Budget 2023: India's ailing education sector needs urgent repair work

Budget 2023: India's ailing education sector needs urgent repair work

As the Union Budget 2023-24 will be tabled on February 1, it will be interesting to explore the concerns and expectations of the education sector.

Dr. Anand B.Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2023, 04:51 PM IST
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The pandemic has had a devastating impact on India's education system affecting more than 250 million students across the country. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER)-2022, which is a household survey that provides nationally representative estimates of children's schooling status and their foundational reading and arithmetic skills, found that government schools have recorded a sharp rise in pupils enrolment which rose from 65.6% in 2018 to 72.9% in 2022. However, the trend regarding basic literacy levels leaves little room for complacency as children's reading and arithmetic abilities have declined across the country. Moreover, the wounds on the economy inflicted by the pandemic would certainly have undesirable implications on the education sector, hurting the learning process. At this outset, to reinvigorate the educational sector in line with the objectives set by the New Educational Policy (NEP) 2020, specific policy interventions are required. As the Union Budget 2023-24 will be tabled on February 1, it will be interesting to explore the concerns and expectations of the education sector.

The first and foremost concern is about raising the budget allocation. The expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP shows no significant improvement over many years. The numbers have been hovering between 2.8 to 3.1 percent against 6 percent as suggested by the NEP 2020. The scenario remains the same even when the numbers are captured as a percentage of the total expenditure. To initiate a structural shift in the quality of education as envisaged by the NEP 2020, a substantial rise in investment starting from the primary level is a must. Without an optimal pupil-teacher ratio and adequate physical infrastructure, the transformation from the redundant rote learning system and effective skill upgradation will remain an illusion.

Dr Anand B

Dr Anand B |

Hybrid learning has become the new normal post-pandemic. The future of e-learning seems promising as it opens up broader horizons for the student community. For instance, the country has witnessed the rise of ed-tech companies which offer innovative teaching and learning methods and also provide plenty of employment opportunities. To support such initiatives, the government is expected to reduce the GST rate for educational services to 5% from the existing 18%. On the other hand, it is essential to ensure that the digital divide is appropriately addressed by creating adequate electronic infrastructure in rural schools and colleges, including better internet connectivity, smart classrooms, and augmented and virtual reality labs. Also, the current initiatives to provide supplementary education, such as PM-e Vidya, National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR), and Vidyanjali, must be strengthened further.

According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), as of January 2023, the unemployment rate in India stands at 7.2% (urban 8.8% & rural 6.5%), which is considerably higher than many other developing countries like Mexico, Vietnam, and Bangladesh. To address the issue of unemployment in the long-run, effective implementation of skilling programmes is crucial. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has given special emphasis on vocational education. However, the design of such programmes should not be merely confined to vocational training; rather, it should encompass more of a structural shift with a holistic approach. For instance, as we know, the current learning framework in educational institutions relies on tutor-centred models necessitating regular upskilling of teachers and academicians. Hence, a significant rise in budgetary allocation for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan is the need of the hour. Also, India's incredibly low women labour force participation rate necessitates more women-centric policies that include skill upgradation right from the primary classes. Further, the vacant teaching positions in technical institutions and government-funded universities in the country must be filled in on a war footing. Finally, the recent trend of rising enrolment in government schools must gain further traction. Better allocations and penetration of Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM POSHAN) will be the right step towards achieving this target.

The author is an assistant professor at Sarla Anil Modi School Of Economics, NMIMS. He was previously associated with Christ University Bengaluru, Central University of Rajasthan, and IIM Bangalore.

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