Schools across the country were closed in March last year to contain the spread of Covid-19 and were partially reopened in some states on October 15. However, a few states have decided to keep them closed in view of a spike in the number of coronavirus cases. Over-all, it is clear that the severe disruption caused by the Covid pandemic is going to have lasting effects - quite beyond the normalcy we expected with the availability of a vaccine.
As the financial year ends and the new academic session begins, the education sector is acutely concerned about the contours of the upcoming budget for the next financial year as India looks to recover from the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020-21. While 2020 was incredibly challenging for all businesses, the education sector too was particularly affected because it brought to a standstill a generational process of education for millions of children worldwide, India being no exception.
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Education for 270 million children in India has been disrupted by the world's largest school closure in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The forthcoming budget needs to incorporate the learnings from the last year and take adequate measures and provide allocation for uninterrupted learning for India's children and youth in seriously altered landscape.
The sudden disruption brought in its wake a sharp realisation that digitilisation would be the only way to put the process back on track. The Covid-19 pandemic led to an inevitable surge in the use of digital technologies due to the social distancing norms and nationwide lockdowns.
That is why the Edtech sector grew at a blistering pace as its broke new grounds and permeated to tier 3 and 4 towns of India. This trend of online education was also present before the pandemic, but schools and the education sector has been slow and reluctant on many counts and preferred traditional method of teaching and learning. However, COVID-19 changed everything and became a catalyst in bringing a shift in the form of education - online education.
The ed-tech industry can expect significant growth in 2021 as more people transit to digital learning and the education industry will further evolve in terms of technological advancements and revised pedagogical methods. The opportunity to re-engineer education policy presents us squarely on the back of the tectonic shifts we have had to encounter last year. Government has a tremendous responsibility to help this sector revive and restore and in fact to reinvent the wheel.
Going into 2021, the edtech industry will require better internet infrastructure and robust data protection system to make further in-roads into the uncharted territories of the country. 2020 was the year when online education - or edtech - grew at a never before pace as it broke newer grounds and permeated to tier 3 and 4 towns and villages of India. This need spurred another entrepreneurial spurt - the number of edtech start-ups in the country grew to 3,500 in the previous year and the government has projected that India's edtech expenditure could rise to $10 trillion by 2030.
The upcoming Union Budget 2022 can aim at a key challenge - the lack of accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet as well as computer and smart phone devices in smaller towns and villages. Government interventions that make this possible will greatly assist a larger fraction of the population to benefit from the vast and high-quality online education resources that are now increasingly available. Additional allocation for funds to drive this digital education in this budget is also a critical need at the ground level. Strong data protection laws which will enable trust in our systems and expedite digital adoption by tutors and students.
If the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP 2020) was a testament to the importance the government provides to the sector, the COVID-19 crisis has made it amply clear that this is a sector that needs far more attention and priority from the Government of India in Budget 2021. Budget estimates for Financial Year 2020-21 towards the Education sector can be a beacon to the Government's intentions and an allocation of 6 per cent of the GDP towards Education can be a robust start in this direction.
In addition, the government must ensure additional finances to support safe re-opening of schools. The central government must provide support to states for a back-to-school campaign and additional financing for existing out of school programmes.
The Budget should allocate funds to the gender and social inclusion funds, recommended under the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) and provide adequate financing for effective implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.
While many schools have adopted digital platforms, many have not been able to effectively implement the same - primarily due to lack of digital infrastructure. Therefore, any budgetary allocation that drives funds towards these two critical elements - technology upgradation and teachers training - will offer much needed improvement in quality outcomes as it allows schools to leverage the power of digital solutions that bring high quality personalization and focus on measurement of outcomes.
The new National Education Policy has also provided a particularly good foundation for major reforms in education. In the coming Budget 2021, India can take stronger steps to achieve the objectives of the policy - enhancing access, quality, research, and innovation in education – in a dramatically-altered, post-covid world.
- Inputs by Vinay Sharma- Head of Digital and services, S.Chand and Co.