Budget 2021-22 Will be Key to Achieving NEP Vision
By Prachi Luthra and Shubhra Mittal December 2020
With the recent approval of the National Education Policy (NEP 2020), the upcoming Union Budget 2021-22 will have to make available adequate funding to implement the key reforms and initiatives outlined in the policy. The NEP 2020 calls for increasing public investment in education from 3.1% of the GDP in 2018-19 to 6% for effective implementation1 of the policy. Additionally, the government will have to account for measures needed to mitigate the learning loss occurred due to the pandemic and subsequent school closures.
However, the government is likely to have limited fiscal room to increase the education budget in the coming cycle as health initiatives and COVID-relief may take precedence. For the ongoing financial year (2020-21) itself, the Finance Ministry has had to cut down allocations across departments and ministries by 30%. The Finance Ministry also indicated that the expenditure should be within the revised budget estimates with the focus solely on essential activities4.
Ensuring maximum learning gains by making judicious use of resources
Bearing in mind that this is the first budget after the approval of the NEP 2020 which underscores an ambitious plan to overhaul school education, it is paramount that existing resources are used judiciously and allocated funds result in maximum learning gains for children. Here are our top three recommendations for the education budget:
Recommendation #1: Dedicated Funding for NIPUN Bharat
The NEP 2020 accorded the highest priority to ensuring that all children acquire Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) skills — the ability to read with meaning and solve basic maths problems by the end of Class 3. FLN skills are basic gateway skills that help children learn more meaningfully in higher classes and acquire 21st Century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking.
The government is fully committed to achieving this goal, and is gearing up for launching a national mission on FLN. The mission, called NIPUN Bharat — National Initiative for Proficiency in reading with Understanding and Numeracy — is a time-bound initiative that aims to ensure universal achievement of FLN skills by 2025.
Realising that this goal will require the Centre and states to take a long-term, holistic approach to FLN, it will be critical to earmark adequate funding for the implementation of the mission. The success of the mission will depend on critical levers like specialised FLN training for teachers, contextualised teaching-learning material such as big storybooks, graded reading material, redesigning assessments among other things.
Besides dedicated funding for FY 2021-22, the Centre will also have to signal its long-term commitment to improving FLN outcomes by 2025. One way of establishing a 5-year resolve could be that the Finance Minister indicates in her Budget speech that the mission will receive funding for the entire 5-year duration. Our estimates suggest that the government would need to allocate approximately Rs. 2000 crore per year for the mission, which can be carved out by consolidating existing funds for Classes 1-3. This amount is available under the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) for various Class 1-3 expenditures, but is spread across different line items.
Recommendation #2: Adequate funding for integrating technology in education
The Education Technology (EdTech) industry has been growing at an unprecedented rate over the last couple of years. The government too has launched multiple digital initiatives and platforms like DIKSHA, SWAYAM, etc. for strengthening teaching and learning in classrooms. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated innovation and investment in EdTech and brought renewed focus on the need to leverage technology for transforming traditional teaching-learning practices. In line with this, the Education Ministry allocated an additional budget of Rs. 818 Crore for online education and Rs. 267 crore for online teacher training during the pandemic.5
The prolonged school closures has brought to the fore challenges in EdTech adoption for continued learning at home. The lack of access to devices and internet connectivity in low-income households, low institutional and individual capacity for online education, and the increased need for parental engagement in learning (which is very demanding of first-generation learners) — all point to the need for an approach that integrates technology with education in a sustainable manner. To address these challenges, and given the uncertainty still around school reopening, the budget ought to account for online learning initiatives in the upcoming year.
The NEP 2020 calls for the setting up of a National Educational Technology Forum (NETF) to champion the EdTech vision for India, build institutional and individual capacity and also provide independent evidence based advice to the policymakers. It also emphasises on creating an open, inter-operable, evolvable, digital infrastructure for education that can be used by multiple platforms and point solutions to solve India's scale, diversity, complexity and device penetration.
While the allocation for ICT has been ~2% of the SSA budget over the past few years, the upcoming budget might have to stretch beyond that to accommodate at-home learning initiatives given the circumstances, and to achieve the vision of NEP 2020.
Recommendation #3: Allocate funding for PARAKH and NAS
All education systems need reliable, regular and comparable student learning outcomes data in order to track progress, inform policy-making, and provide basis for within-country comparisons. The current national-level student assessment data, i.e., the National Achievement Survey (NAS) has several limitations including comprehensiveness (excludes nearly 50% children in private schools), comparability of data across NAS cycles, and reliability. As a result, India does not have high quality, government-owned data that gives information on the health of the education system.
The NEP 2020 calls for setting up an independent body, Performance Assessment, Review and Analysis of Knowledge for Holistic development (PARAKH) to strengthen the data architecture in education (including strengthening future administration of NAS). PARAKH will play a catalytic role in monitoring student learning outcomes in the country and building capacity of SCERT. It is crucial that we get the ball rolling on setting-up PARAKH and allocate funding for the same.
In the interim, it would be important that NAS (earlier planned for 2020) is conducted once schools re-open in 2021 so that we have a comprehensive understanding of the learning levels of children across government and private schools. This information will be key to informing specific policies/programs to improve learning outcomes, including the FLN Mission and NEP milestones envisioned by the government. The funding budgeted for NAS in FY 2020-21 should be made available in FY 2021-22.
In conclusion, it is important to understand that though NEP 2020 proposes various critical reforms needed in the education system, the key to its successful implementation lies in earmarking the budget for specific reforms and programs.