Dr Neeraj Jandial
The Union Budget has sent out positive signals towards bridging the gap between the skill-development eco-system and traditional degree education. Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman presenting this year budget, announced a slew of measures in the education sector to give a boost to this crucial area of importance.
One major new announcement on the education front envisages setting up of three centres of excellence for Artificial Intelligence (AI ) at top educational institutions. The Finance Minister stated in her address that “leading industry players will partner in conducting inter-disciplinary research, develop cutting-edge applications and scalable problem solutions in the areas of agriculture, health and sustainable cities. This will galvanize an effective AI eco-system and nurture quality human resources in the field”. Given the important role of AI across these areas, the centre of excellence concept will also help premier educational institutions to transform research in cutting edge technology and replicate it to scalable problem solving for a country of our size and diversity.
Another announcement has been the proposed establishment of 100 labs in engineering institutions for developing applications using 5G technology will also provide a fillip to employment, start-ups , businesses and promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the engineering field. According to the Finance Minister, these labs would cover among others, applications such as smart classrooms , precision farming ,intelligent transport systems and healthcare. Thus, both these measures – setting up of three centres of excellence for AI and establishment of 100 labs using 5G technology will go a long way in unleashing the digital potential of the country.
With focus on reinvigorating the skill-development eco-system, the Finance Minister promised to provide stipend support to 4.7 million youth in the next three years. This will be accomplished through a direct benefit transfer initiated under the pan-Indian National Apprenticeship Promotion scheme.
The Union budget presented also mentions that the central Government will formulate a National Data Governance Policy to enable access to anonymised data for innovation and research by start-ups and academia. Carrying forward her agenda, the Minister informed that the digital eco-system for skilling will be further expanded with the establishment of 30 Skill India International centres across different states and the launch of a Unified Skill India Digital platform for enabling demand-driven formal skilling, linking with employers including Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and facilitating access to entrepreneurship schemes. The focus on skill development followed complaints from the industry that the training course and curriculum as well as the practical skill imparted under Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) did not align with its requirements. “Under PMKVY 4.0, on-job training ,industry partnership and alignment of courses with needs of industry will be emphasized”, stated the Finance Minister. She further elaborated that the scheme will also cover new-age course for Industry 4.0 like Coding ,AI, Robotics, Mechatronics , Internet-of-Things(IOT), 3D printing, Drones and soft skills.
That the Union Government is continuously pushing efforts for digitization in the country is highlighted by the fact that a National Digital Library for Children and adolescents is proposed to allow children to access device agnostic reading material across genres and levels. The digital library apart, the Union Government has stated that it will encourage States to set up physical libraries as well at panchayat and ward levels. In addition, the National Book Trust, Children’s Book Trust and other sources will also bring in books in both english and regional languages at these physical libraries and collaborate with NGOs for the same. Financial sector regulators will also be requested to pitch in with age-appropriate reading material on financial literacy.
As part of other education-related initiatives announced, the Central Government will recruit 38,800 teachers and support staff for the 740 Eklavya Model Residential schools, serving 350,000 tribal students over the next three years. The plan to boost Eklavya schools is also in sync with the government’s aim to improve the socio-economic conditions of the particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs ).The PVTG Development Mission will allocate 15,000 crore to help the development of facilities such as safe housing , clean drinking water and sanitation, improved access to education, health and nutrition, road and telecom connectivity and sustainable livelihood opportunities.
Another noteworthy announcement in the budget has been the digitization of 1,00,000 ancient inscriptions. This initiative when accomplished would enable the scholars and academia to preserve and enrich our rich civilization and heritage and also enable the coming generations to feel proud of our rich past .
By taking these measures, the Union government has shown urgency to bridge the learning gaps among the student community in the wake of 2019 pandemic. The response of the government in all likelihood seems to be taking suitable course corrections in this regard . Infact, the latest Annual Status of Education Report 2022 conducted by NGO , Pratham mentions that children’s basic literacy following school closures during COVID-19 had taken a big hit ,with their reading ability as compared to numeracy skills worsening and dropping to pre-2012 levels.
The Finance Minister, moreover, has also announced that the District Institutes of Education (DIETs) will be developed as vibrant institutes of excellence. To accomplish this, she stated that the Teacher’s training will be re-envisioned through innovative pedagogy, curriculum transaction, continuous professional development, dipstick surveys and ICT implementation.
That the government is trying to transform India into a ‘knowledge based economy’ seemingly becomes clear in the statement issued by Union Minister of Education ,Dharmendra Pradhan , wherein he has stated that the education sector has been given the highest ever allocation .This gets reflected in the budgetary allocation for the Ministry of Education which saw a total increase of 8.2% from Rs 1,04,277 during the year 2022-23 to Rs I,12,898 crore for this year, of which school education witnessed a rise in allocation of 8.4% and higher education an expansion of 7.9%.It is to be noted that the budget allocation for this year for the school education has been Rs 68,804.85 crore , while the higher education has received Rs 44,094.62 crore .
However, considering that the country of sheer size and diversity with wide disparities like ours needs apt policy interventions and enhanced fiscal support for this sector(both at union and state level),if India has to transform its dream of becoming a developed nation by the year 2047.The budget presented does reflect positive trends but certainly a lot more needs to be done.
Dr Neeraj Jandial