The Union Budget’s outlays on education have gone up by more than 300 percent since 2005-06, but is the money being spent? And spent well? Where is higher and vocational education headed?
By Anand Agarwal, Elets News Network (ENN)
In the Budget for 2012-13, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has increased the total outlay for the education sector to Rs 61,427 crore – an increase of more than 17 percent over last year’s allocation. The largest increase has been in the outlay for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan – the flagship programme for Universalisation of Elementary Education. Adoption of technology in education has also been given a big boos by making an outlay of Rs 765 crore for procurement of Aakash tablets, 50 lakh of which the Ministry of Human Resource Development wants to give away to students for free. The Budget also looks to leverage ICT for improving the country’s knowledge delivery system by making an outlay of Rs 360 crore towards the National Knowledge Network that will connect educational institutions across the country and enable students in smaller institutions to access lectures by faculty in elite institutions. An interest subsidy scheme for students with limited financial ability would also promote access to higher education. Overall, all sectors have seen healthy increases in outlays, and if money is a measure of intent, the government has demonstrated its commitment towards the education sector in ample measure.
However, the problem lies more in the quality of spending. In solving problems, the focus has to be on results and not primarily on the money being spent on the problem. In spite of impressive increases in absolute expenditure, there is vast scope for improvement in quality of learning available to a majority of Indian students. A recent Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study – Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – placed Indian students above only Kyrgyzstan in a 74-nation survey of math and reading skills. Although the PISA covered only the states of Himachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, a far more comprehensive survey – Pratham’s Annual State of the Education Report (ASER) paints a similar picture.
As per the latest ASER, while the goal of universal enrolment has almost been achieved, with over 95 percent kids enrolled in schools, there are far bigger issues to worry about. Attendance of students is falling, learning quality – as measured by basic math and reading skills – has shown a decline from the previous survey in most states, and in spite of the Right to Education Act wanting to shut down unrecognised private schools, enrolment in such schools is rising – a reflection perhaps of the lack of trust that parents have in state-run schools. A recent study jointly conducted by India Institute and the Newcastle University (United Kingdom), covering nearly 1,500 schools in Bihar capital Patna found that 65 percent of all students in the city were enrolled in private schools, as against the national average of 20 percent. What is more, the attendance and learning outcomes in these schools were found to be better than at government-run schools, which comprised around 20 percent of the 1,500 schools surveyed.
|Budget 2012-13: Highlights for the Education Sector|
|• Total outlay on education sector increased by 17.6 percent to Rs 61,427 crore
• Rs 15,458 crore earmarked for higher education
• School education to receive Rs 45,969 crore
• 22 percent hike in allocation for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA)
• 29 percent increase for the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA)
• Rs 11,937 crore for the mid day meal programme – an increase of roughly 11 percent from last year
|• Rs 4.5 crore to give free cycles for girl students from minority communities – a step aimed at checking school dropout rates
• Provision of Rs.150 crore for setting up of new IIMs
• Provision of Rs 25 crore for setting up of new IIITs
• University Grants Commission Rs 6,362.15 crore towards funds for funds for central and deemed universities
• Corpus of National Skill Development Fund increased by Rs 1,000 crore. It now stands at Rs 2,500 crore
• 6,000 model schools to be set up at the block level. Of these, 2,500 to be established under
PAISA (Planning, Allocations and Expenditures, Institutions: Studies in Accountability), a joint initiative of Accountability Initiative, Pratham and the National Institute of Public Finance Policy tracks government spending in the social sector. The latest PAISA report (for 2011, released March 20, 2012) says that while nationally, per child allocation under the SSA has more than doubled from Rs 2,004 in 2009-10 to Rs 4,269 in 2011-12, with state-level variations, there are issues of concern. The study notes that the largest share of SSA budget goes to teachers (salaries, training and teaching inputs such as Teacher Learning Equipment). In 2011-12, teachers accounted for 44% of the budget, with some states spending as much as 72 percent of the SSA outlay on teachers! School infrastructure was the second biggest component at 36 percent, while expenses on children were only 10 percent of the total SSA outlay.
In order to establish the correlation between outlays and outcomes, PAISA 2011 studied per child expenditure data for 2009-10 and compared it to the ASER learning level data for 2010. The report claims there is a positive correlation between per-child expenses and learning outcomes, but admits that its study is very rudimentary and needs further analysis. More interesting is perhaps the fact that the PAISA does not find any correlation between the expenditure incurred on teachers and the learning attainment of the children, in spite of such high proportion of expenses being made on teachers.
A Crisis in Higher and Vocational Education
The India Labour Report 2012, jointly developed by TeamLease and the Indian Institute of Job Training (IIJT) presents some stark data – 374 districts in India have a gross enrolment ratio (GER) less than the national average – a figure which is itself around 50 percent of the world average. 58 percent of Indian college graduates have some degree of unemployability and lack formal on-the-job exposure. The economic reforms of 1991 have not had much impact on the composition of the labour market and three important indicators (proportion of labour force in informal sector, share of manufacturing in total employment and share of the self-employed among all workers) remain at 1991 levels. Informal sector still employs around 92 percent of the workforce, manufacturing still contributes only around 12 percent of all employment and the self-employed still constitute nearly half the total working population.
A recent report says India would overtake China and emerge as the world’s leading economy by 2050, by when it would have a GDP of around USD 86 trillion. The demographic dividend theory says India would have an expanding labour force at least till 2026, which should translate into economic gains for the country by way of increased productivity. But the moot question is: have we made the investments required to reap these dividends? As the India Labour Report notes, “1 million people join the labour force every month for the next twenty years without adequate training. 80 percent of India’s higher education system of 2030 is yet to be built and needs breaking the difficult trinity of cost, quality and scale. It needs massive innovation, investment, deregulation and competition.”
This data signals a growing crisis, and the government has shown signs of taking steps for addressing these. The establishment of the National Skill Development Corporation as a Public Private Partnership (PPP), the Prime Minister’s Skill Development Council, and efforts by the HRD ministry to integrate vocational education with ‘mainstream’ education, providing for both vertical and horizontal mobility between the two streams are some noteworthy initiatives. The government is also running a number of skill enhancement schemes through which it hopes to address the issue of skills deficit. The Rural Self Employment Training Institute (R-SETI) is one of the larger schemes for skill training. Modelled on the lines of the Lead Bank concept for priority sector lending, PSU banks have been asked to adopt districts and open skill training centres that would impart not only job training but also offer business advisory and handholding as well as soft loans to Self Help Groups and the rural unemployed youth. While some centres have started operating, it is still too early to comment on their success or otherwise.
Overall, while there have been a number of welcome policy initiatives in the education sector and the level of finances available has also increased substantially, empirical evidence points to the need for an urgent rethink on some aspects of current policy, particularly building in a component of quality monitoring into programmes such as the SSA and the RMSA, and adoption of innovative models in the field of higher and vocational education so that the burgeoning youth of the country can be harnessed as an economic asset.