Millennials, enthused by the draft National Education Policy’s suggestion that India’s education outlay be raised to at least 6% of gross domestic product (GDP), were not expecting a miracle of the budget presented by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Yet, they were left disappointed. Social sector spending is up, and allotments for farmer welfare are soaring, but central expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP remains where it was, more or less. An allocation of 94,853.64 crore for the education sector, which roughly amounts to 3.4% of GDP, in their reckoning, is simply inadequate.

For a government keen on harnessing the demographic dividend of the nation, the word “youth" was conspicuous by the infrequency of its mention in the budget speech: It featured only thrice. What did find mention were the New Education Policy, a research fund, and measures for skill development. Those expecting government-run schools and institutes to get greater financial support are beginning to wonder if India’s neglect of education—especially in the pre-adult stages—will ever be redressed. The Kothari Commission, instituted back in 1964, had recommended a much higher outlay. Its report still seems to be gathering dust.

The truth is that no country can progress beyond a point if the majority of its people remain poorly educated. That India risks falling into a middle-income trap has become clear in recent years. The only escape would be an upliftment of the sub-middle-classes by the tens of million, year after year. Education is the only way to achieve this.