By Shantanu Prakash
A budget that acknowledges the importance of education must be lauded. To that extent the current budget announcements have been music to the ears and easily a landmark effort in terms of intention translated into actionable numbers. Of course every budget posts allocations of new schemes for education. But what makes this one different is the wide angle view it has taken of the sector and touched far more points than ever before.
There is always the question of how much more could have been done by way of budgetary allocations but this budget impresses with its interdisciplinary approach to impacting various pressure points of the education framework. For a change, it indicates that the government has taken a 360 degree view of the needs of India’s education sector and rather than looking to impress with size has turned the spotlight on sectors. It takes little to declare more schools and outlays for schools but when your delivery is at variance with targets it needs a more realistic view of how to approach the problem. Clearly intentions and outlays are not enough. To that extent, the announcement to open 62 new Navodaya Vidyalays is wonderful but the country needs ten times the number for it to have even marginal impact.
Similarly, a problem that is compounding faster than you can find solutions for it must be attacked at both ends. That is why the thrust on training and skill development in this budget is admirable. The pointed emphasis on skill development is crucial for employability while the deeper issues of education quality and reach are addressed and one need not wait for the other. Skill India is not only a mantra for employability but a transformative agenda that puts focus on re-evaluating education in terms of outcomes. The imperatives of ensuring that long winded education terms do not end up in frustrated job-hunting and job-applicant mismatch needs to be tackled head on and this budget gives a keen sense of the urgency this Government apportions it.
More credit is due, for it is the first time that attention to quality benchmarking has found place in such a charter. By indicating that it intends to enhance 10 private and public institutions to world class levels the Government has signalled a sea change in its approach to education – from one of filing numbers to that of counting successes. This one initiative will be transformative in shaking up the industry and making it more competitive, efficient and global in outlook. This will have a multiplier effect and signal other institutions to play catch up and it in these dynamics that lies the core appeal of this initiative.
However, it must be understood that the education industry has a unique problem – it is unregulated and over regulated at the same time. The constraints of investment into a sector that is constrained by rules of operation are already visible to everyone in the demand supply shortfall but on the other hand the abject absence of a regulatory authority to streamline and rationalize the policy framework has been sorely missed. In a strange contradiction of terms it is felt that a regulatory environment once formalized would become instrumental in leveling the field, clearing the regulatory minefield and enabling the sector to grow more, faster.
What could not be missed is that the aversion to private investment in education continues to persist and it was here that the education sector expected some path breaking advances. It remains a fallacy to expect government to make up the short fall in education delivery in pre or post school or higher education. Government resources are by convention almost always stretched, finite and non-specific to sectoral growth. It can at best provide indicators, signal head winds to encourage entrepreneurs to step up on the gas. The private sector could marshall resources much more quickly, efficiently and effectively to transform the India education sector. That would have provided the needed fillip to bridge the gap that currently exists between what is needed and what is available. Education is the fuel for a 21st century economy and it is linked to all the other schemes such as Digital India, Startup India, Skill India and even Clean India. It is therefore time to look at education as social infrastructure and give it the importance it deserves like all other aspects of infrastructure.
The fact that the government considers education as one of the pillars of its governance mantra is a bright indicator that there is hope and scope to demanding and getting more traction in the sector. It may be time to reorient our positions on education and think inside out for a change – look at outcomes we want and make the right choices on policy to achieve those goals. If the current budget and the indications are anything to go by, we have a good chance to aim for a turnaround in the education scenario in the country.
The author is CMD, Educomp Solutions Ltd, tweet to him @shantanueducomp