A new direction
Budget 2021 must take heed of the need for establishing a school education commission — a necessary milestone in achieving ‘Bharat-centric’ education by 2030
The discussions with stakeholders preparatory to Budget 2021 has started. The Finance Minister has kicked off discussions with different stakeholders as the Government gears up to draft the most difficult budget in many decades. The industry is gearing up to exert pressure and so are other stakeholders. Educationists are also expecting this time to get a call as the Government has come up with the 'National Education Policy 2020', the first of this century and after 34 years that Rajiv Gandhi gave an education policy in 1986. Since July 29, 2020, when the NEP was approved by the Central Cabinet a lot of discussion and focus has been put on how forward-looking is the NEP 2020. The expectation is that it would transform our education system from an India centric to Bharat centric education by 2030. The promises can become a reality only if the budget paves the way for the implementation of the promises.
Time and again it is said that the two most important sectors that need attention, and have been neglected, are health and education. The pandemic will force the Government perhaps to put health at the nucleus but education should not be undermined as well. There are more than 40 crore students and two crore teachers suffering under lockdown. Educational institutions were locked down but teaching-learning never stopped. We need to bring new and innovative pedagogic methods. The budget, it is true is not the only document for change. The Government cannot pay for all initiatives but budget is definitely the most important document that triggers changes that actually change the scene at the ground. It may not be necessary to fund every initiative but come up with schemes and structures which prod people to spend and also attract spending on education.
The NEP 2020 suggests major structural changes in the system of education. A major change that is going to be witnessed is the addition of three years of pre-schooling. This initiative will bring in millions of out-of-school-children to school and bring a difference to their lives. The Anganwadi and playschools are going to become mainstream and not be on the fringe of the 'education system'. The foundation stage of education for children between the age of 3 to 8 will be approximately five crores. The policy promises to provide breakfast as well to children at the foundation classes so the provision will have to be made for it. The training or retraining of the Anganwadi workers to undertake pedagogic activities will be around 16 to 20 lakhs. The training and breakfast cost will be substantial. The Cabinet has already approved the PARAKH and STARS projects on October 14, 2020. Part of the funding will come from the World Bank. Private participation will increase in school education and we should also be prepared to face global partners as we are a signatory to the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and we will be forced to open out 'education market' to international partners for which there is no professional body of experts. An expert body is urgently required for school sector. The Government does not have the expert knowledge to handle global partners. The best-performing nations in education have nearly no government interference.
What really makes a difference in education is not merely funding but the human effort. We have spent billions through 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan' and the 'Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan' but the quality of education that was expected could not be provided. The pyramid has been turned upside down. There has been a major emphasis on higher education since independence. It has only been after 1990 (the Jomtien Conference) that India shifted its focus to school education. A substantial budget was allocated to school and especially elementary education. However, in the absence of proper understanding and planning, a large proportion of budget was spent on infrastructure creation which was not utilised. Had we spent on teacher education and material production for curriculum transaction the scene would have been different. Schools in India were always part of the society and supported by society. It was British policy to cut the roots of schools from the society so that 'the beautiful tree' which was nurtured by the society dried. Gandhiji criticises the British policy in his Chatham Hall public speech on October 20, 1931, which had triggered long public debate on education during the British rule but after Independence, we forgot what Gandhiji had pleaded for. We neither changed the regulatory mechanism nor the curriculum. We still teach our children how the British helped us become a nation and we would not have been a notion if the British had not come to India.
To effectively and professionally run the school education system, it has been a recommendation of the commissions and a demand of the teachers to establish a national regulatory body through an act of Parliament; a counterpart of the University Grants Commission for school education. The number of children attending schools is approximately 33 crore whereas the learners attending higher education is about eight crore. Surprisingly the need for a professional body for eight crore learners is needed but for 33 crore children is not felt necessary. There exist secondary examination boards of the Central and the state governments but there is no professional body to provide regulations, norms and standards for school education. Even though education is in the Concurrent List there is a UGC which decides on the norms and standards of higher education which state and Central universities adhere to equally. But whenever the issue of establishing a school education commission (SEC) is raised, it is mentioned that this is not possible as education is in the Concurrent List. Some people who like to be at the top of schooling oppose this move always. Macaulay took over education so that the British Government could control learning. We have not undone this in 73 years of independent India. This has done huge damage to the nation. School sector expects that the Finance Minister will talk to the experts of school education and allocate funds for the establishment of an SEC before any other scheme or initiative because only then the promise of the PM of a Bharat centric education will be fulfilled.
The writer is a teacher at the School of Education, IGNOU. Views expressed are personal