The Union Budget is round the corner once again and the excitement is starting to show amongst all the learned experts who have insights on the subject matter. Every year, these experts cutting across various sectors share their views, expectations from the government on the budget. However, when it comes to the education sector,, they seem to draw a blank. Surprisingly, the reactions mostly range from scepticism to disinterest to disbelief to complete lack of clarity. Even after a good seven decades of independence, the one area that needs most attention in nation building gets the least attention or mention and it is indeed tragic, to say the least.
The Kothari Commission that was constituted in 1964 concluded that laws need to be passed to legalize the educational standards in India and the educational expenditure need to be raised from 2.9 % of the GDP to 6 %. It also recommended that this be achieved in 20 years, that is by the fiscal year, 1985-86. So far, India has managed to achieve half this target and spent 3% on the education sector in the fiscal year 2018-19 and has certainly not even moved around legalising the educational standards. Attention to this critical sector that drives the foundation of our country, which has the biggest youth population in the world, is just not adequate.
The Kothari Commission also recommended publishing of the “National Education Policy” as a guideline for the states and local bodies to help design the education plans and implementation. The NEP 2020 that got published after 34 years has been a silver lining. However, careful reading of the NEP 2020 shows that only a handful brilliant and progressive recommendations with the current allocation and would require significant increase in expenditure to achieve the rest. Currently, more than 80% of the total allocation is spent on teachers’ salaries. This is at least 15% higher than the ideal share. Budget 2022 should take cognizance of some of these key flaws and make some provisions to correct them.
Some of the areas I would recommend for the school education Budget are :
1. Break up the budget to have a separate expenditure earmarked for school education and further subdivide it between formative and preparatory years to middle, higher secondary years. 2. Guidelines on Budgetary spending must be in place –ideal cost ratios, including teacher remunerations, infrastructure, technology interventions, digital infrastructure, among others, should be in place.
3. Open up FDI in school education, allow international fund infusion to help amalgamate the most important alliance between EdTech and Academia with focus on enhancing the innovations around teacher training, Experiential Learning, integration of Sports and Performing arts into mainstream education, etc
4. Drive Budgetary provisions to cater to healthy public-private partnership (PPP) models for better efficiencies in the education sector. Measurement units must go beyond tracking the Teacher-Student ratio. Clear metrics must be laid down for gross enrollment ratios (GERs), attrition rates, and learning outcomes, among others.
5. A clear differentiator must be set between tangible hardware and intangible soft services. Merely recording the expenditure spent on information and communication technology (ICT) projects through a count of hardware and machines will not help the cause anymore. This is gross waste of public funds. Deep dive into the above areas and one will realise that a definite northward movement is needed in the outlay from the current 3% of the allocation to what was recommended way back in 1964.
Education in India is in a state of emergency and needs urgent attention. With the demographics skewed so positively for India, the effects of the NEP 2020 need to be felt within this decade.
I am concluding with statement that I would keenly wish the Central government ponders and reflects upon as they head to Budget 2022 for the education sector.
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