Budget 2018: It was a chilly day in Phulwari Sharif, a slum located in the suburb of Patna—a day with high wind and no sun—and a bunch of children were shivering, huddled together in an attempt to stay warm. They were inside a dark room with cold air hanging low and heavy.
Budget 2018: It was a chilly day in Phulwari Sharif, a slum located in the suburb of Patna—a day with high wind and no sun—and a bunch of children were shivering, huddled together in an attempt to stay warm. They were inside a dark room with cold air hanging low and heavy. That was the only classroom that the school had, and the two windows with broken panes could hardly protect the children from the biting cold. When asked about the one thing they wanted from the school authority immediately, the children did not come up with a unanimous demand for an all-weather building with decent classrooms decked up with proper benches and blackboards. Instead, a few voiced concerns about the poor quality of mid-day meals, while others highlighted how the late delivery of textbooks hampered their studies. The dilapidated condition of the building was brought up as well, and so was the case of the dysfunctional toilet. Some even went to the extent of raising the issue of the irregular attendance of the only teacher that the school had, and strongly demanded that there should be more number of teachers, all of whom should come to school regularly and teach them.
“Even though he (the teacher) is the one who does the roll call, we are more regular than he is,” one of the kids quipped, with an impish grin. These diverging demands shape the broad spectrum of issues that often confront us when we plan how the next phase of what schooling in India should look like—in terms of the reach, quality teaching and learning experience. In the increasingly globalised scenario, education must cater to the changing demands of society with regards to the construction of new knowledge, technologies, research, innovation and employability; a large part of this does depend on the financial investments done for children.
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In 2017-18, the children’s share in the Budget increased to Rs 71,305.35 crore (BE) from the previous year’s Rs 65,758.45 crore (BE)—an increase of Rs 5,056.73 crore—making children’s proportion 3.32% of the Budget. Education comprised 70% of this Budget share where key schemes—Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA, for elementary education), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA, for secondary education) and the mid-day meal—have seen a token increase (see chart).
Creating momentum in elementary education
Budget 2018: There was an initial spurt in the investment for SSA (focusing on children in the age-group of 6-14 years) after the passage of the RTE Act 2009, but it soon became stagnant in the later years. The approved outlay for SSA during the Twelfth Plan period (2012-17) as indicated by the Planning Commission was Rs 1,92,726 crore, while the total achievement for the whole plan period amounted to Rs 1,17,287 crore (a deficit of Rs 74,439 crore, or 38.6% of the SSA budget). Since the beginning of SSA in 2001 till the end of June 2016, 3.59 lakh new elementary schools have been opened, construction of 2.9 lakh school buildings and 17.48 lakh additional classrooms have been completed, and 9.61 lakh school toilets have been built. In addition, 15.74 lakh teachers have been recruited. The foundation, though has been laid, still needs much improvement, be it in infrastructure, teacher shortage and training, or ensuring quality education to children. The government, at this point, wishes to move from input-based targets to a stress on quality education.
While there has been definite progress in bringing about infrastructural facilities, a significant investment is still required for schools in marginalised areas. While ensuring quality is indisputably the next step forward, a look at the larger picture will point at the gaping holes that need to be plugged for every child to be in an environment conducive to education. It’s time to shift the focus to improved standards for both infrastructure and quality education within the public education system, so that children are not just attending schools, but also learning.
Difficult road to universalising secondary education
Budget 2018: RMSA is the government’s flagship scheme for universalising access to secondary education. Its goal is to universalise entry into secondary schools by the end of 2017 and achieve universal completion of grade 10 by 2020. However, the scenario on the ground has not been very encouraging to reach the 2017 deadline.
According to NITI Aayog Appraisal of the 12th Five Year Plan, for RMSA, an allocation of only Rs 4,562 crore as against the approved outlay of Rs 20,120 crore was made during the 11th Plan. Similarly, an allocation of only Rs 17,040 crore as against the approved outlay of Rs 32,846 crore was made during the 12th Plan. This led to a shortfall of 28% in construction of new schools and strengthening the existing ones. In addition, a large number of vacancies for teachers (14.78%) remain unfilled despite an acute shortage of teachers.
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Secondary education plays a transformative role in the lives of adolescents. After the completion of free basic education, a significant proportion of children in the 14-plus age group continue to drop out of schools due to various reasons ranging from the cost of schooling, marriage, work, lack of access, safety issues, to lack of interest and/or other factors. In order to increase transition rates from primary to secondary, it is imperative to realign focus on universalisation of secondary education. The allocation of Rs 3,830 crore in Budget 2017-18 to universalise secondary education is a meagre amount keeping in view the task in hand.
Public investment in social sectors (including education) in India is highly limited on account of the restricted fiscal envelope of the Union Budget. Consequently, governments in the last decade have explored other mechanisms for raising public investment in education through dedicated instruments such as Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh, or PSK (2% cess), and Secondary and Higher Education Cess (1%). In the current scenario, more than half of the central government’s educational expenditure in elementary education is derived from the cess amount. While during the initial years PSK was slated to bring in supplementary funds for higher investment in education, it has now become the mainstay of government funding in education. However, we hope to see school education emerge as the government’s core investment area in the 2018-19 Union Budget.
What states allocate for education
Budget 2018: At the state level, recent analysis by CRY and the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), a think tank, of six states—Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and West Bengal—shows school education budgets for states allocate about 14-20% of the total budget (see chart).
There is also the issue of disproportionate investment done in primary and secondary education. For example, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have laid equal emphasis on primary as well as secondary education, whereas there is considerable gap between the proportion of investment done in elementary and secondary education in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
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In the next era of school education, we have to gear up to face the challenge of bringing about an efficient teaching-learning environment. We do not want 236 million children who attend schools to just become literate, but not educated and skilled. We want them to flourish and progress with every step they take forward, and enable them to take up the roles of being productive citizens that await them in the future. We can say without a doubt that investment in education is the vehicle to attain this vision for children.
The author is director of Policy, Advocacy and Research at CRY (Child Rights and You). Views are personal