Most post-budget commentaries for years have remained steadfast in quantitative discourse and more so in case of education sector in India. The significative recommendation of 6% GDP spend on education made by Kothari Commission in 1966 has remained a crossbar for most writers, who dissect budgets for an analysis in this very backdrop. And, since then return disappointed as national budget for Education sector hasn’t touched 4% even once after 1966 let alone the ‘magical’ percentage.
The governments have over the years tackled challenges that have been universal in nature or in accordance with county’s commitments at international fora. They cannot and should be expected to do everything. A lot of things are evolutionary and proportional to aspirations and environment of the time, though certain interventions stand out if these fit well in the clog of future trends.
The evolution of education and its delivery ecosystem has never been static. A certain period can of course be marked and taken for a significant transition and change. The advent of printing press some 600 years ago set out a dramatic chain of historic events and for the past 300 years the mass production of textbooks in itself has changed mankind forever. We’re into a new era similar in several ways with emergence of digital technologies and metaverse. This is going to be significantly disruptive for means of futuristic knowledge creation and its transaction. So, the Government and its nerve centres are rightly picking signals of this big change. The focus of budget is shifting to tech driven areas for emphasis and statement of intent.
There is a conscious focus on employability, skills and skilled human capital. This is good to wean away youth from traditional aspirations and make skills acceptable. The advancement of human capital in today’s world is predominately skill and competency based. To this effect, this year’s budget has conveyed an intent. Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana 4.0, covering new age courses for Industry 4.0 like coding, AI, robotics, mechatronics, IOT, 3D printing, drones, and soft skills coupled with 30 Skill India International Centres is like a movement born.
Medical Education is one segment where a systemic flaw or otherwise is holding back comparable expansion with other tech education streams. Private sector isn’t enthused for obvious reasons of huge investment and plethora of regulations and governments are doing their level best to fill in. Even then, we have thousands of students going to Ukraine, Russia and other east European countries along with China, Bangladesh, and Philippines to study medicine. This budget by announcing 157 Nursing Colleges and making select ICMR Labs available for research by public and private medical college faculty fills up an important void of building a strengthening ecosystem. The recognition of the challenge in medical education is a step in right decision.
“One Nation, One Subscription” policy for scientific research papers and academic journals from April 2023 to ensure access for researchers countrywide has been already announced by the Ministry of education. The budget of Ministry of Science & Technology has gone up by 15% in this budget and it is expected that R & D in a lot of HEIs will benefit from it. Also the substantial increase in capital expenditure may also see a pie even if small taken by education infra directly or indirectly.
Though the proposal of a National Digital Library, physical libraries and promotion of reading is seen by many as a way of addressing learning loss due to covid, it is in fact more futuristic than retrospective remedy. Young children are natural learners and there is no need for alarm. However, older children in secondary classes do need recovery classes and more than money, it requires local leadership and resources.
These are preparatory years for a major change that will see skilling for new jobs, changed youth aspirations and methods of teaching coupled with a changed role for institutions. The union education budget since last year has acknowledged this. Digital university will be a test for all this argument and next few years will certainly lay the foundational infra of this unseen future.
The one heartening announcement in this budget pertains to DIETs. DIETs like IITs have been one of the biggest success stories of independent India and hold an answer to many a challenges for enabling teachers and give them the required agency. The centralization through SSA also diminished the story of DIETs and the continuous teacher training was either reduced to binary modules or a few video modules and mandatory data fillings. The actual simulated training was given a systemic miss. Now if DIETs invigorate and receive primacy, teacher quality will substantially improve in coming years.
Central schools, NCERT have been given more money. Now is the opportunity for these schools to turn into models. NCERT as an engine room for school education software must too prove it will provide soft power to schools and teachers to practice passion with professionalism.
While the pressure of activists for more allocation must remain as unyielding as ever for the money makes mare go, there is a need to understand that the basic order of education sector is for a tectonic shift and decision makers are sensing it right. So, there is a need for developing eye for micro level interventions and best practices to bring funds for real improvement at that level.