Finance minister Arun Jaitley was quite generous with promises relating to reformation of the education sector - along with other priority sectors like agriculture and rural economy - while giving his #Budget2018 speech on February 1.
Assuring that the PM Narendra Modi-led central government will continue actions to provide “quality education”, he announced an allocation of Rs 85,010 crore for the ministry of human resource development (MHRD) - 59 per cent of which is for the department of school education and literacy.
In absolute terms, it is an increase in the budget for school education, but its share in total government expenditure has decreased from 2.2 per cent to 2.1 per cent between 2017 and 2018 (Budget Estimate, BE, to 2018-19 BE).
Promise of quality education: silence on resources
The government’s planning body NITI Aayog, in its three-year action agenda, highlighted improvements in learning outcomes as the first action point for school education reform. On budget day, Jaitley emphasised on the need for improving the quality of teachers.
According to government records, of a total 66.41 lakh teachers at the elementary level, 11 lakh are still untrained. In an effort to ensure that all teachers meet the minimum qualifications, the government recently amended the Right to Education (RTE) Act by extending the timeline for training till 2019. The current budget also announced an integrated B.Ed programme for teachers.
So far, the government has addressed the issue of untrained teachers mostly through in-service teacher training under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA).
But it is to be noted that these schemes only provide a running cost for refresher courses and not the costs for institutional establishment.
To meet the target of professionally training 11 lakh teachers within a year, the immediate need is to strengthen institutional infrastructure for teacher education. Towards this, the government increased the allocation this year for ‘Strengthening Teacher Training Institutions’ to Rs 550 crore - a Rs 70 crore rise from the previous year’s budget estimates.
This, however, seems like a reshuffling of allocations, because the budget for ‘Appointment of Language Teachers’ - another component under the National Education Mission - has no allocations this year as compared to Rs 125 crore budgeted in 2017-18 (BE).
To promote quality education among tribal children, the budget mentioned setting up of ‘Eklavya Model Residential Schools’ in every block with more than 50 per cent ST population and at least 20,000 tribals by 2022. It also promised that the schools will be set up on a par with Navodaya Vidyalayas.
Interestingly, the budget for Eklavya schools comes from the grants given to the ministry of tribal affairs (MOTA) under the provisions of Article 275 (1) of the Constitution. The allocation under the grant has increased from Rs 1,500 crore in 2017-18 (BE) to Rs 1,800 crore in 2018-19 (BE).
As the purpose of the grant is to create critical infrastructure projects in tribal areas for the welfare of STs, including setting up/running of Eklavya schools, it is difficult to gauge the specific allocations dedicated towards the schools.
In this backdrop, it is also important to mention that Navodaya Vidyalaya, the model proposed for Eklavya residential schools, has witnessed a reduction in budget from Rs 3,025 crore in 2017-18 (revised estimates) to Rs 2,793 crore in 2018-19 (BE).
Holistic development or mere merger of schemes?
Another major announcement in the budget was holistic development of education from pre-nursery to Class XII by removing segmentation in the school education system. There is, however, no clear articulation of the policy framework for the proposed announcement, not to mention no discussion on how the government is going to finance the initiative.
In line with this, it is important to keep in mind the “concept note” the MHRD recently shared with state governments to merge SSA, RMSA and teacher education for the universalisation of elementary and secondary education.
While there are no separate allocations reported under SSA, RMSA and teacher education, even the cumulative deficit of allocations in these schemes has not been addressed in this year’s budget. Only a marginal increase of 11 per cent (Rs 26,129 crore in 2018-19 (BE)) and 10 per cent (Rs 4,213 crore in 2018-19 (BE)) is observed in SSA and RMSA, respectively.
It is hoped that holistic development does not imply a mere merger of these three schemes. Given the continuous decrease in resource allocation for education, a schematic framework might narrow down the whole discourse of school education.