Budget 2018: The Budget 2018 speech by the finance minister proposed a perspective shift in education by mentioning that the government plans to ‘address it holistically’ from pre-school till class 12. This announcement comes in the wake of the Centre contemplating a merger of key education schemes that cover primary (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, SSA) to secondary education (Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, RMSA, and Scheme of Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education, STE). However, a close look at the budgetary allocation for 2018-19 shows that this policy paradigm shift might fall short in the light of restricted financial backing.
The budget for children as a proportion of Budget 2018 declined from last year (3.32%) to reach a low of 3.23%. Though in absolute numbers there was an increase of Rs 7,783.35 crore (Rs 71,305 crore to Rs 79,088.35 crore), this 10.9% increase, in real terms, is nominal except for specific areas. Allocation for education remains the highest in the budget for children, with other areas of investment for children receiving an increase of less than 10%. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is the bedrock of formal schooling. Pre-school education is provided through ICDS as well as private entities.
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While ECCE curriculum is neither standardised nor universal and ICDS workers aren’t trained enough, private entities go unregulated. Universalisation of pre-school education and including it within the ambit of RTE has been in discussion for a while but has not reached conclusion. The monies allocated towards ICDS has been increased only by 7%. This will not be able to improve the quality of pre-school education. It will not even be able to address the issue of salary increments of ICDS workers, fulfilling of vacancies and training of existing staff, as envisaged in the National ECCE Policy 2013.
In Budget 2018, the government turned its focus on improving education quality through teacher training and increasing digitisation. But SSA allocations increased only by 11.19%. This minuscule increase will not be able to close the existing gaps in making the public system of elementary education robust, recruitment of teachers, improvement in quality of education imparted and bridging infrastructural gaps. There is a huge number of children who are engaged in labour. Tackling this issue needs systematic planning to absorb them back into the system.
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There is a mismatch in the funds demanded for a smoother functioning of SSA and the funds allocated for it. In FY18, SSA requested Rs 55,000 crore and received less than half. The existing on-ground scenario cannot be addressed by this fund allocation, neither can it ensure access to education for all children. Financial support to students from disadvantaged backgrounds forms a key component of the equity agenda in education. RTE covers school costs up to elementary education. But at the secondary level, issues of affordability affect dropout rates.
The sole area of emphasis was in area of tribal education, with the announcement of setting up dedicated Eklavya schools in every block with more than 50% ST population and at least 20,000 tribal persons by 2022. The schools are envisaged to be at par with Navodaya Vidyalayas, besides retaining the link with tribal culture, language and art. What needs to be measured, however, is the fact that if existing standard of schools in remote areas is not addressed, will opening of Eklavya schools solve the issue of enrolment and retention at secondary level for tribal students?
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The other layer of understanding completely amiss is the investment in building of a comprehensive child protection system within schools. With the increased reporting of child rights violations in schools, the government was expected to show an inclination to make school safety mechanisms more robust. Though the Integrated Child Protection Scheme (ICPS) has seen a 12% increase in allocations (from Rs 648 crore in RE 2017-18 to Rs 725 crore in BE 2018-19), the ICPS framework does not address child rights violations within school systems.
While children struggle to complete basic education, their challenges increase manifold at secondary level, in terms of availability, affordability and quality. According to DISE 2015-16, dropout rates from primary to upper primary classes is 4% and it rises to 17% at secondary level. There are several other factors such as marriage, labour, trafficking that tend to pull children away from education. Only 67% children in the secondary school age group are currently enrolled to receive any form of education (Census 2011).
With universalisation of elementary education, the need to provide universal access to secondary education seems the next obvious step. Yet the minor increase of 7.6% in RMSA shows the absence of preparation required by the government in that direction. Overall, one could say that the shift in perspective of looking at education holistically is an intent that does not see translation into action through budgetary investment. It would be extremely discouraging if yet another year goes by without path-breaking changes in the arena of school education.
By Komal Ganotra
The author is director of Policy Advocacy & Research at CRY (Child Rights and You)