Education | Budget 2021

Improving the quality of education

Dr. Naushad Forbes.  

India has made good progress in education since the introduction of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the Right to Education Act, which guarantees a child free education for eight years. Enrolment at the primary level is now near-universal and enrolment ratios for higher education, too, have risen. However, critical lacunae in the system act against our children emerging as productive workers. As per the 2015 NCERT national achievement survey, less than half the children met the benchmarks for their age in reading comprehension and maths. On skill development, 127 million people need to be trained by 2022.

The key issue across all levels of education in our country is quality. The particular priority for each of primary, secondary and higher education is, however, different. At the primary level, there are not enough teachers in government schools, with high vacancy rates across the country. Attendance of teachers can be ensured through use of biometrics. Having teachers group standards 2, 3 and 4 into one class (as often happens in thousands of our schools which have only 1-2 teachers) impacts quality significantly. Fewer but better, larger schools need to be balanced with local access. A complete revamp of our teacher training institutes is necessary — perhaps we can run them all in PPP mode. The Centre should also consider a pilot voucher scheme that gives parents the option to select schools. Competition among schools would foster better quality. A recent article in the Economist describes how the Punjab, in Pakistan, is using vouchers to improve school quality.

Dropout rates are high at the secondary level. A good secondary school needs specialised teachers by subject. To feed much larger secondary schools, we will need to transport children to them from a catchment area. The Centre can provide resources for a programme of school consolidation, which needs strong political leadership at both national and state levels as it is unpopular with teacher unions, but popular with everyone else!

Research focus

In higher education, apart from creating 20 world-class universities as mentioned in a previous Budget, these institutions and others should emerge as hubs of publicly-funded research. Doing research in universities is the way the world creates high-quality talent — those PhDs and masters’ graduates are the foundation of R&D and innovation. For this, research needs to be a much larger enterprise in our universities. The share of national R&D needs to rise 10 times from the current 0.04% of GDP to match the world average of 0.4%.

The problem is not how much, but where, the state spends on R&D. The bulk of this goes to autonomous state R&D labs, run by CSIR, DRDO, ICAR, DAE and so on. Some ₹90,000 crore is spent each year. The Budget should freeze this in nominal terms and add the typical annual increase (₹8000-₹10,000 crore) to its funding of research in higher education.

In one year, we would more than double the funding for research in higher education. Repeating this for a few years could transform our universities into world beaters. They should use this huge extra funding to attract good quality faculty to fill the hundreds of vacancies that plague even our best institutes.(The writer is Immediate Past President, CII and Co­chairman of Forbes Marshall)

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 2:09:30 AM |

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