeling but unfortunately India is cutting its spending on Education.
The education ministry will receive Rs 93,224.31 in 2021-22, which is Rs 6.086.89 crore less than the previous year. Budget for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan. an essential scheme to provide quality education to all school-goers , has been brought down to Rs 31,050.16 crore from Rs 38,750 crore. Contrary to NEP"s proposal to boost a fund for gender inclusion, budget for National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education has been slashed by Rs 100 crore.
Need for Digital Infrastructure
The need for online learning saw a sudden and rapid surge as schools, colleges and coaching institutes had to remain shut for most of 2020 due to Covid-19 lockdowns.
Teachers and students in urban areas quickly adapted to this change but majority of students, who reside in rural India struggled with problems like poor internet connectivity, power cuts and absence of laptops or phones. Majority of government schools do not have internet connectivity so learning halted completely for several children.
For these children to even have a chance to compete with their counterparts from cities, digital resources have to be made available at subsidised rates as soon as possible. The pandemic has pushed many families into poverty so more children are expected to turn up in government schools this year. Hence today, it"s the Nation's responsibility to spend more on infrastructure, training of teachers and qualitative learning.
India is blessed with abundant and young human resource. More needs to be invested on polishing this wealth. Investing today in quality education will give us the best returns on investment (ROI) tomorrow.
- - By Prashant Jain. CEO. Oswaaf Books