Renewed Focus On Research, Pedagogy & Learning Losses

In 2023, experts look forward to the Union Budget addressing rural education, teacher employment, research and promoting entrepreneurship

For the fifth year running, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is scheduled to announce the union budget for the financial year (FY) 2023-24 on February 1st.  

In the previous budget, the education sector was granted an 11.86 per cent increase in funds, the highest funding allocated to the sector to date. The agenda was highly focused on the digitisation of education and skilling. The budget was also focused on the creation of a digital university, employment generation, agricultural universities and skill development, addressing the learning losses witnessed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Moving into FY23, experts look forward to this year’s budget addressing missed opportunities in the previous year. While the thrust into digital was welcomed, experts now believe that programmes which saw funding cuts and issues including research, teacher unemployment and school dropouts, etc. need to be addressed. 

Skilling Revolution 

Resource availability and affordability are no longer issues in the skill development sector. However, taking up upskilling courses is still a struggle as time is a limited resource and not available to those working full time. As the importance of upskilling is understood and remains unrefuted, the actual implementation has been a challenge, the onus of which falls on the individual. “To make upskilling through CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) function more beneficial, the budget needs to make provisions to exempt these spends from GST (Goods and Services Tax) to encourage more enterprises to undertake up-skilling. Another aspect that the budget needs to address is scaling apprenticeship adoption in the country,” offers Rituparna Chakraborty, Co-founder & Executive Director of TeamLease Services. Resource allocation was only the beginning; implementation, challenges arising from it and subsequent solutions available are the next steps in the skilling revolution.

PM Poshan and Teacher Unemployment

The budget allocation for the Pradhan Matri Poshan Shakti Nirman (PM Poshan scheme), formerly, the midday meal scheme dropped from Rs 11,500 crore to Rs 10,234 crore last year. With schools reopening, the programme may need to be reviewed. Furthermore, the rate of students dropping out of schools in the past two years and steps to bring them back, especially in rural areas, must be taken. In reaction to the announcement last year, Mona Lisa Bal, Chairperson, KiiT International School declared the 2022 budget to be a “hit and miss for the education sector.” Bal explained, that “the economically disadvantaged students especially in rural areas have lost essential years of education and the introduction of supplementary teachers was highly necessary.” The lack of attention provided to the unemployment that teachers and educators faced was a major concern, that will hopefully be addressed in the coming year. 

R&D and Applied Research

Research and Development (R&D) was severely neglected in the budget for 2022. Mahesh Panchagnula, Dean of Alumni and Corporate Relations at IIT Madras comments, “I anticipate that the budget will focus significant resources on improving the overall research atmosphere in the country. There is a significant drive in the country to produce research that pushes the boundaries of knowledge. There has never been a better time to up the resource allocation.” This sentiment is reiterated by education leaders across the higher education sector, especially with the emphasis to research awarded in the National Education Policy (NEP).

Closer Alignment To NEP

Bhimaraya Metri, Director of IIM Nagpur insists on budget allocation for full scale implementation of NEP 2020. This should be accomplished through “special attention on getting ‘hub and spoke’ digital universities to gain scale and localisation of education. Promotion of entrepreneurship and innovation at every level to be through institutions and provision to be made at expanding reach at a grassroots level. 

Aligning itself closely to the goals of the new education policy, Metri also adds the need to have “renewed focus on promoting fundamental R&D and applied research” and have a “special initiative to decode and restore Indian literature and Indian knowledge system.”

Offline Education Still Relevant

There is no doubt about the benefits provided by online education and digitisation. Creating accessibility and affordability of information and knowledge for everyone in equal measure. However, offline opportunities and physical classrooms are still the preferred options for holistic learning to take place. Moreover, technology is a tool to enable education, pedagogical practices still require upgradation. As Sumeet Mehta, Co-founder and CEO of LEAD stated in response to the 2022 Union Budget, “I would have also loved to see a greater focus on improving the teaching and learning processes in our schools' vis-a-vis infrastructure and tech-enabled curriculum. Going forward, I hope there will be policy changes in that direction.” Mehta adds that online education can play a supplementary role, but not be the only form of education.

Large scale digitisation may have been the focus in the former year, this time around experts hope to build on the futuristic vision for education in India in a more holistic manner. It is pertinent to address the challenges of skilling and online learning, while also bringing back important schemes and acknowledging that learning gaps persist. Balanced development and growth will ensure a stronger educational foundation in the long run.

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