India’s 2018 Education Budget Goes Far, But Not Far Enough
India is home to the largest number of young children in the world: 165 million children under the age of 6 with the potential to unlock the promise of a nation. Yet more than 80 million do not have access to any early childhood care or education. And by grade 1, 90% of children are unable to read at grade level. The numbers are telling – children are going to school, but they are not learning. Recent research highlights that the quality of early childhood education in India, whether it is in the public sector or the private sector is sadly lacking. For years, the most critical and formative years in child development has been a neglected area. But the recent budget gives us hope.
In an attempt to bridge the education gap, the government in the recent Union Budget has taken some admirable measures: an allocation of Rs 16,334.88 crores to Integrated Child Development Services; integration of pre-primary into the primary schools; designing a district-wide strategy for improving quality of education based on the National Survey of more than 20 lakh children; and a devoted focus to teachers’ training ranging from designing an integrated B.Ed. programme for teachers, to training 13 lakh untrained teachers under Right to Education, to digital capacity building of educators. Along with the Ministry of Women and Child Development and the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), there is an obvious push to address the education gap in India and hopefully to achieve our sustainable development goal indicators on quality early education.
But sadly the focus continues to be on improving infrastructure. One could argue that providing good infrastructure is important to improving quality. However, worldwide research confirms that access to high-quality early childhood development is the foundation for ensuring lifelong learning; eradicating poverty; ending hunger; improving nutrition; achieving gender equality; and more. In India, the recent ‘The India Early Childhood Education Impact Study’ confirms that quality preschool education is critical for improving the school readiness of our children. In light of this, it is high time to overhaul the Anganwadis, which are the largest provider of early education in India. Yet the latest budget included no update to the system.Learning doesn’t happen in isolation. The reality is, that despite a strong curriculum framework emphasizing play and activity-based learning in the early years, in practice, teaching and learning methods in Anganwadis (and indeed, in most schools) are largely dependent on rote learning, memorizing the alphabet, narrating few standard nursery rhymes and counting numbers. In the 21st century, it can’t only be about whether kids are learning – it must be about what they are learning, too. We have a generation growing up without acquiring the skills needed to succeed in the 21st century — skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. Are we equipping this generation with 21st-century skills? Enabling them to be global citizens and a productive workforce?
The 2018-19 education budget goes far; it does not go far enough. As long as the government’s efforts continue to focus on building infrastructure and expanding access, an active public-private partnership must be initiated in tandem to reformulate policies for providing universal high-quality, educational content for young learners. The power of emerging media and advanced communication can be used to help children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, reach their highest potential.
Early childhood development is imperative to meet the Sustainable Development Goals of eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, achieving universal primary education, combating diseases. We must as a nation work towards creating a better ecosystem of learning supported by great infrastructure and quality content to ensure that children are truly benefited and equipped with skills that can help them grow smarter, stronger and kinder.