Out Of Sync: NEP 2020 And Budget 2021

A detailed review of Budget 2021 indicates that it does not do justice to the enormous demands of the NEP.

The New Education Policy 2020 (NEP) was announced in July 2020 with great fervour and confidence that it will be the panacea to all the challenges and issues plaguing India’s education system. It declared grand structural and systemic changes to radically transform education in India with new policies and programs, all the while overlooking the practicability of these programs and changes. Nevertheless, these ambitious proclamations raised hope equally between the educationists as well as the parents of our country that finally some government is taking education seriously, only to dash these hopes when the Budget 2021 was announced.

The key, naturally, was going to be the funding allocation to this ambitious vision. And in major contrast to all the announcements, education was allocated Rs 6,000 crore less than the previous year, with a cutdown by over 6.1 per cent over the prior year.

In midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that has proven inimical to India's education, economy, jobs and health, the lower allocation of the budget only makes things worse for the state of education in our country. Drop out rates among children from rural areas is already on a surge driven by long shutdowns of schools. Job loss among parents is making school fee payments difficult. Online education in a country with poor digital infrastructure both on the school as well as the parent side was always going to be ineffective, if not total farce.

A detailed review of Budget 2021 indicates that it does not do justice to the enormous demands of the NEP. The NEP aspired to achieve 6 per cent of GDP allocation to education, a target far too ambitious given the allocation has never crossed 3 per cent since independence. What is astonishing is that Budget 2021 failed to mention the NEP at all, forget providing any financial or execution framework for optimal allocation of resources and evaluation of impact. Whether it was NEP declaration or Budget announcement, the 'how' part was entirely missing from the documents and no follow-up material or guidelines were issued. For all the plans NEP had, it did not even endeavour to break down how it would enhance social and gender inclusion, how it would curb dropout levels of females and students from lower strata of society, how exactly the Garib Kalyan Rozgar Abhiyan would equip migrant labourers with skills, how educational technology start-ups and private education establishments could be subject to loan subsidies and tax exemptions, how upskilling would be provided to working professionals and many of the other supposedly pioneering measures the NEP proposed could actually take place. No relief was extended to the Edu Tech sector, which will remain in the 18 per cent GST bracket.

Leave aside the allocation amount, even the distribution of the available resources and budget hasn't really aligned with the NEP. With the overall fund brought down, the fund allocation to Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas was increased by a few hundred crores, even though we know these schools already have a better infrastructural setup than other government schools. So again, the lower rung schools continued to be marginalized and left in the wilderness.

It is clear that the NEP has been flashily inauthentic by providing unattainable rhetoric, being fully aware that India's ecosystem of education and political economy are not able to handle so many drastic measures.

Millions of teachers will be repurposed with the structure of supervision and modifications in the ecosystem.

Already, public spending has been poor rendering poor infrastructure and so, a high presence of meagrely paid ad-hoc teaching professors who are not only improperly qualified but also untrained are propping up. This poor public spending also has rendered exclusion of students from poor socio-economic backgrounds.

Ideas like Anganwadi workers providing early childhood education is yet another measure floating in the clouds backed by no financial clout. Highlighting the sorry plight of girl education in our country, the NEP spoke about creating funds to be more gender-inclusive, but the sorry reality is that a measly Rs 1 crore was allocated under the National Scheme For Incentive To Girls For Secondary Education. Then, of course, comes the whole language conundrum of using scarce resources to train teachers to teach in regional languages. Again, no explanations have been provided for how educators and the institutions will be funded to teach in a diverse set of regional languages. Again, there’s no clear mention of how EWS reservation would be correctly implemented, but then again, this was not fleshed out in the past three Budget reports either.

The NEP talks about the goals it wants to achieve but has zero ideas on how to get there. The notion of creating more socioeconomic opportunities in every sphere of education may sound noble and benevolent, but it isn't strapped to reality and continues to remain a distant dream, especially in the shadow of the Indian government's misallocation of funds in the Budget and its failure to address the measures of the NEP or even vindicate any of its steps. Vision steps are cute rhetoric, but policy measures are for praxis. If policy measures can't provide a feasible financial roadmap, it has zero viability and can't be taken seriously. High in unrealistic aspirations but low in funds, it’s hard to see the NEP as anything more than a wonderland full of castles in the air.

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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