The much-awaited 2022 Union Budget has posed a newly found predicament among educators throughout the country, “THE PUSH FOR DIGITAL UNIVERSITY: yet another attempt by the centre to mislead the population from the failed recuperation of the ravaged education sector or is it a blessing in disguise?”
Education has faced a massive blow due to the coronavirus pandemic with pandemic-induced closure of schools which lead to the loss of almost two years of formal education particularly in the economically and socially impoverished sections of society. The union budget 2022 strives to fill this knowledge gap. Acknowledging this aperture, the budget focuses on the universalization of education with the increase in the number of channels of ‘one class-one TV channel’ program of PM e-VIDYA from 20 to 200 hoping to promote supplementary education via regional languages. However, an increase in mere TV channels is insufficient to abridge the learning void created by the pandemic.
The budget aims at sustaining the goal of digital India by introducing e-content in several different Indian languages through Internet, mobile phones, television and many more digital platforms but fails to mention the allocation of digital infrastructure in rural and isolated communities where the lack of access to technology is acutely deep-rooted. The provision of e-classrooms still holds a dubious distinction and remains unclear.
To promote critical thinking skills and raise a new generation of analytical thinkers, 750 virtual labs specializing in science and mathematics, with 75 skilling e-labs for simulated learning environments are scheduled to be set up in 2022-23 optimistic to give a boost to the Covid-hit education sector. The budget 2022 also mentions its focus on teachers to equip them with digital equipment to accommodate the recent developments in E-learning yet it has reduced allocation for teacher training and adult education drastically from 250 crores in 2021-22 to 127 crores in 2022-23.
The centre aims to set up a “digital university” to impart world-class education with a personalized learning experience. The nation’s top universities and institutions will contribute to the hub-spoke model of the university. In higher education, the allocation of grants of only 40k crore has been kept and the funds of the Higher Education Agency has been trimmed down to 1 lakh from 1 crore in 2021-22 which further deepens the problem of graduate dropouts unable to pursue higher education. Monetary support to the Indian Institute of Technology and Indian Institute of Management has increased but no such provision can be seen to nurture medical and humanities inclined institutes. IIT’s and IIM’s offer admissions to only a cream layer of students across the country and that too with hefty and unaffordable fee structures, this disregards and neglects millions of underprivileged and “average-performing” students across the country.
Apart from the focus on education, the budget mentions that there will be a focus on introducing 5G technology mainly in rural areas to bridge inequalities within urban and rural areas. The completion of optical fibre set-up will take place by 2025 and with the launch of a national tele-mental health program to provide 24*7 free counselling, the government aims at addressing the age-old stigmatized need for psychiatric help among stressed students who find it difficult to cope with death and disease in the country.
There is an 11.86% increase in the 2022 education budget when compared to 2021 which is seen as a welcoming step to develop the brutally hit education system. However, it still fails to align with the Nationa
l Education Policy which insists on allotment of 6% of the GDP to the education budget, whereas this budget stands at a mere 2%.moreover, the budget also lacks directives for teacher training, school infrastructure, primary education and accounting for the learning losses of two-and-a-half years.
The budget does not have much for women to equip them with skills under skill development programs. It also needs to acknowledge and eradicate the pay gap that has existed for ages.
With no proper thought on implementation of online education, the step might raise more inequalities than bring any good. Only the TV channels cannot substantiate the learning loss that has taken place in the last two years nor can they supply classroom-level education. This puts additional pressure on state governments of underdeveloped regions to work on the shortcomings of the centre and formulate policies of special assistance in these areas.
Although aimed at strengthening the heavy hit education system of India, the union budget still holds room for amelioration as several issues remain unanswered. The centre needs to design a much-needed framework for a long-lasting recovery.