The Union Budget represents signalling about priorities as much as it actually allocates money for different activities. Indian annual expenditure on education exceeds 1 lakh crore rupees if we consider public and private spends. Hence, the question is whether there are relatively smaller spends that can make these large spends much more effective. Six ideas, which focus on improving the quality of education, are listed below:
- Budgetary support should be provided to the National and State Assessment Surveys to conduct regular assessments at national and state levels every 3 years in classes 3, 6 and 9 in addition to regular participation in PISA and TIMSS. The NAS is currently conducted in classes 3, 5 and 8, but there are two advantages of doing the assessments in classes 6 and 9 instead. Firstly, this allows the progress of the earlier cohort to be tracked 3 years later. Secondly, classes 6 and 9 mark the ends of the stages of education in the 5+3+3+4 system. States will also be encouraged to conduct SLAS every 3 years using some questions from NAS. Though the objective is not to rank, rankings are useful to show what works so ranks will be provided both based on absolute performance and improvement. Technical support will be taken from leading national and international agencies in creating an assessment which tests critical thinking skills as per the NEP mandate as well as in analysing the performance using the best psychometric methods. India will participate regularly in both the PISA (class 10) and TIMSS (classes 4 and 8) international assessments to benchmark its learning improvement with the best in the world. Gradually the NAS will be opened to other countries too so it becomes a respected international benchmarking assessment.
- A budget of Rs 1000 crores should be set aside for Public Education and Awareness Campaigns in Education. Change is more difficult to achieve in sectors like education compared to many others like telecom, infrastructure, etc., because in addition to technical challenges there is a significant challenge of changing mindsets in education. The NEP calls for changing assessment systems to emphasise more on developing core skills and moving away from rote learning. However, the current system focuses on rote learning which is also associated with strong exam-orientation and high marks obtained in exams. Parents tend to oppose changes that may appear to hurt their children in the short term, for example, by reducing marks. Yet such changes may be necessary if assessments have to be reformed to focus on core skills. On this and many other issues, it will be necessary to explain to parents (as well as teachers and other stakeholders) the rationale behind changes planned and engage in national debates. This budget will be used for this purpose.
- A Science of Learning Research Institute should be set up with a mandate to undertake research that will be made available to all and aimed at improving teaching and student learning. The purpose of this institute will be to conduct research on how students learn specific concepts. The institute will have centres for reading research, numeracy and mathematical research, assessments research, research on use of technology, etc. It may appear at first glance that such research is not needed as education as a discipline is thousands of years old. However, this is not true. Modern technology has allowed data on student learning to be collected, yet since, this has been a recent (and still evolving phenomenon), research on this is still at a nascent stage. Misconceptions research, for example, is an area which focusses on common learning gaps found across students and how teachers can become more effective in teaching such concepts. Such research will be made freely available to teachers, textbook writers, EdTech companies and others who will build upon it to create better learning methods and solutions.
- Budgetary support should be provided for technological initiatives to support the FLN Mission. While there are some widely accepted assessments for Foundational Literacy and Numeracy internationally like the Early Grade Reading and Early Grade Mathematics Assessments (EGRA and EGMA), there are two important limitations. The first is that Indian languages have not been sufficiently covered in terms of benchmarks and they are sufficiently different to require separate research and data. The second limitation is that the use of technology-based tools to conduct rapid, large-scale assessments has been almost non-existent. Budgetary support will be provided in these two areas to build on the important work the FLN Mission has started.
- Teacher Professional Development Institute: Imagine that high-quality curated courses were available for teachers on teaching various topics in all subjects and across class levels. A teacher who has to teach, say photosynthesis or Mughal history, but is not feeling confident, would simply need to come to a common website and will find 2-3 curated courses (with expert as well as peer ratings). Depending on the topic a module may be fifteen minutes long or six hours long. States will create their own equivalent material in regional languages. Better courses will replace ones that are less effective continuously and teachers or others who create these courses will earn based on the usage and popularity of the courses. In order to ensure quality, expert involvement and infrastructure support and due to the fundamental role this can play in giving a boost to quality, this should be a nationally supported initiative.
- Budgetary support should be provided for the National Giftedness programme whose simple vision is that the top 1% of children in any such subject will be identified at the age of 12 and given the chance to participate in a 3 week residential programme every year till the age of 17 with peers similarly selected in groups of not more than 30. The programmes will include challenging academic content which will be at the level of college courses, but more importantly they will require creative and collaborative problem solving. The courses will also aim to instil in these children the value that their goal should be to use their exceptional talent to make a difference to the country and the world.