Budgeting for quality education

Protiva Kundu

  • 11 February 2017
  • DNA

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A long-term policy on teachers’ appointment and teacher’s training, backed by increased spending, is needed.

The Union Budget 2017-18 has not shown imagination in planning for many sectors, especially school education. In the budget speech of last year, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley spoke about the universalisation of primary education with an emphasis on “quality education as the next big step forward”. Surprisingly, the budget speech for this year makes no reference to primary education or the Right to Education (RTE) despite widely shared concerns on low levels of learning in government schools. The sole proposal in the budget, aimed at improving quality of education is the introduction of a system for measuring annual learning outcomes in schools. On one hand, there are debates around measurement of learning outcome alone contributing to improving quality, but on the other hand, it is difficult to gauge how even this would be translated into reality with the meager budgetary allocations. In the Union Budget 2016-17, teachers’ training was identified as a ‘core’ scheme of the national development agenda and brought under the ambit of the National Education Mission (NEM). The NEM is focused on the strengthening of teachers training institutions, appointment of language teachers and a school assessment programme. The 2017-18 Budget has earmarked Rs 480 crore for strengthening teacher training institutions, the same quantum as in 2016-17 (budget estimate). The School Assessment Programme, however, has witnessed a sharp budget cut from Rs 5 crore to Rs 0.67 crore. The only other component of this umbrella scheme, ‘Appointment of Language Teachers’, which was designed to encourage usage of Hindi, Urdu and one modern Indian language, other than English among school-going children in the government schools, reflects a hike in its budget from Rs 25 crore in 2016-17 (BE) to Rs 125 crore in 2017-18 (BE).

The most substantive source of resources for teacher salary, salaries of part-time instructors and teachers training is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA). The SSA has been allocated Rs 23,500 crore in 2017-18 (BE). As compared to last year’s allocation, an increase of Rs 1,000 crore. However, the SSA is severely under-funded, when compared with the budgets approved by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) on the basis of annual work plan and budget submitted by the states. The Economic Survey, 2016-17, which is considered a pre-budget statement also talks about improving the quality of education in both government and private schools. It highlighted the “need to increase the percentage of qualified teachers and also the training of both qualified and under-qualified teachers”. Evidently, it remains business as usual as far as addressing the big question regarding the poor quality of education is concerned. The recently released Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), 2016, has pointed out that though the reading ability of children in early grades in government school has improved slightly from 40 per cent in 2014 to 43 per cent in 2016 (despite still being abnormally low); the overall reading levels or ability to do basic arithmetic among class VIII students has continued to drop.

Except for a few states, a common declining trend is observed in all major states, which are also where more than 25 per cent of teachers do not have required training.

In a recent study, conducted by CBGA, covering ten states, it was found that despite the issue of shortage of trained teachers, spending on training has been one of the lowest priorities in the school education budget of the states. None of the states studied spent more than two percent of their school education budget on teacher’s training. The present trend of devoting resources to education, which seems like incremental budgeting by the Union Government towards education sector, will not probably produce the desired outcomes. It is necessary for the government to go by a long-term policy on teachers’ appointment and teacher’s training, backed by increased spending, besides a range of other interventions, to bring about significant improvements in the quality of school education.

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