India’s education sector has made pivotal strides over the past few years. The policy fabric is well laid out through the Right to Education Act 2009 and National Education Policy 2020.
The advent of the Samagra Shiksha (SS) programme has streamlined planning and implementation, merging isolated initiatives into a unified framework. This consolidation aims to enrich and enhance efficiency in the delivery of education from pre-primary through grade XII, encapsulating the entire school system.
Despite the progressive shift towards an outcome-based approach and a substantial focus on foundational literacy and numeracy, there remains a discord between ambitious policy frameworks and the financial support required to actualise them.
Samagra Shiksha is a norm-driven programme that leaves limited space for innovation and experimentation. While the programme needs to provide more flexibility to states for designing customised interventions, a focused approach on certain specific streams would provide a much-needed push.
Seven key focus areas as expectations from the 2024 Budget for the Education Sector are as follows:
Foundational Focus: Substantial investments in pre-primary and early primary education to solidify the base of the educational pyramid are needed. This calls for robust school readiness programs and level-based learning support to foster key physical and cognitive skills at an early age. A focus here should be on understanding the incremental learning objectives and continuously assessing students to ensure that the minimum learning levels are achieved before they proceed to an advanced stage. Alignment with NIPUN (National Initiative for Proficiency in Reading with Understanding and Numeracy) objectives will be crucial in strengthening the transition from pre-primary to primary and improving quality.
GLOCAL Development: Emphasis on ‘GLOCAL’ – global awareness and local action – in school development to foster environments that nurture holistic learning. This would account for suitable contextualisation of global best practices and adapting to the changing requirements through conferences, virtual global connects, exposure visits, evidence-based planning, and informed decision-making to optimise local actions on the ground. This also promotes a culture of experience sharing and fostering innovative ideas and solutions aligned with global standards and delivered as per identified local needs.
Teacher Professional Development: Allocation for blended teacher professional development (TDP) programs combining online and face-to-face modalities, incentivising motivation and leadership. TPD interventions will need to have a dual focus for comprehensive professional development support. Firstly, on building competencies of teachers across different grades and subjects with defined roles, expectations and performance standards in alignment with updated learning trends and utilisation of educational technologies. Secondly, in providing mentorship support such that they are able to put forth their concerns to suitable professionals at any time instead of relying on periodic training programmes.
Thus, a shift from occasional training to continuous and holistic capacity building with handholding support is seen to be crucial.
Bridge social, gender, and inclusion gaps: The COVID-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to the education sector globally, and India is no exception. It has hit the most disadvantaged students the most and the gaps have increased. To address this, the preliminary focus should be on accurate identification and tracking of the disadvantaged children who have dropped out/never enrolled. Then, collaborative efforts involving the School Management Committees (SMCs), Community, and school leadership. Additionally, local initiatives need to be taken to tackle the issue.
Institutional Reinforcement: DIETs (District Institute of Educational Training) and SCERTs (Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Support) serve as crucial pillars in the Indian education system, acting as key entities responsible for shaping educational policies, conducting research, and providing training to educators. Strengthening the capacities of these institutions is paramount for the holistic development of the Indian education system. Both institutions play an instrumental role in providing pre-service and in-service teachers’ training and conducting research to identify and address challenges faced by the schools. Strengthened capacities of DIETs and SCERTs enable effective teacher training, improving pedagogical practices and aligning educators with contemporary teaching methodologies.
Holistic Development: Integration of life skills through activities, promotion of entrepreneurial innovative mindsets, and sports for educational development as part of the larger curriculum and practice would be imperative in preparing students for the future. A holistic curriculum is imperative for achieving holistic development, where these aspects are seamlessly integrated into the standard academic pursuits to alleviate the pressure on both the educators and the students.
Assessment reforms: Central and State Governments are focusing on assessing the students through the standardised National and State Achievement Surveys from time to time. A child-centric focus on achieving the Learning Objectives (LOs) is being monitored and tracked. If continued effectively, these efforts are bound to give good results, albeit not overnight – it takes time. The focus on assessment reforms has outlined the need for it to be LO-centric, adaptive, reflective, and feedback-oriented. In order to ease the burden of teachers in creating assessments, technology may be leveraged to provide adaptive assessments with changing levels of difficulty and aid in the identification of learning hard spots. The aim would be to administer continuous assessments and sensitise stakeholders on the effective use of assessment data to inform pedagogy and teaching methods that cater to the learning levels of students. Additionally, the administration of authentic assessments and project-based learning through real-world case studies and simulations will be highly crucial.
Lastly, the budgetary expectation for the year 2024 should not merely be an inflation adjustment but a clarion call for a significant uplift in funding. This increase must reflect a commitment to efficient fund utilisation, ensuring that every rupee is a step towards achieving the aspirational goals of the Indian educational landscape