Indore: The Budget is not just a strategic investment roadmap released by the Government for the coming financial year, but it also communicates the intent and stance of the Centre on the priority sectors and key financial and development goals. It has ramifications and effects far beyond the financials; it has the power to elicit confidence and positive market sentiments, especially during times of distress. The Budget for 2021 could be the foundational endeavour to catalyse the recovery of the economy, struggling to gain some form of normality after the pandemic turbulence. The Budget this year needs to address the recovery, development and security concerns that would require strategic allocation of financial resources, policy reforms and detailed implementation of plans.
Challenges in education: Desperate times call for intense efforts. The Budget this year would need to go through the test of effectiveness in confronting and overcoming unique challenges that would require specific and solid steps, especially in the education sector.
1. Bridging the digital divide
While students and academic institutions with adequate means and resources could transit towards the digital online mode of learning without much effort, students from disadvantaged groups and rural public education institutions and small private institutions had to halt, or discontinue, operations. This digital divide is getting translated into a deep skill gap that would, eventually, contribute to rural unemployment.
2. Students’ and teachers’ safety
Even if the educational institutions reopen in an offline or hybrid mode of classroom study, they would be required to abide by the security protocols that would add to operational and financial overheads and expansion of infrastructure. According to an Oxfam study, only 54% of schools have toilets, drinking water and sanitisation facilities of satisfactory levels. Teachers in government schools do not have access to health insurance and benefits.
Expectations: The expectations from the Budget for stimulus to the sector are high. The major ones:
Coming up with new initiatives: Initiatives in terms of fiscal stimulus, tax exemptions, benefits, policy reforms and provision of clear guidelines are expected to suit the current needs of recovery.
(A) Investment in Infrastructure
Physical and digital infrastructure to provide a foundation for growth, especially in rural government educational institutions, needs to be built. Elements of Smart Class need to be embedded in rural government institutions. This could be through support to partnerships with ed-tech startups. Financial incentives can also be provided in this regard. The Bharat Net Programme, allocated Rs 6,000 crore to boost Internet connectivity, could be advanced through provision of resources and implementation of plans.
(B) Investment in Training and Development
Infusion of funds is needed for improving the quality of available e-Learning portals established by the government for students and teachers. Portals, like SWAYAM, NPTEL, DIKSHA ( digital infrastructure for knowledge sharing) and initiatives, like PM e-Vidya and Vidya Daan, need to be updated and made more interactive and learner-friendly. Although the challenges are complex and expectations from the Budget are high, it needs to be well-intentioned in its commitment to the realisation of the NEP vision. We are confident that the Budget will be a step in the right direction.