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Budget for education 2023-24: some perspectives and insights

By G. Balasubramanian

The realization of six percent of GDP as budgetary allocation still appears to be a far cry. There could be several other priorities for the Government and hence the current allocation may be what they could offer. Yet, the intent to address the needs of education as vital by increasing the allocation by about 13 percent seems significant. The allocation of nearly 1,16,417 crores for education including skill development appears a decent one. In the context of the National Education Policy-2020, there are several new areas for investment, and they need to be catalyzed. One has to wait and see how these allocations are used effectively and purposefully to address the goals listed.

The following areas detailed in the budget appears interesting:

1. Investment in technology with specific reference to promoting Artificial intelligence as futuristic tools for education.

2. Allocation for the teacher training and empowerment which is critical and central to growth in education.

3. Proposal to start the National Digital library for children and adolescents.

4. Focus on skill empowerment for the youth both through formal and informal systems

5. Encouragement to Research and Development by enhancing the allocation to IITs and other institutions of higher learning.

Technology and Artificial Intelligence

Time is ripe for Indian education to move from 2.0 gen to 4.0 gen without any further delay. This can be facilitated and supported only by technology and the progressive and purposeful designs of Artificial intelligence. AI is here for a larger purpose of progressive use of human knowledge positioned on technology platforms and not to play as a magic or described as a mystic tool. The current Ed-tech industry needs to evolve into a new and more vibrant thought architecture. It should move away from its current linear approaches of competitive marketing of print contents on screens to more provocative models that will usher critical thinking, analysis and innovation. The technology should help in transforming the constrained classroom spaces to more informal spaces. Contents based on integrated and inter-disciplinary models that facilitate a more synergetic thinking of principles that would help in constructing new knowledge has to be on the agenda. While investments in this sector should grow, the objective has to transcend the business perspectives by moderating the cost to recruit more real-time end-users of the technology.

Teacher empowerment and training

While the concern of the government on this issue needs to be appreciated, the administrators should move to be more relevant and pragmatic models of training. The cascade approach that celebrates the seniority of service without adequate engagement with the new generation approaches needs to be dismantled. The real power of knowledge needs to be the training source rather than the hierarchies that throttle the expansion and celebration of skill-based learning. This calls for joint ventures and inclusive approaches with industry and other portals of knowledge services. Joint certification of skills with enhanced trust systems and acknowledgement of competencies of different types at the Board level might open a more professional and corporate gateway. Neither the length of the teacher training courses nor its existent processes are going to help the transformation except broadcasting the concerns we have.

The National Digital Library

One needs to congratulate the policy makers on venturing on this idea. It should be done sooner than later. The nation cannot afford to wait anymore. But the basic question would be – what would be the structure of this organism? I consciously use the word ‘organism’ because if no life is ushered into the dynamics of its functions, delivery systems and if doesn’t ‘reach out’ to people with what is relevant and what is purposeful, these would become a few more ‘mortuaries’ of knowledge houses. The concept of the library, as it is prevalent now, appears to have outlived its purpose. They no doubt store knowledge but they don’t celebrate knowledge. Hence the forces that steer this idea and architecture need to ensure that the money that is being invested gets its reward and earns the ‘human interest’ it needs to.

Focus on skill development.

The NEP 2020 does focus on the urgency and need for skill development from the school level. The policy has spelt out the details of skill integration at multiple levels and multiple ways. The steps initiated in this regard must be more focused, pragmatic, experiential and engaging. The exposure to skills should not be just picnic visits, but real time hands-on experiences. It is not necessary to be looking at high-tech industries and business corridors for such experiences, but those who would help in developing right attitudes, aptitudes and facilitate entrepreneurial perspectives. The iron curtains drawn between the ego-systems of enterprises and educational institutions needs to be dismantled to facilitate a collaborative journey to nation development. Both cannot aim to fail each other.

Research and Development

Any investment in ‘Research and Development’ is always lesser than what has to be. With global consumerism and productivity competing with each other, consumption and utility patterns and styles are emerging limitlessly. The quality and patterns of research in many fields keep us concerned. The award of research degrees is neither a celebration and not a destination. They need to serve a larger purpose. The balance between basic research and functional research has often been a matter of debate. The encouragement given to the researchers is indeed disheartening. Oftentimes the top-heavy knowledge impositions and ‘I know all’ attitudes kill the spirt of research adventurism. Researchers need to be better respected and not treated as sub-servient staff. We would do well if our understanding of the objectives and the universe of research were more valid, credible and reliable. It is also time to move the research from the corridors of the wisdom architecture of a university system to more fundamental and functional algorithms of workstations. Possibly, we may see the sky from the other end of the horizon.

The budget has done its job! But what about the stakeholders?