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Govt spending on education continues to decline
By Yashwardhan Joshi
This is disturbing news for the country that boasts of the highest number of young population-- the share of government spending on education is declining. When the government expenditure on education should be close to 6 per cent per annum, it is still hovering around the half way mark.

From 2013-14, when education got 4.75 per cent of the total expenditure, the spending has been steadily falling to 4.14 per cent in 2014-2015 to 3.75 per cent in 2015-2016 to 3.65 per cent in 2016-2017

The Union Budget for 2017-18, presented last month, has continued with the disquieting trend. The central spend on education did not receive the boost that was expected. Though the education budget has been up by 8 per cent, it is still only 3.71 per cent of the total expenditure. Even the 8 per cent increase is illusionary as inflation of about 5-6 per cent would neutralise most of it.

The spending on Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), the government's flagship programme for universal elementary education, has been up by just 4.4 per cent. While the human resource development ministry had estimated a demand for Rs 55,000 crore for SSA in 2017-18, only Rs 23,500 crore was allocated-- 42.7 per cent of the approved outlay.

On the higher education front, the allocation is at a standstill at Rs 1,300 crore. For the all-important Mid Day Meal scheme, the allocation is up by just a small 3 per cent over last year, and is actually below the level reached in 2014-15. With ministeries of water resources, skill development, labour, power, coal, transport and women and child welfare getting the major chunk of the Budget pie, it is no wonder that education is just left with a morsel.

The Congress, the main opposition party, has slammed the downingsizing of the government spend, saying it has exposed the Modi government's tall claim of transforming the economy. The Delhi government of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has termed the Budget allocation on education hopeless.

The government has, however, defended the allocation with Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar saying that if expenditure of both the Centre and the State governments is combined, India will roughly be spending 4.5 per cent of its GDP on education.

But the recently released Economic Survey contradicts him bluntly. For the fiscal 2016-17, India spent only 2.9 per cent of its GDP on education.

His argument that private spending, and not government spending alone, must also be accounted for when considering the 6 per cent figure also holds little water, according to analysits, as the BJP's manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections clearly stated that public spending on education-- excluding private-- would be increased to 6 per cent of the GDP.

With little spend on education, the quality of education suffers. Gross enrolment ratios-- number of students in a school at a particular state as a percentage of all children in the particular age group-- rapidly deteriorate after elementary school, going down to only 54 per cent by secondary level. This means roughly half the children are out of school by the time they are senior school age. This comes to about 35 million children out of school.

In higher education, including distant education, the situation is, in fact, far worse as only 24 per cent of the children in the 18-23 age group are enrolled in colleges and universities. This works to about 71 million youths still out of the higher education system.

But getting children into schools and colleges is not an end all. There should be good infrastructure and quality teachers as a perquisite for quality education. At present, there are about 8.6 million school teachers and about 2 million higher education teachers in the country. But is there enough allocation for them in the Budget, one wonders.

Funds are also needed to fulfill certain basic norms under the Right to Education Act such as maintaining proper student-teacher ratio. At present, only 10 per cent of the schools fulfill those norms.

If the Budget is faltering on funds for education, won't our education system creak?

It is a million dollar question that needs proper answer for it affects the lives of millions of our youths.

(Yashwardhan Joshi is a Journalist of long standing and commentator on issues of Administration and Social Issues)

— [IFS]

News Updated at : Monday, February 13, 2017
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