India has more than 1.4 million schools with over 227 million students enrolled and more than 36,000 higher education institutes. The country holds an important global place in the field of education. However, there is a great potential for further development in the education sector.
It is the education sector that positively influences the future of the nation. Education has the potential to impact the future at various levels. For that very reason alone it must be given great importance. A well educated society can fast forward the economy. Any government if it wants to see economic progress must invest heavily in the education sector.
India still has 287 million illiterate adults and 1.4 million out of school. This is a direct effect of India’s decreased GDP spent on education (3.3%) as against a global average of (4.9%).
India is also placed on the lowest rung when it is compared to its BRICS counterparts who too spent an average of 5% of their GDP on education.
There was and is a vehement need to focus on education as one of the most significant public sector reforms for the future.
The present government seeks to achieve this object. A New Education Policy is in place. Well conceived initiatives like Make in India, Digital India and Skill India have been put forward by the government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Skill India program aims to equip one crore youth by 2020. Twenty universities are to be made world class.
Considering all these high aspirations the expectation was that the government would increase the overall spending which was slashed by 2% in the last budget. Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently called for 6% of GDP spend for education. Will the government consider it, remains to be seen when the next budget comes out.
There was also expectation of a simpler tax regime to encourage more players to enter into the education sector, and easier, cheaper student loans to ensure a good education for more children.
Did the 2016-2017 budget fulfil these expectations for the education sector? Does the public expenditure on education reflect the drive to achieve these high aims? Let us see.
The 2016-17 Union Budget allocated Rs 72,394 crore compared to Rs 68,963 crore for last year, which is about 4.9% increase in the education budget.
About 4% of the total budget and 0.5% of the GDP is allocated for education. This is a far cry from the 6% of GDP that had been recommended by the education commission set up in 1966 under the chairmanship of D.S. Kothari.
While there is slight increase in allocation in absolute terms, the budgetary allocation relative to the total budget and GDP have not changed.
As to creating world class universities the question is: Why only 20 institutions should be provided with an enabling regulatory environment? Shouldn’t all educational institutions be provided that? Also, on what basis would these institutes be chosen?
The Shiksha Abhiyan will focus on quality of education. However, towards this end a more active engagement with the private sector which currently contributes well over 40 per cent of K-12 education in India was required. Nothing has been said about increasing the role of the private sector in education.
It has been said that 62 more Navodaya Vidyalayalayas will be opened and a digital literacy scheme for rural India will be started. However, nothing has been said about how millions of government schools will be improved to provide quality school education.
The creation of a Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA) has been announced. The funding is to the tune of Rs 1,000 crore. It is not clear how a fund of Rs.1,000 crore will resolve the redressal all of the problems of educational loans.
The fund will also be used for improving India’s top institutions. This is a good idea but it is not clear why the focus is not rather on improving the abysmal condition of our state universities where most students study.
Instead of focusing only on improving the quality of top universities and institutes, it would make far more overall difference in the quality of education if the government also makes an effort to enhance the infrastructure of state universities.
The government has promised to increase the number of IITs, AIIMS and other professional institutes, but again might not quality be compromised in the bargain?
The Objective to skill one crore youth in the next three years under the PM Kaushal Vikas Yojna National Skill Development Mission has imparted training to 76 lakh youth. A provision of Rs 1,700 crore has been made for setting up 1,500 multi skill training institutes.
It has been announced that 10 million youth will be provided skill training during 2016-19.
To this end the University Grants Commission (UGC) has also introduced a new degree Bachelor of Vocation (B. Voc.), which can be awarded in across fields. This is all well and good.
A Digital Literacy Scheme has also been announced in the budget to cover 60 million additional households. The Government of India aims to increase digital literacy to at least 50 per cent of Indians from currently 15 per cent over a period of next three year.
Secondary education has not been focussed upon.
Digital Depository for certificates will be a step in the right direction since it will help in detecting fake degrees and mark sheets.
Other questions that arise are whether the government is doing anything to ensure better learning results as well as a regular testing systems for measuring learning outcomes?
A key factor in enhancing quality of education is the quality of teachers. What steps does the government plan to take to provide good quality training for teachers? As suggested by the Seventh Pay Commission, would the increase in pay of teachers be linked with their performance?
The need of the hour is to improve the quality of Indian education, and focus should be on imparting training to faculty, improving basic infrastructure, building a robust assessment framework, and improving not only higher education but secondary education as well.