Quality education is a key driver for economic growth of any country. To spur this economic growth, all of us in the education sector in India (private as well as the government) need to take the requisite steps to strengthen India’s education system, which is in the need of reforms. There is an urgent need to improve India¹s Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) across the board from Preschool, K-12 Schools to higher education and also to improve student retention. One of the ways of doing so is by incentivizing Private Sector participation which will ensure higher investments that can build best in class Early Childhood Learning as well as K-12 learning infrastructure not just in larger cities but across the country.
Therefore, a key expectation from 2015 budget for the education sector will be to ensure collaboration between private and public sector by introducing streamlined and well thoughtout policies. This would position India as a country of world class education from Preschool and Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) to Higher learning.
The education sector seeks government support through structured tax rebates, softer loans and ease of approvals for greater involvement of the private sector in education to drive enrolment rates as well as high quality education across the country. There needs to be a switch in investment from non-priority or low priority areas to education which is a high priority sector both from a Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) perspective as well as from the perspective India’s future growth and progress.
With regards to Early Childhood Education or Preschools/ Nursery Schools/ Kindergartens,India’s Gross Enrolment Ratio, is hovering at over 10% whereas the same in developed countries is above 60%. This sector is devoid of requisite guidelines and policies and there is a pressing need for a collaborative effort between Private sector and the Government to create the policies that can help promote access to world class Early Childhood Care and Education in India.
Some other key expectations that we have from the 2015 Union Budget include encouraging more private participation of corporate and individuals in Skill development area through tax subsidies in initial few years, allocation of funds for teacher training as the industry is facing a severe crunch of trained teachers, tax benefits for corporates investing in research and development for qualitative content or in development of student assessment tools or pedagogy, soft loans to be disbursed for Corporates/educational set-ups foraying into setting up of schools and colleges for a tenure of up to 15 years with step up repayment plan, the Service Tax Exemption for Auxiliary Educational Services should be widened in scope to provide incentives for people foraying into education sector. An example of this being the exemption on renting of immovable property services provided to educational institutions from the Service Tax net.
Currently, only tuition fee paid to schools is tax deductible. The deduction should also include the amount paid towards school charges for transport, hostel, library, etc. Expenses for certain types of preparatory courses may also be brought under this scheme. This will make quality education of children more affordable to middle and lower middle class parents.
Female illiteracy, particularly in rural areas, is a big challenge facing India’s education planners. The Government has taken some definite steps in this direction. It needs to set up a mechanism to fund the tuition fee of the girl child through banks and micro-finance institutions. Once the girls are educated and get the capacity to earn, they will no longer be considered a burden on the family. The girl child’s education needs to be incentivized robustly.
Providing education to mothers of poor children through afternoon and evening schools and door-to-door support is vitally important. This area lies completely neglected. District education offices need to be given grants to organize mothers’ education through peer teaching and trained guides. If we achieve success in this area, the entire picture of education for the poor will change.
The Government needs to enhance the value of teaching by investing more in training and skill-enhancement courses for teachers. It should also create a separate fund as part of the Digital India initiative to enable adoption of digital technology in schools throughout the country.
I am sure that a day will come when all schools will be comparable in terms of meeting the important tenets of education.