India/February 04, 2022/By: ANUBHA SHRIVASTAVA SAHAI/Source: https://www.thequint.com/
A slew of challenges have emerged post-COVID, and the government should have focused on those.
Again, the Union government has not given much importance to the education sector in the Union Budget. While the government has allocated Rs 63,449.37 crore to the Department of School Education and Literacy, an increase of about Rs 9,000 crore over the current year, Rs 40,828 crore has been allocated to the Higher Education Department, an increase of 6.6 per cent.
Though the Finance Minister has announced a digital university and 200 TV channels under the e-Vidya scheme, there is little mention of improving schools’ digital infrastructure to make up for the learning loss incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A slew of challenges have emerged post-COVID-19, and the government should have focused on those.
The Finance Minister should have allocated more funds to improve the quality of education in our country, while also bringing back out-of-school children and providing them with financial and social support.
Involving NGOs, parents’ associations, educationists and civil society can help the government understand the challenges facing India’s education sector. A survey to assess what all children have missed during COVID-19 can help the state fill crucial gaps.
Dwindling Mental Health
As COVID-19 has upended traditional learning, schools should run classes in hybrid mode and provide all the assistance to those who are unable to afford smartphones or internet connections for online classes. At the same time, it’s important not to put pressure on teachers as they are already overburdened. They should be given paid leaves in case of absence due to COVID-19 infection.
The pandemic has also adversely affected the mental health of both students and teachers. While the focus on mental health in the Budget is welcome, there is a need to engage with students across classes, as well as teachers, as they have all suffered a lot. Schools must introduce a laughter curriculum and physical exercises. Reaching out to students through various channels will also help build their confidence.
The National Education Policy 2020 was an ambitious document, but there was no focus on it in the Budget. The government should work on the implementation of NEP and start training teachers.
India Needs More Teachers
Most importantly, there is an urgent need to focus on access to quality education. The government should allocate funds to open more Kendriya Vidyalaya and Navodaya Vidyalaya schools as a large section of parents are unable to afford private schools fees and are struggling to find good public schools nearby. Similarly, university students are finding it difficult to afford the high fees in various colleges.
And beyond all this lies the fundamental gap – India needs more teachers and professors. While the NEP aimed at achieving a pupil-teacher ratio (PTR) of 30:1, a UNESCO report in 2021 stated:
“The national PTR average for all schools was 26:1 in 2018/19 (UDISE), and ranged from 23:1 for elementary schools to 28:1 in composite schools. These PTRs look well within the norm suggested by the RTE [Right to Education] Act at the country level, but does not indicate if the PTR is met at the school level. Among primary-only schools, 22% of them have PTRs greater than 30:1. On the whole, secondary and senior secondary schools have PTRs between 43:1 and 47:1.”
What About Job Losses Among School Staff?
Many low-budget schools have shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a shortage of funds, and no assistance has been provided to them. School and college transport services have also been affected, and transporters as well as bus drivers and other staff have suffered massive income losses. They, too, need financial assistance. But nothing has been provided to them.
All the issues stated above will require funds and the government’s conviction. But unfortunately, the Finance Minister has clearly ignored them.
(Anubha Shrivastava Sahai is President, India-Wide Parents Association. She can be reached on Twitter @anubha1812. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)