The Annual Budget is a key event that is a decisive factor in projecting growth and economy of a country. When the demonetization policy was announced on November 8, there was lot of hype and a fair bit of public anger as well. But slowly things are returning to normal. Various populist measures with regard to tax-saving have been announced for the working class and in an attempt to please everyone, the honourable finance minister seems to have forgotten the education sector again!
A higher allocation of resources for school education from pre-school to secondary education was expected. But after a year of long waiting, school education has been totally neglected in the budget. The budget has ignored the effective implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE) and a meagre increase in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) budget – by Rs 1,000 crores – is not going to help in any way to implement the RTE Act meaningfully. School education for children aged between six to 14 years is a fundamental right in India. Though this Act was passed in 2010, it has not been implemented properly so far and there is no clarity on how the Government plans to get the RTE Act working properly.
Two deadlines of 2013 and 2015 have elapsed and the concern of non-implementation due to inadequate resources continues to remain a major barrier to universal school education. In this Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has increased only Rs 1,305 crores for the National Education Mission which comprise of the SSA, the Rashtriya Madhayamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) along with teacher training and adult education. It shows that the government does not prioritise primary and secondary education along with teacher training and development, which form an essential component for achieving quality education. A nominal increase of Rs 300 crores in mid-day meals is also totally insufficient to combat malnutrition among the millions of school-going children. Unfortunately after six years of implementation of the Act, only 9.5% schools have been made RTE compliant across the country.
The United Nations had framed Millennium Development Goals for progressing nations and as a part of the goal towards universal primary education for students, India was supposed to have met the target in the year 2015. Unfortunately, we are still a long way away from attaining this monumental goal. The big challenge for a country as vast as India is that still a huge section of the population lives in villages and tier-2 and tier-3 towns and bringing quality education to them is a huge challenge. An analysis shows that there are over five lakh vacancies for teachers in government schools that have to be filled up. The demand and supply gap, the quality of teachers coming out of Teacher Training Colleges, the dwindling number of youngsters who are looking at teaching as a profession are other factors that contribute in their own small ways to the big problem that we are facing.
Points to Ponder
Some valid points raised by the RTE Forum have been brushed aside by the Finance Ministry:
- How can digitalisation of education and skill training be possible without the universalisation of basic education?
- Can focusing just on cities and universities be sufficient?
- What concrete measures are being taken to create more trained teachers?
This budget will benefit only a select few children in higher education, depriving millions of children from their universal rights to education.
The Budget 2016 allocated Rs 1,51,581 crore for the social sector – including education and health care. The then Budget included a plan for 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas to be opened and the SSA was meant to increase focus on quality of education. Regulatory architecture was to be provided to ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions, set up by higher education financing agency with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crores. And the digital depository for school leaving certificates, college degrees, academic awards and mark sheets was also supposed to be set-up.
The Way Ahead:
It is not sufficient to just quote random figures and run an advertising blitzkrieg; people need to realize the ground reality and work towards handling the situation with greater care. India’s biggest strength is its human capital. Countries like Japan and China are staring at a crisis wherein a vast majority of their population is over the age of 55. We need to invest in the future of our country, our children, our students. Unless we work together collectively, forgetting our political differences, we will never be able to get the progress that we seek to achieve. Instead of just announcing populist measures, the focus should be on creating an intelligent and focused eco-system that promotes inclusive education that focuses on values and technology. Let us hope for the best and for a better tomorrow! Balancing trust between the government, the ministries of education and finance and private and government schools is of key importance.
Key Reference – “The Wire”