V For Education
These are the post-2014 Election times of unrestricted hope and expectations. Everyone is waiting for that change that would transform India and Indians. Everyone has his own idea of the shape of the change and also the strategy that could achieve it. It certainly is a real tough job for the government that came to power just within a couple of weeks to synchronise its promises, people’s expectations, limitations of the resources and the inheritance left behind by a non-functional and indecisive government. Let it also be noted that the last decade had the ‘advantage’ of the brilliant economist as the Prime Minister and two successive experienced, sharp and intelligent Finance Ministers who, sadly enough, could succeed only in transferring a disastrous economic legacy to the new government. Whatever priority sectors one may visualise for the consideration of the Finance Minister, it must be conceded without any hesitation that it is finally the quality of the manpower—human resources—that would make or mar any innovation or initiative intended to improve the quality of functioning and also of the outcomes and outputs. And this, in effect, makes it mandatory for the government and its Finance Minister to give education its due. No nation can afford to move ahead, even in these times of materialistic pursuits which give the highest pedestal to the machine, without consolidating, updating and upgrading its cognitive capital. In simple terms the nation has to strengthen its education sector, which, at present is indeed in shambles in its work culture, quality, management, and leadership.
The Budget is generally seen in terms of allocations and the increase of mere 12 per cent may be far behind the much-sought-after allocation of 6 per cent of the GDP. One hopes that as the new government tides over the economic situation, it would ensure the nation to let the person know when it intends to allocate 6 per cent instead of the near 4 per cent which has been the norm during the last decade. Let one hasten to add that the other major concern is the proper and full utilisation of the central funds, particularly by the state governments. The present Budget hits the nail on the head when it gives priority to the teacher training programme and allocates a substantial amount under this head. It is indeed very imaginative to name the scheme after Mahamana Madan Mohan Malaviya, whose life is rare example of creating symphony of the ancient wisdom and modern knowledge. Another prominent aspect that comes from the example of the life and times of Malaviyaji is his ingenuity in persuading every section of the society to come forward and contribute in the cause of preparing future generations. Teacher preparation is in bad shape, India is woefully short of quality teachers at each stage and this one initiative could transform the quality crunch within few years. The Budget strengthens the SSA and to retrieve the implementation of the RTE, which has yet to generate confidence amongst people. The intentions of the government to change the shape of the elementary schools, particularly the government schools, is prominently visible in this budget and one hopes it would be put to implementation with same sincerity and dexterity. India must get rid of the shame of running schools without teachers, in dilapidated buildings or under the sky, without working toilets for boys and girls, without books and dress being distributed in time, and so much more. One always wonders why India is still not able to manage the scheme of Mid-Day Meals properly even after three decades? Health care of children particularly in rural and tribal areas remains in utter neglect. It is being responded to under ‘Health for All’ provision and one hopes, sincerely, that it would not meet the fate of NRHM scandal of UP in future in any state!
In higher education, the participation rates of the age-specific population have to be enhanced. That requires more institutions of specialised nature as well. The private initiatives in education, though essential, have not acquired the requisite credibility, exceptions apart, and the state must come in the picture ‘visibly’. The Finance Minister has announced setting up of five more IITs and another five IIMs. Very positive step, but one that requires a lot of caution: UPA also opened new IIMs and IITs. Admitted students without any preparation and ‘thrust’ them on the existing institutions that were already languishing under acute faculty shortage. These institutions still suffer poor infrastructure and faculty shortage. Under no condition, the brand value of these prestigious institutions need be compromised. One would like to see an incentive scheme that would attract young persons to research in these institutions and an environment would be created that they join these very institutions as faculty members instead of going after the green card and multinational jobs. Opening of two national Institutes of Ageing, four AIIMS like institutions in AP, West Bengal, Vidarbha and Poorvanchal is indeed very encouraging. The acute paucity of Medical Colleges has been responded to and twelve medical colleges shall be set up shortly. Provision of Dental care facility would indeed help the rural and tribal population. The setting up of 15 Model Rural Health and Research Institutes shall go a long way in strengthening health care needs of the rural areas. Equally timely is the proposal for the two Horticulture Universities in Telangana and Haryana. There are several other initiatives that indicate deep insight and sincerity to improve upon the existing system of education. Institutes for Universal Inclusive Design and Mental Health Rehabilitation are to be set up. Malnutrition shall be handled through special initiatives. In this budget, emphasis on skill development and employability is clearly evident. Same applies to introduction of IT, virtual classrooms and modernisation Madrasas. Establishment of Universities for Himalayan Studies, Railways and Defense deserve appreciation. Same is applicable for the proposed Women’s University. One hopes their number would rise in future. Sports have received their due and opening of a sports university in Manipur is a laudable step. The Budget indicates that schools have separate chapters in school books on gender mainstreaming. In fact, the Government needs to ensure that the school curriculum is thoroughly revised and new textbooks are prepared accordingly. India really need a National Commission on Education, and aspect that has not been seriously taken up after the Kothari Commission submitted its Report in 1966 and based upon it, the National Policy on Education was formulated in 1968. The Policy formulations of 1986 and 1992 did not have the support of a National Commission Report. Now is the time to set another commission and give the nation a futuristic national policy on education within three years.
By JS Rajput