Budget 2022: A year to revive education

  • Bridge the learning gap that Covid has widened, invest in infrastructure, focus on well-being, and promote skilling and reskilling. This will boost long-term growth
Covid-19 has cost children two years of education in classrooms. It has also accentuated inequities, both economic and gendered. This is why we need to ensure greater female participation to address this gender gap. (Reuters) PREMIUM
Covid-19 has cost children two years of education in classrooms. It has also accentuated inequities, both economic and gendered. This is why we need to ensure greater female participation to address this gender gap. (Reuters)
Published on Jan 24, 2022 08:41 PM IST
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ByJanmejaya Sinha,

We introduced the concept of a “Project Finance Economy” in the context of India in these columns last year. This was distinct from “Working Capital Economies”, which had high per capita income, low unemployment, robust hard and soft infrastructure, a broad tax base so that their governments could meet their yearly expenditures from tax revenues in normal times. In contrast, developing economies with low per capita income, high unemployment or disguised unemployment and poor infrastructure, did not raise sufficient tax revenues to meet the capital expenditures to increase economic productivity. To address this, they needed to borrow and invest in soft and hard infrastructure to change the growth path of their economies.

The visionary budget of the finance minister last year focused sharply on hard infrastructure and health care. The fiscal deficit increased, and government resources were augmented with the intent to divest stakes or privatise State-owned enterprises. The budget was well conceived. What we urge now is its focused implementation. In addition, in this year’s budget, we ask for another focus: Education.

The fiscal demands on the government last year resulted in a cut in the education budget. The allocation for education was brought down to 93,223 crore from 99,311 crore. Covid-19 has cost children two years of education in classrooms. It has also accentuated inequities between the poor and the affluent due to access to digital infrastructure and homeschooling. This needs to be urgently addressed. We cannot become a $10-trillion economy if Indians are uneducated.

So, we argue for a sharp rise in the allocation for education to 125,000 crore, an increase of about 32,000 crore. Of this, 15,000 crore should go to school education, 7,000 crore to higher education and 10,000 crore to skilling and adult education. In addition, the higher education sector should be encouraged to seek private sector participation to augment resources.

With respect to school education, the situation is dire. Data shows that more than 70% of students have not received any significant educational input in the online world. A one-time package for the safe reopening of schools is required. The majority of India’s one million schools have been closed for two years. Some have been used as vaccination/isolation centres. As we look to open in 2022, physical infrastructure needs to be revamped and provisions made for forward-looking health and safety measures. Investments are required to develop strong content and delivery of curriculum related to the social-emotional well-being of students and teachers.

Simultaneously, an urgent effort to foster teacher training should be launched. The majority of teachers have struggled with digital devices and digital data availability during the pandemic. A programme that equips teachers with digital devices and digital literacy can also be included. They should also have free data usage for accessing learning materials. Moreover, extra (remediation) materials and additional (temporary) teachers need to be provided for covering the learning losses.

In higher education, major significant outlays have happened in world-class institutions. This is required. However, to ensure that we don’t get left behind in the talent race, the government needs to have a sharp focus on the areas where the United States (US) and China dominate today, such as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, renewables, bio-technology, and communications. Indians are naturally advantaged, we are present in all top universities in the US and present in Silicon Valley in large numbers, and many first-generation Indians lead top American technology firms. We must not let the advantage slip.

Adult education and skilling are extremely critical for India. A country cannot progress if 260 million of its citizens cannot read and write. Government-run vocational institutions such as polytechnics and industrial training institutes need to be modernised to meet the lower-end mass job needs. Coordination with states is important. Build on the initiatives made by states in starting skills universities that offer graduate degrees in banking, financial services and insurance, health care, digital design, retail and business process outsourcing. We should consider transforming central universities, which offer vanilla courses into skill universities.

The programmes of the ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship need a fillip. The allocation for schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana needs to be increased. The budget per student/per hour is too low and leads to significant dilution in the quality of training and trainers. A more nuanced apprenticeship scheme that incentivises all types of companies to invest in the skilling and reskilling of the workforce needs to be developed in partnership with the private sector.

Finally, two separate call-outs — at both school and in higher education, we need to ensure greater female participation to address our gender gap in the workforce. Second, it is critical that 600 million Indians, who use feature phones, upgrade to smartphones, by means of a government-sponsored trade-in scheme. Common locations such as post offices should be in partnership with manufacturers to train people in their functionality. We have argued in these columns that smartphones can foster self-improvement and access. If this year’s budget could sharply increase its focus on education, it will serve India well.

Janmejaya Sinha is chairman, BCG India. Seema Bansal leads BCG’s Social Impact practice in Asia Pacific 

The views expressed are personal

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Sunday, June 26, 2022