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Education Sector’s Budget 2021 Wish List: Allocating 6 Per Cent of GDP, Push to Tech-Based Solutions, Checking Dropout Rate

An increase in budgetary allocation and steps to bridge the digital divide feature in the education sector's wish list for Budget 2021. Representational Image: PTI

An increase in budgetary allocation and steps to bridge the digital divide feature in the education sector's wish list for Budget 2021. Representational Image: PTI

Covid-19 has impacted learning outcomes, especially for those who belong to disadvantaged sections. The Budget must focus on bridging the learning gap

On February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Budget. News18.com speaks to experts about their expectations from the Budget in a post-Covid world and the new National Education Policy.

Anjela Taneja, Oxfam, Lead Campaigner Inequality

India’s education sector saw the single-biggest disruption in the teaching-learning process due to the pandemic. The number of students affected by the closure of educational institutions stands at over 32 crore, with the biggest impact being borne by India’s poor and marginalized communities. By some estimates, India’s out-of-school population would double and India would have to bear a debilitating cost of lost instructional time.

The Union Budget 2021 needs to intervene, to support parents by putting in place a robust and comprehensive response package that addresses the holistic needs of India’s students. Provisions must be made in the Budget to address the learning loss of marginalized students, steps to mitigate the socio-emotional impact caused by the educational disruption, and the socio-economic impact caused by the disruption of school-based welfare schemes like the midday meal programme.

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The Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the key vehicle for financing the Right to Education in India, needs to intervene strongly to address the dropout rate, especially among girls, those living in poverty, persons with disabilities, Dalits and Adivasis, and children of migrant families. Existing programmes for special training of out-of-school children—which includes their identification, mobilization and special training with trained teachers appointed for the purpose—need significantly enhanced allocations.

This is the time to roll-out the National Education Policy’s (NEP) Gender Inclusion Fund (as well as the Inclusion Fund for other marginalized groups). As schools begin to reopen, it is time to address the fact that only 54 per cent schools have toilets, drinking water and handwashing facilities. All schools must adhere to social distancing and hygiene standards. It is time to invest in school health programmes, a historically neglected area.

The last nine months have shown the limits of digital modes of instruction, both as pedagogic tools and in terms of the exclusion of India’s poor, who have not been able to access the online medium of learning.

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As Oxfam India’s recent Inequality report shows, of the poorest 20 per cent households in India, only 2.7 per cent have access to a computer and 8.9 per cent to Internet. If India wants to be a vishwaguru again, it should rely on low- and no-tech and not digital solutions that have been proven to be exclusionary.

All this, in turn, calls for a significant investment in education. Even before the pandemic, an additional 1.2 per cent of the GDP every year was needed for financing the RTE of the elementary school age-group. This is the right time to increase allocation to education, bringing it closer to the present government’s own policy commitment of 6 per cent of the GDP. This is the least India’s next generation deserves from this historic Budget.

Protiva Kundu, Researcher, Center for Budget and Governance Accountability

India already has a heavy burden of malnourished children. Covid-19 has worsened the situation. In this Budget, the government needs to prioritize allocation towards supplementary nutrition programmes under Anganwadi Services and, in the long run, there should be a move towards universalization of the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Services)—ensuring every child and woman is able to avail Anganwadi Services. The Budget allocation for education is particularly important this year as the government has announced a new National Education Policy, which has recommended breakfast at the foundational stage. Nutrition, health and learning are interconnected. Access to quality nutrition in a child’s early years increases the possibility of a healthy foundation and this helps in cognitive outcomes like learning.

Our policy brief—‘Impact of Covid-19 on Child Nutrition in India: What are the Budgetary Implications?’ provides a detailed assessment of the disruptions in entitlements due to the pandemic. The Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) under Anganwadi Services (erstwhile ICDS) and the mid-day meal (MDM) are two large-scale programmes delivering food entitlements to children in India. Sixty-four million children in the age group of six-months to six years benefit from dry rations or hot-cooked meals under SNP (Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2020). And, 115.9 million school-going children in Classes I-VIII benefit from one hot-cooked meal a day under MDM (MDM Portal).

With the closure of Anganwadis and schools following the lockdown imposed in March, both services have been disrupted. According to our report, the coverage of both programmes has been inadequate. Even prior to COVID-19, only 50 per cent rural and 21.4 per cent urban children reported getting a free midday meal by the institution (National Sample Survey Office, 2019).

There are a large number of vacancies under Anganwadi Services, for posts of child development project officers (CDPOs) and lady supervisors (LSs) (MWCD, 2019). This hinders implementation and monitoring of the programme.

Dr Niranjan Hiranandani, Provost, HSNC University Mumbai

As per the National Education Policy 2020, the Union Cabinet approved an increase in public investment in education to 6 per cent of the GDP. The Budget right after the introduction of NEP is expected to set aside a fair portion of the allocation not just for primary education but also secondary and higher education. With the scope of international institutions associating with Indian varsities increasing, the overall education infrastructure needs a revamp. In light of the effects of the pandemic on all stakeholders, the first steps that we must take should be towards technological advancements for holistic learning.

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Technology has taken the front seat in the education sector, enabling us to think of digital operations to bridge the education gap that existed before Covid-19.

The government has made efforts to provide access to digital connectivity, the outlay of which should be augmented in the Union Budget 2021-22, in order to make India a global hub of education. There is hope that this Budget would give a push to blended learning, especially for offline education sources.

Srini Raghavan, CEO, Educational Initiatives, an ed-tech company

The Budget has to be aligned with a post-Covid world where learning has to be enabled by tech-driven solutions. These points are underlined in the new National Education Policy. In 2001, when I co-founded this ed-tech company, the term was never heard before. And now, with the new normal, education experts have realized the importance of tech-driven solutions in strengthening teaching-learning experience. Our experiences in the early years with our own school in Ahmedabad introduced me to its scale and impact.

The future is a blended approach to education and the government needs to ensure a stronger Internet penetration in remote areas.

The problems of rote learning existed earlier as well. The NEP seeks to bring an end to it, and the Budget must have the imprint of providing tech-based solutions to address these problems. There must be 6 per cent budget allocation to education, and it must be utilized to prepare children for the teaching-learning process.

In the past several years, only the investors in ed-tech have gained and the impact of intervention has not been assessed. So, we don’t know if this intervention is impacting learning in any way. Hence, the future policies in promoting blended education must be impact-driven.

first published:January 27, 2021, 19:16 IST
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