One could not but conclude by the end of the Budget-2019 speech that education was no longer the important building block in nation building that it was once considered. Generally health and education are dealt together and accorded high priority in any country. Though the subject of health was touched fairly early, one kept waiting for something to be highlighted on education which never came.
Education was perhaps being seen in terms of Digital India, Start Up India and Institutes of excellence which they are not. Without giving due importance to our schools and universities, the country will make no sustainable headway least of all metamorphose into a USD 10 trillion economy in the next eight years. There are no shortcuts in development. In order to become a $10 trillion economy India has to become a knowledge economy with a strong research base. The country needs to look beyond conventional schemes like the Prime Minister’s Research Fellowship Programme to Fraunhofer Society-type sustainable systems as in Germany.
This model focuses on applied research rather than on theoretical issues. Under the scheme, basic funding up to 30 per cent is provided by the Federal and State Governments, the remaining being earned from the industry or government sponsored projects. Financial accountability assures autonomy of the institute and brings in a sense of self -discipline and motivation.
On account of the success of this model, centres have been opened not only in other parts of Germany but also the world over including US. It has become the largest organisation in applied research in the world with a budget of Euros 2.3 billion. This is the only way to shift the focus from mere publishing as in India today to productisation and process improvements.
Skilling and promotion of vocational education is the need of the hour keeping in mind the make-or-break situation emerging before the country and its youth. Surprisingly in this important area too there was hardly any thought in the Budget Speech except the refrain on Digital India, Start Up India, Stand Up India and Mudra Schemes. We do not seem to understand that the window to reap the demographic dividend is very small and therefore we have to act fast.
One expected a national level skills university to be announced on the lines of IGNOU in Distance Education for Vocational Education which could ensure uniform standards throughout the country. One has to realise that Skills and education are two sides of the same coin and therefore the crying need of the hour is to mainstream skilling into education by making it part and parcel of school education from Class IX onwards up to college and university level.
This requires substantial allocation of resources especially at the school level. No such provision seems to have been made. The modular courses of MSDE serve no purpose. The recommendations of Sharda Prasad Committee need to be seriously looked into and implemented if we have to have a long term view on Skill India.
Reservation in economic lines announced for educational institutions seems to be not very attractive in that the threshold level is so high that literally everyone will be covered . It would have proved useful if the truly poor were only included in the scheme.
Some of the other comments of job creation and Digital India are as follows:
Under Mudra scheme of the Rs 12.9-crore loan given, only 1.3 per cent of the loan are above Rs 5 lakh. There is also no information of the number of jobs created under this scheme.
Most of the Start Ups have been in area of retail and marketing sector. Start Ups worldwide have a success rate of 8 to 10 per cent and therefore one cannot count them to contribute majorly to the economy or employment. On the other hand loans are being distributed without collaterals and therefore the chance of these becoming NPAs is fairly high.
An artificial intelligence centre is a welcome move since it will allow the country to catch up with US and China who are miles ahead in this area. However, the purpose for having an AI system needs to be clarified in the very beginning lest it degenerates into Orwell’s Animal Farm like situation.
One lakh digital villages may remain a pipe dream, especially keeping in mind the huge data that would be consumed as most of the applications these days are image based. The real problem is the last mile connectivity and the efficiency of the bandwidth on which there is very little thought.
– The author is the former HRD secretary