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Union Budget 2021: NDEARing To A Strategic Shift In Education

A National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) envisaged in the Budget states that it would be “set up within the context of a Digital First Mindset”. This is a fundamental shift and will not be an easy one to pull-off, but you cannot fault the FM on intent.

Union Budgets these days are more a statement of policy direction and intent than a mere laying down of the expenditure and revenue receipts of the Central Government. Budget 2021 was a continuation of that theme and in many ways one of the boldest budgets of our time.

For example, the Budget reiterated and doubled up on the Government’soften-stated intentions to spend heavily on Infrastructure to fuel growth, to continue to downsize and monetize Government assets, move towards transparent budgeting and to further simplify the tax regime. These are commendable and clear policy directions, particularly given that recessionary times often elicit populist measures.

In Education too, the Finance Minister (FM) has laid down the foundations of a sea change. It is first of all an acknowledgement of how the pandemic has fundamentally changed the way education is being planned to be imparted across the world. That it has been done so quickly in Indiaalone needs to be applauded, given many of our courses are yet to be upgraded for decades and do not reflect the changing times adequately.

A National Digital Education Architecture (NDEAR) envisaged in the Budget states that it would be “set up within the context of a Digital First Mindset”. This is a fundamental shift and will not be an easy one to pull-off, but you cannot fault the FM on intent.

During the whole of last year, institutions grappled with trying to ensure continuity, to recreate the classroom environment as best as they could. In doing so, they also realized that this might not be a one-offand that they need to be better prepared for similar challenges in the future.

While various institutions achieved various degrees of success given disparity of resources, a common consensus emerged that a hybrid model involving both offline and online teaching would be the way forward. Even for that to happen, basic digital infrastructure needed to be available to all, which meant that a Digital First mindset had to be inculcated, wherever it was still missing.

The FM’s NDEAR is an acknowledgement of this global consensus. And it has all elements in place as well, as it covers the whole gamut of teaching and learning, planning, governance and administration.

It is common knowledge that millions of students in India suffered during the pandemic year because of their lack of access to digital infrastructure. The FM has ensured that this does not happen in the near future by calling out Digital First. It is now left upon us to deliver on that intent.

However, there are a few immediate challenges the most gargantuan of them being access to quality digital infrastructure. Forget the rural heartlands, even several areas within metropolises regularly face issues with digital connectivity, which a necessity in a post-pandemic world. Quality hardware is also still a dream for the majority. On the other crucial end of the spectrum, for an overwhelming majority of the countries educationists and teachers, it is venturing into unchartered territory.

This is where the Government’s leg-up will help. It is no secret that the Government, if it wants to push something, has the most resources to do so. NDEAR, one believes, is designed for that push. The pandemic days have also shown how dedicated, open to change and resilient our teachers can be to the cause. With the Government’s backing, they can surely deliver more.

The final point of Annexure V of the budget speech dealing with education also proposes to “put in place a regulatory mechanism” which will promote academic collaborations with foreign higher educational institutions. This is another reiteration of intent of breaking away from established norms based on ideologies suitable perhaps for times gone by. In 2021, providing access to best resources should be a solemn duty towards our future generations.

The National Education Policy (NEP) did allude to it and now with it finding place in the budget speech, it is believed that access to quality higher education for all, will finally become a reality for Indian students in the near future.

It has been a budget like never before, but for Education in India, this budget has the potential to usher in a revolution like never before.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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