Pre-budget expectations in the education sector

No one expected the pandemic to continue for as long as it did and, along with India Inc., the education sector has also suffered. Those involved in imparting skills and education, particularly in the creative field, have faced unprecedented challenges. Classroom teaching was discontinued, replaced by online teaching in the early days of the Covid outbreak and eventually turned into a combination of online and offline learning.

The online and hybrid mode of education has placed immense financial pressure on higher education institutions (HEIs), and even more so on students in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Institutions offering education in the field creative have struggled to create the required educational infrastructure and bridge the digital divide.

A major expectation of HEIs therefore concerns the resolution of the problem of financial pressure on HEIs and students due to the shift to online mode. Government support will be needed to create vital infrastructure and fund the costs of additional training and skills development, as well as the cost of the various Edtech platforms needed to keep education online.

Given the disruption caused by technology (4th industrial revolution), any initiative aimed at stimulating global economic activity and creating jobs will have to go through design.

The government’s ‘Make-in-India’ initiative must be coupled with a ‘Design-in-India’ push so that people can create new products, design business processes and think of new ways of delivering services to the society. This is essential for us to build a more skilled and employable India, as the fact remains that the design industry is one of the major employers today, as all industry verticals increase their design and innovation capabilities.

Yet, the importance of the design and education industry and its contribution to GDP and nation building is hardly recognized. For this to happen, the government needs to change its mindset and that of the people. It can start by integrating more creative learning into the secondary education curriculum and building a creative think tank that challenges policies and rewrites the rules. Creating a role within the Cabinet for the creative industries would boost the sector and therefore employment.

In South Korea, they formed a Ministry of Future, Science and Creativity. This highlights the important role that design plays there in transforming science into culture. I think in India too, we need a similar initiative that can bring together science, technology and creativity; and create a transversal strategy to integrate gaming, the visual arts industry, the industrial design sector, the music sector, the communication sector and the creative-industrial fields that emerge from their hybridization in the consolidation technological research with economic development. In fact, the government in its budget must adopt a business-oriented approach to help Indian designers coming out of HEIs to find work. All segments of industry, from crafts to MSMEs, manufacturing to services, IT to banking and finance, can benefit from design intervention and become engines of economic growth.

Design also opens the door to research and development (R&D), especially for MSMEs who, with their limited resources, cannot include R&D in their business model. The government would do well to invest in research that fosters a deeper appreciation of “stepping stones to R&D” such as design.

Investing in creative skills, from the primary education sector to higher education and vocational training, will result in widespread innovation and, therefore, a boost for our economy. The value of design skills in fueling the growth engine of the economy cannot be overstated. But for this to happen the government should focus on forming a mission to integrate these skills across the country and this can only be done by providing a much needed boost to design education in the country. Increased funding would enable creative education providers in India to make quality higher education affordable to all, making them more employable and fulfilling the Centre’s goal of providing jobs for the country’s youth.

Any serious effort to create employment opportunities would require a shift in focus on encouraging creativity alongside an emphasis on science. Indeed, unprecedented changes are taking place and new opportunities are emerging. A metaverse is imagined and created, opening up a whole new universe of opportunities for game designers, producers, storytellers, data providers, analysts, spatial mappers, public health and safety experts in addition to teachers , coaches and managers. The art and design world of the future would make full use of present and future augmented and virtual reality technologies.

The government, as it finalizes the Union budget, will do well to remember that the designers of today are the innovators and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, and it would do well to invest in this fearless breed of dreamers if we are to achieve our collective dream of a $5 trillion economy.

(The writer is vice-chancellor of the World University of Design)

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