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A Skill Focused Budget

This budget is aimed at providing a fillip to employment generation and skill development

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The Union Budget this year has a lot of encouraging sops for the education and vocational training (skilling) sector. Right at the onset, the emphasis by the Finance Minister on energising youth set the tone of the budget. In addition to the proposed amendments to the tax slabs, the key thrust on improving the skill efficiency of the country is a pragmatic move.

The budget allocation of Rs.2200 crore under the Skill Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement (STRIVE) in the next financial year 2017-18 with a focus on improving the quality and market relevance of vocational training and strengthening the apprenticeship programmes through industry cluster approach is heartening. The decision to set up 100 international skill centres to help youth with job opportunities is a welcome move. Similarly, the reforms in UGC for higher education and the proposed innovation fund for secondary education will provide the much needed boost for the future generations to become employment creators. Also, setting up of a centralised national testing agency is an approach in the right direction.

The proposal introduce a system of measuring annual learning outcome in our schools is music to many ears. Moreover, the emphasis on science education and flexibility through local innovative content in curriculum will promote creativity among the future generation.

The focus on strengthening the morale of the MSME sector will have a strong trickle-down effect on other sectors as well since it forms a major share of the economic activity of the country. Over and above, Rs 500 crore allocated for setting up of Mahila Shakti Kendra and the proposed alterations to the Model Shops and Establishment Bill will open-up additional opportunities for employment of women. India is an important tourist destination and the sector is also a strong contributor to the foreign exchange. Thus, the decision to set up five special tourism zones, anchored on SPV as well as the launch of the Incredible India II campaign will provide a strong stimulus to the skilling industry since it would require support of skilled workforce.

The government has also ensured that its Digital India initiative has enough offerings in this year’s budget. The investment on BharatNet project and DigiGaon is an encouraging step towards making the nation more inclusive and transparent. It would have been great if the FM would have spoken about the New Education Policy, Teachers training and announced measures for easy education loans.

The new education policy is expected to be inclusive of pedagogical reforms. SWAYAM or Study Webs of Active – Learning for Young Aspiring Minds— government’s largest ever MOOC received only a passing mention. The HRD Ministry’s recent web portal launch of ‘ShaGun’ (as part of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan) is an encouraging step in the direction of data-driven monitoring of the performance of state education boards. However, wide disparities in students’ achievement of basic skills across states, which was also affirmed by the National Achievement Survey, calls for a closer scrutiny of the teachers training programme. Training the trainers is equally an important task for the government to bridge the disparity in skill levels across the nation.

Another much-awaited move was the decision to set-up a centralised academic records repository to cut down on the fake certifications – which is due this year. In the budget this year, we expected the government to apprise the citizens on the status of the program. It would have been better if the government would have announced more statutory powers for National Board for Skills Assessment and Certification (NBSAC) and bring all certificates from ITIs and vocational training institutes under the purview of the programme.

Nevertheless, it is a skill focused budget aimed at providing a fillip to employment generation and skill development.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Anil Pant

The author is CEO and MD, Aptech Ltd

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