In February, amidst bold promises for transforming education, Education Minister, Dharmendra Pradhan, unveiled the Automated Permanent Academic Account Registry (APAAR) under the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020. This initiative aimed to establish a unified student identification system under ‘One Nation, One Student ID’.

Shortly after, the BJP’s manifesto echoed this commitment, pledging to implement ‘One Nation, One Student ID’ alongside plans to strengthen prestigious educational institutions like IITs, IIMs and AIIMS through increased funding, capacity building and dedicated research grants.

In her 2024-25 Budget speech, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman highlighted the establishment of seven new IITs, 16 IIITs, 3,000 ITIs, 390 universities, 15 AIIMS and seven IIMs between 2014 and 2024.

However, despite these promises, critics argue that the government’s investment in education remains stagnant at around 2.8-3 per cent of GDP, far below 6 per cent recommended by the Kothari Commission in 1967. The National Education Policy 2020 aims for a 10 per cent allocation within 10 years, but progress has been slow.

“Like its predecessor governments, the BJP government has not stepped up the pedal on public spending on education. It is nowhere near that 6 per cent of the GDP mark. There is a concerted push towards privatisation of education sector so that it goes out of reach of masses, and curriculum is saffronised,” Bikash Bhattacharyya, CPI (M)’s Rajya Sabha MP, told businessline.

Status report

The Annual Status of Education Report by Pratham Education Foundation, said over half of class V children in primary schools of rural India can’t read class II texts or manage simple mathematics. Among teens in the 14-18 age group, over 25 per cent cannot read a class II level textbook fluently in their regional language.

According to India Employment Report 2024 released by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Institute of Human Development (IHD), India’s youth account for almost 83 per cent of the unemployed workforce. And the share of youngsters with secondary or higher education in unemployed youth almost doubled from 35.2 per cent in 2000 to 65.7 per cent in 2022.

“There have been some gaps between promises and their delivery. But, reforms have been initiated. The introduction of NEP, the largest reform ever, is a key step,” an official said.

NEP 2020

The NEP mandates a shift from traditional learning (systems) to experiential learning, compulsory vocational education, exam reforms to test children’s conceptual comprehension, creativity and critical thinking capabilities rather than memory, and promotion of new digital technologies usage in school education.

The NCERT also released a National Curriculum Framework for School Education 2023. It proposes school-leaving class X and class XII board exams be held twice a year (so that students have enough time and opportunity to perform well). Twice-a-year board exams will be rolled out in 2025-26.

According to Aman Singh, Co-Founder, GradRight, the NEP & Setting Up and Operation of Campuses of Foreign Higher Educational Institutions in India Regulations, 2023 offer unique and unprecedented opportunity.

“Given that education is on the ‘Concurrent List’, the success of these policies and regulations will depend on how closely the government at the Centre and State can work together in implementing these new ideas,” he said. However, the ambitious overhaul of school education faces fierce backlash. There are controversies over textbook revisions and allegations of ideological bias in curriculum development.

Higher Education

In the higher education sector, measures like introduction of the four-year undergraduate programme; a national ABC (academic bank of credits) digital repository to facilitate certified multiple exit and re-entry options; and notification of regulations permitting foreign universities to establish brick-n-mortar campuses in India show promise. “But there is a problem. Most foreign universities operate on a for-profit basis, where as in India, the pitch or policy framework is inclined towards a not-for-profit basis. This discourages foreign universities,” said an educationist.

Also, other challenges such as teacher vacancies, brain drain, and the gap between Indian and global educational standards persist.

Budget realities

Fiscal constraints too cast a long shadow. Allocation for education for FY25 is 7 per cent lower than the revised estimates for FY24. The sector is earmarked ₹1.2 lakh crore against revised estimates of ₹1.29 lakh crore, the biggest allocation ever.

The Department of School Education will receive ₹73,000 crore and the allocation is ₹47,619.77 crore for higher education. The higher education sector sees a 16 per cent cut this year, though the allocation for school education has increased.

Funding for UGC has been brought down to ₹2,500 crore. However, the grants for Central universities saw an increase of over ₹4,000 crore with ₹15,928 crore allocated for 2024-25.

Overall, while there have been initiatives and reforms, critics argue that meaningful action and increased investments are needed to address the challenges facing the education system.