By Priyanka Venkat
A problematic outcome that arises out of straying from the path of fiscal prudence, is the pruning of resources to sectors that desperately need it. Very often, these are the areas, if invested adequately in, could propel the country forward in the long term. One such sector that urgently requires the government to adopt this approach is education. Budget 2018-19 for the education sector may have fallen short of meeting this target. The budgeted outlay for the sector is Rs. 85,010 crore, an increase of less than four percent from this yearís revised budget of Rs. 81,868 crore. Letís take a look at some of the allocations.
School education gets a push in the education budget
School education has received about Rs. 50,000 crore of the education budget, with the rest going towards higher education. In an attempt to take a holistic approach to education, the government plans to do away with segmentation from pre-nursery to class 12. This means that schooling will be seen as one continuous unit, from primary to higher secondary. The Ministry of Human Resource Development is already working on integrating three flagship school schemes, i.e. the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) focusing on elementary education, the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) for secondary education and the Restructuring and Reorganisation of Teacher Education scheme. Allocation to the SSA has increased to Rs. 26,128 crores from Rs. 23,500 crores in 2017-18. Where RMSA is concerned, the allotment has increased to Rs. 4,215 crores from Rs. 3,915 crores in the current year (2017-18).
The integration of these schemes is being undertaken to improve quality in learning, and efficiency in allocations across groups of children. However, the prospect of integration still holds a great deal of ambiguity. For instance, while individual allocations to the SSA and RMSA have been given in the budget, according to a government official, the allocation during the year 2018-19 will be combined. There is, therefore, room for essential avenues such as elementary education to be ignored. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan scheme has over the last couple of years received a higher allocation than secondary education. The lack of clear details regarding the delineation of resources among the three integrated parties could provide an opportunity for the government to divert funds from elementary to secondary.
Kiran Bhatty, a senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research while talking to the Scroll said, ďHow changes in administrative structure will impact school administration and resource distribution between schools where many primary, upper primary and secondary schools exist as separate institutions, is not clear.Ē
Even where quality is concerned, there are no clear standards or targets specified by the government that indicate the outcomes that such a system will achieve.
Quantum of allocations insufficient
Letís move on to the other allocations related to school education. The finance minister, in his budget speech, gave importance to improving education in tribal areas. Tribal communities often face social discrimination and the drop out rates amongst tribals are significantly high. To deal with this, the government announced the setting up of Ekalavya Schools in rural areas for Scheduled Tribe students. As per the governmentís plan, one school will be present in every block where at least 50 percent of the population is tribal or Adivasi by 2022. †
This is an important step towards improving access to education in these areas. While access is essential, it is redundant if the quality of education imparted in these schools is compromised. The phrase ‘teacher training’ has been name-dropped several times by the government in relation to quality of education, with not much to show for it.
For instance, the renewed allocation to the Madan Mohan Malviya National Mission for Teachers and Training is Rs. 120 crores, the same as the current yearís allocation before it was revised to Rs. 100 crores. Notably, the Finance Minister announced the launching of an Integrated B-Ed programme to improve the quality of teachers. While many of the reforms put forth by the government could have beneficial outcomes if implemented, there is not only inadequacy in the funds allocated for the reforms, but also a lack of clarity on how the government plans to finance the proposals. While the government claims that increasing the three percent education cess to four percent education and health cess will lead to a collection of Rs. 11,000 crore from taxpayers, it may still prove to be insufficient considering that there exist close to 13 lakh untrained teachers in the country. A precise mechanism of funding needs to exist if the government plans to achieve all the objectives it has put forth.
One lakh crore to be invested in revitalising education infrastructure
In his budget speech, the finance minister announced the launch of Revitalising Infrastructure and Systems in Education (RISE). The purpose of this initiative is to boost research through investment in research infrastructure. This move is intended to help top-tier institutes invest in building the capacity of their campus and laboratories, without the excessive dependency on grants. Institutes will borrow for their projects from the Higher Education Financing Agency, which will be restructured to suit the RISE scheme. HEFA acts as a non-banking financial company, and provides loans to education institutes by borrowing from the private sector. Under the current plan, the institutes will have to pay back the principal, while the government takes on the responsibility of payment of interest. The government plans to invest Rs. 1 lakh crore in this initiative over the next four years. It hopes to improve the global rankings of such institutes through this scheme. †
However, everyone isnít convinced with the scheme. The Delhi University Teacherís Association believes that such a move could result in outcomes being measured in the form of commercial success. To repay those loans, institutes might now resort to activities that generate revenue such as a hike in fees or other costs, to generate enough income to pay back the loan. This reduces the ability of students to get an education at an affordable cost at public-funded institutes.
Another move proposed to encourage research is the Prime Ministerís Research Fellows Scheme. Under the scheme, 1000 high performing B-Tech students will be accepted to premier institutions such as IIT and Indian Institute of Science, to pursue PhDs. In return, the government expects these individuals to voluntarily commit a couple of hours a week to teaching in higher educational institutions. An allocation of Rs. 75 crores has been made in this scheme. Other aspects of the budget included the cutting of direct allocation to IITs from Rs. 8,244 crore in the current year to Rs, 6326 crores in FY 19. Even the University Grants Commission and IIMs saw a hit in allocations. The commission is responsible for maintaining the quality of university education in India.
Where the government didn’t do enough
Once again, the budget did not reflect the governmentís intention to boost private sector participation. Working with the private sector to improve efficiency and learning outcomes is key when it comes to revolutionising the education sector. It is also imperative to create a favourable environment that facilitates and incentivises participation of both domestic and foreign institutions in India.
Even where technology is concerned, the push for digital education seems to be inadequate if one were to consider current allocations in the budget. The allocation to the e-learning project as part of the Digital India Programme concerning higher education fell to Rs. 456 crores from Rs. 518 crores. No impetus regarding reduced taxes under GST for educational services was provided. Reduced taxes in this sector would bolster the efforts of various ed-tech startups who are trying to transform the education sector with the help of technology, a goal that the government said it wanted to achieve. It is also important to understand that the use of technology will not act as a panacea to the myriad of problems in the sectors. There is still a need for relevant and concrete measures to be taken to tackle the shortage of teachers and to improve learning levels. All in all, Budget 2018-19 does not seem to be as revolutionary as promised, with allocations being disproportionate to the magnitude of objectives. One can only hope that the sector sees an improvement to some extent this year; otherwise, as usual, there is always next year.
Featured Image Source: Visual Hunt
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