Budget -2017 An overview of the New initiatives in Education

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–G Balasubramanian
Former Director (Academics), CBSE

The Hon’ble Union Minister for Human Resource Development has said that there is an overall increase of about 10 percent in the allocation for education in the current budget as compared to the last year. While one needs to applaud the government for its sensitivity to the field of education and increased allocation of resources to meet the National educational objectives, it is also equally important to find out that how much of gap would exist between the actual needs for education and the current allocation. Nevertheless, one hopes the increased allocation of financial resources would help in meeting the new emergent challenges the field of education faces, both at the school level and the higher education level. It is also important to acknowledge the ‘input-output’ ratio for all the investments being made in the field of education both by the Government and Private sector is not very satisfactory. At the governmental level, policy paralysis, political roadblocks, administrative inadequacies have retarded the desirable growth. The ‘trust deficit’ issues in the private investment models in education and an overdose of commercial intents have indeed impacted possible progression of quality.

Though the target of meeting the Universal secondary education in the country is still far-fetched, it is important to catalyse the forces that work for this cause. Similarly, the quality of higher education has always been a matter of serious concern and debate in the absence of adequate allocations both for infrastructure as well as supporting systems. Without engaging into the magnitude of allocation for each of the objectives listed for the education sector, one has to examine how much of momentum could be gathered in triggering and accelerating the systems that work in this direction.

The focus and seriousness the government has, in enabling and facilitating the education of the girl child is quite visible and one hopes that with increased allocation for this sector, there will be recordable results that would empower the civil society of the future. The Hon’ble Finance Minister presenting the budget has listed some new initiatives which are likely to bring better social justice in the field of education.

National Testing Service

One of the significant announcements by the Government was with regard to the establishment of a National Testing Service(NTS). The idea of NTS dates back to the National Policy of Education, 1986 which recommended a separate and independent agency to conduct various tests at the National level. However, with the directions of the Supreme Court, the CBSE was handed over the responsibility of conducting the AIPMT examinations in 1988 and subsequently the responsibility was quite successfully discharged by the Board. With the kind of infrastructure and support systems, the CBSE enjoyed across the country and its meticulous planning, execution, confidentiality and the processing of results, it was blessed with more such responsibilities like JEE, NET, etc., Though the Board shouldered all the above with the attention they deserve, the main focus of CBSE in improving the quality of academic standards across the country to an internationally competitive level was increasingly getting distracted. Hence the announcement is indeed a welcome statement. The establishment of NTS sooner is better. Further it will add value to the process of measurement and evaluation in a more scientific manner.

Assessment of learning

The second important statement that the Government has made is with regard to establishing a method or a system of assessment of learning in schools. While the objective and the intent of the government deserves appreciation, it appears to be a Herculean task. Learning is indeed a neuro-cognitive process and hence there are several issues which factor into learning, some of them are emotional, a few psychological and more cognitive – and all of them impacted by socio-cultural, geographical, political and pedagogical concerns, thus creating a complex web of matrices in measurement. Further, use of standardised tools to an entire gamut of learning population which is so diverse moving at differentiated speeds of learning, calls for a lot of attention, effort and grit from the educational administrators who would conceive, execute and put the plan into action.

Innovation fund for school education

The creation of an Innovation Fund for school education is indeed exciting. It is not only necessary, but timely and contextual. In the current global dynamics, where learning is becoming increasingly informal, the extended learning getting richly imported to the formal learning – creation of such a fund has all the ingredients to trigger the power of learning rather than the content of learning. What appears important is to put in place a kind of leadership that would effectively nurture the idea and provide a meaningful platform for all its stakeholders.

Science education and flexibility in curriculum

The concerns expressed by the Government on the quality of science education in schools and the need for a flexible curriculum is re-iteration of an ideal which most academicians would agree without any reservation. Interestingly, one finds that the focus of the NEP to hold to the ‘undivided core curriculum’ for the learners across the country conflicts with this dream. While the ‘Minimum Levels of Learning’ has long been, the staple diet the educational policy makers have been prescribing for the sickliness of the existent system, it is also accepted that the ‘rigidity’ of the policy and ‘inspection raj’ models of educational administration have not subscribed to promote creative pursuits of learning both in government and private schools. While regulations need to be prescribed, pursued and mentored in the administrative modeling, the urge to control ‘the learning curve’ has done more of a harm than good. The policy makers need to reload their matrices on their desktops with the impact of global challenges to learning curves.

Skills development

The extension of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Yojana to six hundred districts across the country is a very pragmatic and positive step. This can really help in nurturing the skill sets among the youth so that they are employable or could become small entrepreneurs. This decision has also the elements to prepare the youth of the country for the Government’s major initiative – Make in India and Made in India.

The plan of the Government to start 110 skill centers across the country to prepare the youth for the skills sought for employment at the global level is yet another step which acknowledges the increasing relevance of Service Sector in the global HR markets. But it is important that the skills to be identified, the quality of the technology used, the levels of quality delivery in processes and the yardsticks used to certify the quality of achievement are important, lest these centers would be also ‘one on the run’ type just meeting the needs of a government record rather than the market needs.

Investments in vocational training

The commitment of the government to incur an expenditure of Rs 2200 crores for vocational training explains the concern of the government. But it does equally raise the concern of the taxpayers, because a large part of such investments in the past have not yielded the desired results. Vocational training, in this country, is still considered as the brunch of the lesser fortunate, the academically non-achievers, and hence carries a latent taboo – which indeed needs to break its barrier. Reasons have been identified from time to time – the irrelevant curriculum, the gap between the cognitive knowledge and practicing skills, non-availability of current tools, technology and practices and the low quality of certified skills. It is time to re-engineer these courses so that the money invested is worth its purpose.

Online DTH services

The much propagated ‘Swayam’ platform for online acquisition of skills and to integrate it with the DTH services for time-space free online learning is a step towards ‘digitalised home delivery’ of knowledge and skills. The proposal to include nearly 310 courses in this model is further expansion of the existing ‘clearance sale’ model in knowledge portals. Many of these courses fail to serve their real intent, thanks to the absence of motivational inputs to the on-line learners, where the thrust appears to be adopting ‘projecting the hero’ – than the content or the skill. The culture of such documentations needs to be re-articulated to infuse a greater motivational input, focus on the nuances of the application of the skills and its practices. ‘Swayam’ learners also need a common platform to meet- to have peer learning experiences and to further enhance their learning curve.

Autonomy to higher institutions of learning

The objective of granting autonomy to institutions of higher learning is certainly the policy the government appears to be pursuing in the last decade and more. But questions have oftentimes been raised in the social sector and media about the real quality of the ‘autonomous ‘institutions. Parallax errors in the mental conceptualisation of the concept of autonomy needs correction. The ‘mismatch’ between the objectives of the autonomy and their current practices in academic delivery appears to be fast increasing. There is a real urgency for mentoring these institutions so that they can sensitise themselves to global competitiveness. The absence of ‘academic quality’ – the poor quality of the curriculum, the low-rated pedagogy and thrust on ‘passing out’ rather than sustaining standards are some major issues these institutions face. The myth and overplay of the infrastructural expanse as an indicator of the quality must be done away with. The ‘faculty’ improvements of these institutions are an emerging and serious concern. The mindset to ‘deliver’ a curriculum must give place to ‘discover’ the curriculum. Autonomy may help in increasing the star value of the learning organisation even without impacting learning. Better caution in this area is desirable.

Setting up new AIIMS models

The proposal to start two more AIIMS like institutions – one in Chandigarh and the other in Gujarat – is a reassurance of a political commitment to reach out. The past experiences in setting up such institutions elsewhere should help the Government in rearticulating their purpose and redesign their visions of success. Slow and steady wins the race – is always a nice proverb to remind to ourselves to regulate our paths for progress. The acknowledgement that higher education seats in medical colleges are inadequate and should increase is a response to the quality issues n delivery of health services in which no compromises can ever be made. But the quality of these courses itself need further review and upgrade.

Total Quality approaches to education needs an integrated vision rather than piecemeal play-way techniques. One issue which the government has not addressed is about increasing safety concerns in schools and the plans to reinforce safety of the billions of school going children. While the concern of the government should not be questioned, I think a more concrete statement, policy and programmes would be required.

Budget 2017 – has been laid on the table. The directions are reasonably clear. What about strategies?