Budget FY22 & Education: Missed opportunities – The Financial Express

Union Budget 2021 India: Reducing allocation by Rs 6,000 crore over last year dampened the spirits NEP had lifted

By Ashok Pandey

Indian Union Budget 2021-22: FM Nirmala Sitharaman did not disappoint the nation while presenting the Budget. She took advantage of palpable sentiments, applied precision and prudence to create her Budget. Under these challenging circumstances, the people wished the government would exhibit grit and build hope. Taking the infrastructure route, FM signalled growth, employment and economic reconstruction.

PM Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana is expected to strengthen the health infrastructure with an outlay of Rs 64,180 crore over six years. A provision for Rs 35,000 crore and more if needed, for Covid-19 vaccine is a reinvigorating commitment.

The aspirational youth, constitute a large population, needed special attention. Restructuring the start-up story is the right step. Though experts are terming the Budget as India’s second 1991-moment, there is widespread criticism that the FM did not deliver the education sector’s expectations. Reducing the allocation by a substantial margin of over `6,000 crore over the last year dampened the spirits NEP had lifted. However, the argument that the education expenditure has gone up marginally as a percentage of GDP offers no solace. The bold promises made in NEP needed unlocking of resources. School preparedness as a precursor to NEP’s much exciting early childhood care and education cannot fructify in the absence of capitalisation. However, increased allocation for centrally managed Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas are welcome.

Another glaring miss in the Budget is complete silence on the role of non-state-actors in providing education to 50% of the school-going children. The government cannot ignore the topic howsoever politically sensitive it might be. Policy support for educational autonomy and accountability, diversity of schools and colleges, and giving school choices are incomplete without the private sector’s wholehearted participation. They too deserve ease of functioning and recognition as an essential ally in building human capital. Furthermore, that begs for governmental support to realise the equity in education fully.

Opening hundred Sainik schools with the help of philanthropy, NGOs and private players aim to revive the Sainik School movement in the country that has remained stagnant over the years. Announcement of 750 low budget Eklavya residential schools, with a substantial rise in unit cost, in the tribal areas will enhance both accessibility and opportunities to learners. India needs to allocate public resources to disadvantaged groups and increase its score on indicator 4.5.3, of the overall UN SDG target 4.

Health and well-being, including emotional and mental health, is a strong indicator of cognitive development. Revitalising nutrition efficiency through mid-day meals and launching Mission Poshan 2.0 with resource commitment will enable equity, particularly for the 112 aspirational districts. Similarly, Jal Jeevan Mission aimed at a universal water supply in all the urban bodies by providing household tap connections will also ensure better health and sanitation. A push for research and innovation, encouraging centres of excellence at the school and higher education levels aligns with the NEP.

A policy paper by the Global Education Monitoring Report Team, says, “It is difficult to agree how much countries should spend on education. The Education 2030 Framework for Action appealed to countries to spend at least 4% of their GDP on education.” The NEP promised 6%, and that is a modest target, considering the economy’s size. It must honour that despite the unforeseen challenge arising from the pandemic.

FM has done away with archaic “bahi khata” to present a digital budget signifying the new and bidding adieu to the old. Her next Budget must include education as the central pillar of sustainability and atmanirbharta. The world community judges governments by policies, funding and intent to affect equity in education.

The author is Director, Ahlcon Group of schools. Views are personal

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