The inequity in education
Indian Government must address imbalances in the education sector in order to gain benefits from having the largest working population in the world
The condition of Indian educational system may remind us of the words written by the famous Victorian poet, Matthew Arnold, where he mentioned how the then British intellectual society was actually caught between two worlds, one dead and the other powerless, yet to be born. With a literacy rate of around 74 per cent and with functional literacy of maybe around 60 per cent, our country is not only sluggish in its development in education but it also seems to be caught in a maze between ensuring literacy and accomplishing education. Hence, it is a natural expectation that education should feature with paramount importance in the policy framing of the nation because education itself is like a panacea that can cure so many psycho-social inhibitions, detrimental to our country's growth and its attaining distributive justice for its people.
Now, if we gauge the present educational graph of our nation in the reference frame of the recent Union budget, then an apprehension grips our mind. For any country, along with improving the number of literates in the country, care should be taken to enhance the merit of education and to enable the educated class of the society to create references of excellence in the sphere of research and development. But all the more important is to stem the rot in the sector of primary education. Though education is actually in the concurrent list and both the central and the respective state governments are stakeholders, yet the main outline of educational policy has to be charted out by the central government. It is here that some grave issues are emerging. The measures initiated are not reaping substantial success and as it appears from the allocation of funds provided in the Union Budget that someway education is not enjoying that priority, at least in terms of financial preference, as it ought to. If we look into the allotment of government spending as far as latest Union Budget is concerned, then we find it to be less than 5 per cent of the GDP which makes India 62nd in rank in the matter of total public expenditure on education per student. In the last Union Budget allocation, education was Rs 94,554 crore and this year, the Union Budget proposed an allocation of Rs 99,300 crores for education which is a meagre 5 per cent rise from the previous year. Some statistical data can really raise our eyebrows- Rs 59,845 crore for school education which is only a minimal increase of Rs 3,308 crores from Rs 56,537 crores and this increase is grossly inadequate, particularly when school education has to be the prime concern.
Unfortunately, the budget has grossly shifted focus from the issue of elementary education and seems to have failed to deal with challenges like the huge number of children (84 million)who are out from the canvas of school education. Then there is the issue of closing of government or government-sponsored schools in substantial number and only 12.7 per cent compliance of RTE cases.
Some bullet points on the Union Budget on education- Rs 3,000 crore allocation for skill development; foreign direct investment to be sought in the education sector and an online education programme at degree level to be provided to increase the quality of education. Along with these, the Government proposes to start a bridge course to aspirants to meet demands for teachers, nurses, paramedical staff and care-givers in foreign countries. A medical college is to be attached to a district hospital in public-private participation model. The Union Budget also states the Government's aim to improve the skill of youth to gain the advantage of the largest working-age population in the world by 2030. This layout of proposals on education may not be altogether pessimistic but it does not allay some significant apprehensions. The first thing that strikes our understanding is lack of any proper roadmap towards improving primary education which as we all know has to be improved sustainably and effectively if India aspires to match the global standard in the domain of education.
There is an apparent contradiction between the Government's plan to diminish the problem of unemployment in the nation and to set new standards in the errands of educational innovation. The decrease in the allocation of financial resources for RUSA (Rashtriya Ucchatara Shiksha Abhiyan), A.I.C.T.E, Digital E-learning in the field of research, has some valid reasons to make people remain in clout about the Government's propensity to promote excellence in education and to narrow the gulf between education and vocational attainment. It needs to be mentioned here that the unemployment ratio is rising on a steep gradient and has touched 7.7 per cent as per data of December 2019.
The proposal to open the path for foreign direct investment is considered as a mixed blessing because, on one hand, while private universities could gain from opening up of the funding regime, the blessings of such global education may not be within the means of the common man. There are steps proposed to intensify vocational training but introducing such courses in only 150 institutions may be insufficient for holistic development.
The decision to start an internship at municipal or panchayat level for degree and diploma holders in engineering is welcome but the whole show will tend to be frugal if employment opportunities are not created. What is really baffling is the absence of any blueprint to steer the navigation of school education even up to the higher secondary level. This can be diabolic enough to spoil the country's prospects in the field of higher education. The Central Government along with the state governments will have to carve out strategies that on one hand, make education universal, quality-based and on the other hand, broaden the scope for employment, especially when unemployment ratio has touched the highest point in the last forty years.
The draft of the National Educational policy has observed gross deficiencies in the education sector and has proposed suggestions to set up more primary schools, improve the training of teachers, develop school infrastructure and most importantly, minimise the number of school dropouts. Ironically, the current Union Budget is not incommensurate with the above-stated observations. It also appears that the Government is trying to be indifferent towards strengthening the public education system.
With more than 26 crore people still not being literate and with a persistent rise in unemployment, even among the technocrats and management cadre students, it is indeed high time for the Government to sincerely address the threats to education and employment so that the areas of weakness may be transformed to avenues of opportunities.
Views expressed are strictly personal