Budget 2020: Why technology and digital education initiatives are key to bridge India’s skill gap
I am reminded of a wonderful quote by Benjamin Franklin, ‘An investment in knowledge pays the best interest’ - as Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman gets ready to present the Union Budget 2020. Entrepreneurs, startups, and corporates eagerly wait to see if it would encompass big-ticket reforms. The Budget 2019 received mixed reactions from the industry, particularly the education sector. It allocated Rs 94,800 crore towards the education fund – focusing on improving schools and higher education programme.
A few experts lauded the government’s effort to bring in the New National Education Policy and vision to place more Indian institutes in the top 200 world university rankings. Our country faces a unique challenge where the unemployability is a bigger problem than unemployment.
Almost 90 percent of our learning is focused on knowledge, whereas 90 percent of jobs today requires skills. Therefore, experts believe that the government should place more emphasis on K-12 education to address this gap. Here are a few areas where the government should focus on this Budget.
Increasing accessibility of digital education
Many areas of the country, especially rural expanses, lag in education and struggle with outdated teaching methods, shortage of teachers, inadequate student-teacher ratio, and insufficient teaching resources. Today, the internet is rapidly penetrating the hinterland/rural areas of India due to the availability of affordable data plans and cheaper mobile devices. This has laid the foundation for digital education to reach the masses. Hence, the need of the hour is a holistic and dedicated initiative like Digital Education similar to Digital India and Skill India initiative to empower students in semi-rural and rural areas to get the same quality of education, which is at par with urban India.
Similarly, with the government focus on skill-building, the same medium can be used to develop skills of the youth in rural areas to prepare them for the future of work. Additionally, the Budget should offer incentives such as reduced GST for online education services. This will encourage students from hard-to-reach rural areas to adopt digital education to acquire specific soft skills or vocational skill set. Our country’s young population will also prove to be a demographic dividend if the benefits of digitalisation and technology are made available at the doorstep of every household in the country.
Push for technology
Personalised learning through AI is another way to bridge the gap between skill and employability. It can drive efficiency and personalisation in learning, while streamlining administrative tasks to allow teachers to utilise their time well. It also aids better learning by treating each student as unique and adapting lessons according to his or her capacity and improve learning outcomes by strengthening skill-development. The Budget should promote 21st-century skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and analysis by encouraging diversity in learning by moving beyond the traditional ways. A way to do this is support students to learn from the new avenues and technologies. This would help students to get access to multi-cultured, multi-faceted learning while keeping the student’s engagement level high.
During the previous Budget, the Finance Minister said that the government will also ensure industry-level training for 10 million youth in India. This would enable building skills in technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, virtual reality, 3D printing, and robotics. We look forward to witnessing some allocation in this direction during the Budget.
Teacher training programmes
The Budget should focus on upskilling teachers with the latest skill. If they are trained, only then they will be able to impart knowledge to children and equip them to face the challenges of the 21st century. The government, post-Budget 2019, introduced NISHTHA (National Initiative on School Teachers Head Holistic Advancement, an initiative to train over 4.2 million teachers across the country. A further push for this initiative in the Budget 2020 would help close the gap between the education system and the current employer demands.
A lucrative solution to higher education is public-private partnerships. The private sector and the government both bring complementary resources to the table. The government has access to vast resources of land and buildings whereas the private sector has the capabilities of execution. Therefore, the Budget should encourage such partnerships that would carve a better future for the country. To encourage students to acquire the best of higher education, the budget should also consider increasing the period for deduction of interest on education loan.
In addition, edtech companies are a key component of the education sector. Therefore, the government should also offer tax benefits in the form of exemptions. It should also offer tax benefits in the form of exemptions for products and services coming under the GST ambit. Import duty on books has been levied at five percent, which is hurting the interests of the learners of the higher education sector restricting access to quality content.
Education is the foundation for development. The need of the hour is the right push from the government for the education sector, which will create an integrated academic system – providing holistic learning as well as imparting skill training. If the government can implement these education reforms, India will be one step closer to becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2024.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)