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Union Budget 2018: The focus on human capital stands out | By Nandan Nilekani

If quality education has to be delivered, we need to take a learner-centric approach, while supporting the teachers who make the biggest difference to quality learning

opinion Updated: Feb 01, 2018 18:03 IST
Union Budget 2018,Budget 2018,Education
Purnima Haika , the top scorer in classX at the Eklavya Model Residential School at Rayagada in Odisha. An important initiative in the Union Budget 2018 is the plan to start Eklavya Schools in tribal areas such as the very successful Navodaya Vidyalayas. (Vipin KUmar/HT PHOTO)

Rather than a broad comment on the Budget, I would like to focus on an important aspect: the emphasis on education. This year’s budget stands out for its comprehensive focus on human capital and recognising that business as usual will not do. The 2018 Union Budget said many things: the need to improve the quality of education; spending more on livelihoods, agriculture and infrastructure in rural areas; a national aspirational skills centre; research and skilling in AI and Robotics; and Blockchain for a digital economy. All of this will require the building of a culture of lifelong learning. As ASER surveys have shown year after year, the state of our students’ learning is a huge challenge; even basic reading and maths skills are inadequate.

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If quality education has to be delivered, we need to take a learner-centric approach, while supporting the teachers who make the biggest difference to quality learning. Instead of looking at just solutions, we need to build infrastructure which distributes the ability to solve problems, which increases the agency of the teacher, the learner, the parent, the school, in solving the problems of learning in their specific and varied contexts. In this regard, DIKSHA and RISE, two schemes mentioned by the finance minister, are crucial.

Our teachers are the biggest influencers and deliverers of quality learning. If they are to move from the blackboard to the digital board they need to be re-skilled and empowered. DIKSHA, the national teacher platform, could go a long way in serving the needs of teachers . DIKSHA is a national open digital infrastructure which is being leveraged by the states to navigate their own digital learning journeys for teachers and students.

We all know that in learning, context is everything. The proposal to devise a district-wise strategy for improving quality of education and the proposal to treat education holistically from pre-nursery to Class 12 is welcome. An important aspect of changing the conversation on education is our ability to make technology work for us to create contextual micro-learning solutions.

The budget has made a major commitment to the RISE — Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education by 2022 — scheme with a budget of Rs 1 lakh crore. Whatever shape and form it may take, we need to think of this as an investment in common futuristic infrastructure for learning so that we do not keep re-inventing solutions and re-investing in them. It is critically important to anchor it in the right principles, create shared interoperable open infrastructure, enable modular design, open source, open data and distributed access.

Other important initiatives are the plan to start Eklavya Schools in tribal areas like the successful Navodaya Vidyalayas. And the commitments to fund Institutions of Excellence is significant along with the intention to have 10 of them to come up with private funding.

We do not have the luxury of time to craft rigid learning journeys for the youth of India. The youth certainly do not have the patience to stand outside the gates of institutions of learning waiting to be let in. To propel ourselves into the future, we have to unlock expertise, enable agency, share, and create a culture of lifelong learning that will enable the learner to craft their journeys. I am learning about Blockchain and AI at the age of 62. There is no telling what a child born today will need to do to stay relevant for his entire life.

This budget has recognised the major weaknesses and shortcomings in our approach to education and made unprecedented commitments. Implementation will need a thoughtful and sensitive approach. We now need to execute at speed, and scale up in a sustainable way.

Nandan Nilekani is former chairman of the Unique Identification Authority of India and is currently chairman of Infosys Ltd.

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Feb 01, 2018 16:59 IST