Education in Union Budget 2017-18

The outlay on education sector this year has seen a rise of 9.9% from Rs.72,394 crore to Rs. 79,685.95 crore. Of the total outlay, Rs. 46,356.25 is for the school sector and the rest for higher education.

The outlay is for a range of activities including learning assessment in schools; revamping UGC; setting up of a national testing agency to conduct higher education entrance exams; and freeing nodal education bodies from tedious administrative work. The key proposals are discussed as follows:

Measuring annual learning outcomes

The budget has proposed to introduce a system of measuring annual learning outcomes in our schools. The idea is that such kind of framework will establish standards of Governance, Transparency and Self- Regulation and can be used to classify schools into different categories based on a variety of input and output measures. We note here that the Ministry of HRD had already come with a draft document in January on learning outcomes tat set the minimum achievement standards for class 1 to 8.

Innovation Fund for Secondary Education

The government will set up an Innovation Fund for Secondary Education to encourage local innovation for ensuring universal access, gender parity and quality improvement.  This would also include ICT enabled learning transformation and the focus will be on 3479 educationally backward blocks.

National Testing Agency

The budget has declared a plan to establish a National Testing Agency as an autonomous and self-sustained premier testing organization to conduct all entrance examinations for higher education institutions. We note that such agency may conduct entrance exams for admission to Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), other engineering colleges and UGC-NET. We note here that the idea of NTA is not new but was recommended in the national education policy 1986. However, governments have never implemented this. Once this agency is in place, there may be big losses for IITs and UGC in the form of foregone examination fee. Currently, multiple agencies are conducting multiple tests; and if there is one body whose single point agenda is to conduct exams, then it is a a very good idea and a major higher education reform in the country. It will free IITs, CBSE, AICTE, UGC etc. from the administrative responsibilities so that they can focus more on academics.

SWAYAM

The government is already working on a SWAYAM initiative to leverage information technology. It will have at least  350 online courses. This would enable students to virtually attend the courses taught by the best faculty; access high quality reading resources; participate in discussion forums; take tests and earn academic grades.  The budget documents say that the access to SWAYAM would be widened by linkage with DTH.

Unaddressed Issues

The budget has not addressed several key issues in education sector. For example, there was a demand in the industry that the “education services” should be declared as zero rated supply in the GST regime. Further, there was a demand for ‘State Policy Reform Fund’ to incentivise states that implement measures such as merit-based selection and promotions. This also remains unaddressed. There is nothing much for teacher education; education quality and capacity building of existing institutions; Setting up of specialized research and training institutes with focus on areas such as standardized assessments, school leadership training, early literacy & numeracy, pedagogy etc. There was also a demand that the higher Educational Institutions should be free to set up campuses overseas; and they should be give a line of credit towards that. This would help to increase India’s soft power.

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