Budget offers relief to education sector

Education is intricately linked to the growth and evolution of any society or country. Further to the announcement of the Union Budget 2017 by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, there are several points of interest that have focused on education and skill building in the country.

Access to quality education is a critical step to empower the next generation of citizens within the country. The launch of the e-learning platform Swayam (Study Webs of Active-Learning for Young Aspiring Minds) will have a massive impact in this aspect. The study materials, video lectures and self-assessment tests built by around 1,000 specially chosen faculty from across the country makes up the first phase of Swayam.

With 32 dedicated television channels, iOS and Android apps, the reach of Swayam is significant. Available to school goers, graduates and postgraduates alike, it has also been made accessible to those who are unable to attend a formal educational institution – being an excellent initiative that boosts e-learning.

As a country, we lose a large number of students each year as they drop out after high school and do not pursue higher education. The announcement of over 100 India International Skills Centres and the Rs 2,200 crore allocation for vocational training will be helpful to bridge the skill gap amongst the youth. The skill centres would help those who exit the formal education system after high school and hone their skills as per the industry requirements.

Similarly, the Sankalp or Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion programme has been allocated Rs 4,000 crore and will help in providing skill based training and livelihoods to a large number of youngsters.

The introduction of a system that measures annual learning is a progressive step which attempts to improve the quality of education. The government’s efforts towards improving overall quality of education is reflected in the Budget. Learning outcomes and teacher educational reforms are important steps and are well addressed in this year’s Budget.

Emphasis on science education and flexibility in curriculum to promote creativity through local, innovative content helps in encouraging an ecosystem of curiosity among both students and teachers, to enhance the adoption of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

The proposal to set-up a National Testing Agency which will conduct all entrance exams for higher education will help free the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and other such bodies from their massive administrative burden, allowing them to focus on improving the quality of higher education which was the original objective of their formation.

Challenges of mediocrity
Higher education is plagued by challenges of mediocrity which is evident from the fact that very few or none of our higher education institutes feature on any global lists. The government's announcement to empower higher educational institutions is an admirable one.

Focussing on accreditation as a benchmark of quality for higher education institutes is a long delayed initiative. This has been acknowledged in this year’s budget. The plan to grant autonomy to institutes based on their accreditation status will be a critical step to pin our educational institutions on the global map.

Accreditation, especially international accreditation, ensures that we, today, do not compete internally for quality standards but have a more universal approach. In a competitive international market, students and industries are demanding more and accreditation and it can help provide students with a good foundation for professional registration. Accreditation signifies an institutional performance and helps the institution improve quality of education and its outcomes.

Good education should lead to employment, so increasing the footprint of the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Kendras by extending it to more than 600 districts across the country is a welcome step. In addition, 110 centres are planned to be opened to help youth get access to employment opportunities abroad.

While there still remains a lot that could be done, the proposals in the Union Budget for education and skill building are extremely promising and if imp­lemented well, should have a significant impact on the growth and livelihood of our citizens and help in the long term to create a more self-sufficient society.

(The writer is Director and Country Head, IET India)

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