Education is a key consideration in India's aspiration to become the 5th largest global economy, as stated by the Finance Minister in his budget speech last year. Education can play an important role in India towards reaching this goal as it could help the country in leveraging a favourable demographic profile comprising young and aspirational citizens. However, there is a need for the education system to be transformed, with significant investments and by implementing measures focussed on improving quality. The current spend of less than 3 per cent of GDP is very low as compared to developed countries where it is usually 5-7 per cent of GDP.
The Annual Status of Education Report 2017, which highlights the state of affairs of India's education system, revealed that while the number of students completing elementary school has increased over the years, they however, seem to lack foundational skills. It was assessed that about 25 per cent students in the age group of 14-18 years could not read basic text fluently in their own language and more than half had challenges in performing basic arithmetic. These findings only strengthen the case for necessary investments in improving quality of education delivered through the education system, given that infrastructure and accessibility issues have been largely addressed through initiatives like Sarva Shiksha Abhijan, etc.
If we are to maintain our economic growth momentum, along with other supporting actions, immediate measures need to be considered to bring changes in the education delivery mechanism through introducing conceptual learning across all levels and equipping our institutions with the resources and facilities needed for its adoption. Key measures that need to be considered for investments in the upcoming budget include:
1. Teacher training with an aim to develop and build capacity for teaching curricula relating to current learning needs of students; ability to use modern tools that are available to aid conceptual learning in students;
2. Updating the course and curriculum to reflect current market requirements with an emphasis on inculcating foundational skills which are expected to enable lifelong learning; current trends in the workplace which includes digitisation, analytics, robotics may need to be suitably built into the courses with the objective of the child developing early understanding and appreciation of such topics which they can consider as career options going forward.
3. Improving facilities in institutions across all levels to set up smart classrooms, modern laboratories, which are likely to help the child explore and experiment during the process of choosing a career option.
4. Counselling is a key requirement for guiding the students in pursuit of higher education or vocational education as per their abilities. This will facilitate matching their aptitude and competence to what they want to do in life and possibly lead to success in their choice of career
Select institutions particularly in urban areas across the countries offer the above facilities to a select few, based on affordability. However, in the interest of inclusiveness and accessibility, the government should consider making the above as the new standard which are readily available in institutions across the length and the breadth of the country. Though in previous budgets the aspect of improving quality in the education ecosystem has been initiated, but a lot needs to be done in a planned and coordinated way. The investments required are likely to be substantial, but they are expected to be capital investments with significant returns in terms of achieving our aspirational goals of being the skill capital of the world and one of the largest global economies.
(Anindya Mallick is Partner - Deloitte India)