Spending on education as a share of the central government’s total budgeted expenditure has been falling for the past three years.
Compared to 2013-14, the last year of UPA, when education got 4.57% of the total expenditure, there has been a steady decline — 3.65% in 2016-17, according to this Budget’s revised estimate, with the estimated outlay for the coming year showing a minor uptick at 3.71%.
Looking at education spend as a share of the GDP, which is what international trackers do, the trend is clear — having dipped from 0.63% of the GDP in 2013-14 to 0.47% projected by the government for 2017-18.
Although budgeted expenditure for the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) has been increased over the previous year by about 8%, this is illusory because inflation of about 5-6% would neutralise most of it.
Since 2016-17, the government has rejigged the sharing pattern of central schemes in key sectors, including secondary and higher education, with lower outlays in the Budget and more direct transfers in keeping with the 14th Finance Commission’s recommendation.
This would have marginally contributed to a decline in the total education outlay as allocation for two schemes concerning secondary and higher education — the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and the Rashtriya Uchchtar Shiksha Abhiyan — was about 7% of the total education outlay in 2015-16, the last year before new sharing pattern.
These are not mere numbers. Their importance for India lies in that public spending on education is a must for making it available for all, and in better quality. While government policymakers since UPA’s times have been congratulating themselves for bringing almost all the children aged 6-13 years to elementary school, little attention has been paid to the fact that after this stage, it is downhill all the way. Gross enrolment ratios (number of students in school at a particular stage as a percentage of all children in the concerned age group) rapidly deteriorate after elementary school, going down to just 54% by senior secondary level. In other words, roughly half the children are out of school by the time they are senior school age. This works out to about 35 million kids out of school.
In higher education, the situation is much worse, with an enrolment ratio of just 24% for the 18-23 age group. This includes distance education students.
In most advanced countries, the ratio is close to the 50% mark. So, about 71million youth are still out of the higher education system. Enrolment ratios are lower for Dalits and Adivasis, and dropout rates higher. So they need to be reached out to, especially in remote areas. School infrastructure and teachers need to be provided for. NGOs and corporate bodies can’t handle this. But the government has made an increase of only 4% for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.
The problem does not end here. Even after getting everybody into school and college, there’s need for good, qualified teachers. At present there are about 8.6 million school teachers and 1.5 million higher education teachers in the country. So, India needs to prepare teachers through well-equipped training colleges. But where are the funds for that?
Here’s another problem: The Right to Education Act, implemented since 2010, mandates certain basic norms like pupil-teacher ratio and physical infrastructure. One study has shown that only about 10% of the schools fulfil all the norms. Bringing up the other schools to the RTE standard will demand enormous funds.
As it is, the India’s education system is creaking at the seams, family spending on education is rising, quality is speedily deteriorating, and a quarter of students are dependent on private tuitions for getting through. If the system is starved of cash, it could well be a disaster in the making.