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Monday, April 12, 2021

Six ways India can upgrade its education sector for post-Covid world

As we are all experiencing the change, we are realizing that the education sector is passing through a massive transformation. Once the schools start opening from the year-end, teaching and learning will need huge infrastructure development. With already students and teachers getting accustomed to online classes and virtual learning, the sector will require more financial support from the Centre.

Also, after this Covid-19 experience, a sensible government should also be ready to face any further crisis like this in the future in order to save the students’ community. This pandemic taught us a great lesson to focus on the education sector which needs to be revamped to meet its upcoming demands. So what should be done to empower our education sector? In this article, we shall discuss this.

Six ways India can upgrade its education sector for post-Covid world

1. Need to build social & intellectual capital

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently highlighted a vision to build intellectual and social capital for developing collective consciousness for implementing the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP). The next step will be to match it with the establishment of an institutional mechanism for implementation. The successful implementation of NEP requires different types of interventions. It includes coordination and cooperation between the Centre and states, legislative interventions, including passing new laws and/or amendments to existing laws, an increase in the budgetary framework and augmentation of financial resources with involvement of inter-ministerial discussions; and regulatory reforms. The PM’s Task Force on Higher Education Reforms can be an advisory body comprising experts from public and private Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) to help the PM understand and appreciate the bottlenecks, and ensure time-bound implementation with fixed accountability.

2. Panel of institute heads is need of the hour

We need more educationists and intellectuals to guide us in the development of this sector. Therefore, it is better that we have fewer politicians and bureaucrats in the system. If a body of heads of top educational institutions guides the implementation of education policies for the benefit of students, then the plans are more likely to reach their fruition. There is a need to establish a National NEP Implementation Standing Committee with select vice-chancellors/directors of universities/institutes. This Committee will be tasked with creating and monitoring the NEP Implementation Plan in a time-bound manner. It will have specific powers and functions, including thematic sub-committees and regional committees. The Committee, located within the Ministry of Education, will be chaired by the education minister and the member-secretary will be the education secretary. It should have ex-officio members of all major regulatory bodies to remove the hurdles faced by HEIs in the implementation of NEP.

3. States and Centre must have good coordination

The National Education Ministers’ Council with Education Ministers of all states and UTs, chaired by the Union Minister for Education, needs to be constituted. The Council will be an important institutional mechanism to monitor the implementation of NEP in states and UTs, and will also serve as a forum to discuss and address implementation issues, and navigate through the diverse perspectives of state governments.

4. Prime institutions should enjoy more freedom

The idea of Institutions of Eminence (IoE) articulated by the Prime Minister contains the vision to develop world-class universities in India. In the budget speech of 2016, the then Finance Minister, Arun Jaitley promised to provide “an enabling regulatory architecture” so that “10 public and 10 private institutions” would emerge “as world-class teaching and research institutions”. This led to the establishment of IoEs. Today, the vision of IoE needs to be integrated with the NEP implementation plan, and IoEs need to be empowered with more freedom, flexibility, autonomy and resources. This will, in due course, help universities to have a robust presence in the global university rankings.

5. Funds should be streamlined to reach all students

The National Higher Education Philanthropy Council, chaired by the Education Minister with private sector participation, needs to be constituted. Nearly 70 per cent of Indian HEIs are private, and more than 70 per cent of Indian students study in private HEIs. We must build on this reality to raise financial resources that are critical for the establishment of more private HEIs. However, this will require new and innovative institutional mechanisms, tax incentives, endowment frameworks and other initiatives to incentivise the Indian corporate sector to contribute in the form of individual and corporate philanthropy. The Philanthropy Council could help promote a fundamental re-imagination of the tax structure to incentivise potential donors for establishing three new endowment funds — Higher Education Infrastructure Development Endowment Fund; Higher Education Student Scholarship Endowment Fund; and Higher Education Research Grants Endowment Fund.

Six elements have been identified for successful policy implementation — incentives, instruments, information, adaptability, credibility and management. For successful implementation of the NEP, we will need to create stakeholder incentives; formulate instruments in the form of legal, policy, regulatory and institutional mechanisms; build reliable information repositories; develop adaptability across HEIs, regulatory bodies and government agencies, develop credibility through transparent actions and participation of all stakeholders, and develop sound principles of management.

6. Emphasis on CERC project is a requisite

The Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC) under the Strengthening Teaching-Learning and Results for States (STARS) project approved by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday may help education systems to fight the health crisis emerging out of situations such as Covid-19. The CERC would enable it to be more responsive to any natural, man-made and health disasters. It will help the government respond to situations leading to loss of learning such as school closures or infrastructural damage, inadequate facilities and use technology for facilitating remote learning, etc, the government said. The CERC component would facilitate the rapid re-categorization of financing and the utilization of streamlined financing request procedures. The global health crisis arising out of Covid-19 has impacted several schoolchildren. In India, over 1.5 million schools have been closed due to the pandemic affecting 286 million children from pre-primary to secondary levels, of which 49% are girls. This adds to the 6 million girls and boys who were already out of school prior to the covid-19, a UNICEF report released in August said. Government, NGOs and start-ups have been innovating and investing in various programs to mitigate the impact of covid-19.

7. What has India done so far to upgrade the education sector amid crisis

NITI Aayog’s Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) in July launched the ‘ATL App Development Module’ for school children all across the country. The ATL App Development modules were launched in collaboration with Indian homegrown startup Plezmo with an aim to hone the skills of school students and transforming them from App users to App makers in the times to come under AIM’s flagship Atal Tinkering Labs initiative.

Similarly, Learning Links Foundation, an NGO launched CODETHON 2020, a coding challenge for Navy Children School students during the lockdown. CODETHON 2020 was a part of ‘Learn to Code’ initiative under the larger Veterans Skilling Program supported by The Boeing Company in India, an American multinational corporation that designs, manufactures, and sells airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, satellites, telecommunications equipment, and missiles worldwide. Boeing has partnered with Learning Links Foundation for diverse skilling programs for youth, veterans and their families across multiple locations in India in alignment with government’s vision of developing a skilled and self-reliant nation.“The new education policy enables introducing coding in grade six. Coding is not just the common thread between specialist fields like artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, robotics, and cloud computing. It is a great way to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which scientists and engineers – including aerospace engineers – spend a lot of time studying and using to extract insights, improve processes, and transform their work,” Salil Gupte, President Boeing India said. Over 170 students are presently a part of ‘Learn to Code’ and 76 entries from 54 students were received for CODETHON 2020. All participants and winners of CODETHON 2020 were awarded with DIY robotics kits on Tuesday.

In yet another development, in order to provide uninterrupted online learning to millions of students across the country, the government’s All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) has partnered with Microsoft to empower learners and educators with future-ready skills.Anil Sahasrabudhe, Chairman, AICTE, Ministry of Education maintained that upskilling is very important to enhance employability opportunities for students. Talking about continuity of learning in times of health crisis such as covid-19, Anant Maheshwari, President, Microsoft India said, “Covid-19 has accelerated the need for upskilling and has shown clearly that the future of learning will be profoundly personalized and supported by technology.

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