As we go into Budget 2021, even within the context of a shrinking budgetary allocation for education (as percentage of GDP) in the last years, I still have a dream. Actually, a long wishlist.
If even 50% of this is touched, it will be cause for (cautious) celebration. For the magic is always found in, or missing from, the last mile. And we have miles to go.
Beginning with the most exciting thing to happen in education in recent times – the new National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) – let’s look at a few of the needs it has thrown up that all require significant financial and other scaffolding. As always, I remain implementation and outcomes-focused.
Provide a practical and usable NEP implementation roadmap
NEP suggests an increase in education spend from 10 per cent of government public expenditure to 20 percent by 2030.
So of course we’re expecting to see this intent begin to reflect positively in the 2021 Budget. But where this spend needs to be prioritized should be discussed clearly as well – direction must be provided for short-term focus areas.
We are looking to the policy makers to help break the gigantic NEP dream map into bite-sizes that can be taken forward at state level and in the last mile, by the last principal/dean/teacher, positively impacting the last student in that mile.
Money set aside needs to be clearly disbursed for specific heads by outcomes, and a measurement system put in place to check progress on spend versus impact.
Focus on sector research, data, efficacy and improvement… at speed
The implementation, the ‘how’ of the NEP has to be the focus. It begins for all of us with the peeling back of each
NEP goal to its smallest ‘outcome,’ and then setting in place the machinery to achieve those outcomes in small pockets.
We already have excellent data on the education sector gathered by the government and ancillary or independent bodies.
Now we must dive into that data to identify the most critical needs-gaps and address those in the shortest possible time, iteratively; we cannot afford to get caught in analysis paralysis, or wait for big bang catch-all solutions. To move forward at speed, a huge and concerted effort must be put in place through private-govt partnership.
Partner agencies will be required to conduct research, gain insight from data, set up outcomes, monitor and evaluate progress, report impact and provide actionables if the government wants quick and visible improvement towards its education goals. We would like to see close ties with philanthropic and social impact sector.
Iterative improvement and impact creates a story that enthuses people and makes distant or even overwhelming goals appear reachable. It creates a virtuous cycle of possibility, an opportunity to onboard more minds and hands. The government would want to create these stories.
Kickstart teacher training on war footing
Educators urgently need professional upskilling in the emerging industry and technology scenario, as well as emotional management skills and support. Both areas are critical for the future of our children and our economy.
As evidenced during the pandemic core months, teachers are more than willing to revise their skill base when it is obvious that their very survival (and that of the ecosystem that sustains them) depends on it.
We must leverage this positive mindset and momentum! This is the ideal time for, again, private-govt partnerships to build next-level teacher skills. A good percentage of the budget MUST be set aside for this to make it attractive for the best pedagogy and skills organisations out there to pitch in.
Bear in mind that NEP demands a different approach that teachers will have to be trained for, and the shift will need considerable efforts at scale.
Build future-facing content and resources
The government should strategically stay away from any plans to force only a particular set of books & resources on educational Institutions. This, as debated earlier by us in industry, is a sure way to kill creative competition in the publishing world that makes nextgen content and methodology accessible to everyone.
If we wish to disseminate only ‘a’ set of resources for certain grades, there is need for advanced level effort to continuously create and improve said resources, ensuring the global standards that competing publishers must typically pass on to consumers for their own survival.
NEP outcomes necessitate a complete overhaul of instructional design, resources and implementation to shift both pedagogy and content/resources towards achieving those outcomes. A quick example is flexible learning tracks – how do we actualize this, and at scale? To meet such needs, an immediate influx of funds for appropriate labs, resources, and strong administrative as well as creative leadership is imperative.
Now, a few non-NEP areas of importance.
Incentivise skilling service providers
Include professional and Life skilling within supplementary education sector, and then give appropriate reliefs to the sector to encourage players to come forward massively to enhance the skill level of youth across
Go-to skills mentioned by World Eonomic Forum are important to develop. But where’s the incentive for smaller players to serve the masses, which requires considerable manpower and infrastructure investment?
Make learning accessible for more learners
Support student loans, student housing… everything that enables parents to send their children, especially first generation learners, to learning Institutions or gain access through other indirect means.
Importantly, a forward-thinking influx of funds is urgently required to make technology access possible for all. This has been the biggest acute and visible problem during the pandemic around the world, not just in India, but it is perhaps more critical for a country like ours, sitting on a demographic advantage, than in many other parts of the world.
It would be a pity to not leverage the demographic dividend. Or the evolved teaching fraternity, or the infrastructure, even barebones edtech capability, that most people have developed in the last year; fate has created a ‘platform’, and we must leap off it quickly and keep up the momentum. This time round, let’s design systems to be future-facing as well as accommodating of all stakeholders’ needs-gaps.
Better financial safeguarding for education institutions
The regulations that bind institutions need a closer look, especially when it comes to their finances and management.
Allow Institutions to create a bigger corpus than currently allowed, to face force majeure situations with less severe impact on all stakeholders. And in the meantime, provide sufficient and immediate injection to help employ/re-employ teachers, catch up with financial loss in the fees fracas, and step up infrastructure to meet access and outcome goals in the revised educational scenario.
Adopt systemic redesign
Lastly, design thinking as a discipline must be applied to the education sector. A holistic look, future thinking, peeling back to current status, needs-gaps, prototyping, testing, implementing – without these, future-facing education and in particular meeting NEP goals will take decades.
A systemic approach and applying Design Thinking might just make a dent in ten years. We need a dedicated department for this, please.
Overall, philanthropy and private-public partnerships can play a major role in expanding the government’s capability to address the most critical needs quickly, and in conclusion, these may be the most important areas to kick off post-Budget. The rest would likely flow, and fast, from there.
Now educationists, core and supplementary education providers, in fact anyone having anything to do with education are all excitedly waiting for the big reveal! Personally, I am positive and optimistic about the possibilities.
(By Sharbari Purkayastha, EdTech, Academics, Design and Education Management expert. The views expressed are personal.)