Extreme Neglect of Primary Education in Budget 2017

This Budget will benefit only a selected few children in higher education, depriving millions of children from their universal rights to education.

This budget lacks the political will to seriously implement universal right to education. Credit: Reuters/Files

This budget lacks the political will to seriously implement universal right to education. Credit: Reuters/Files

Budget 2017-2018 has been very disappointing for the education sector. A higher allocation of resources for school education from pre-school to secondary education was expected. But after a year of long waiting, school education has been totally neglected in the budget. The budget has ignored the effective implementation of the Right to Education Act (RTE) and a meagre increase in the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) budget – by Rs 1,000 crores – is not going to help in any way to implement the RTE Act meaningfully. School education for children aged between six to 14 years is a fundamental right in India. However, from 2010, after the Act was passed, it has faced severe challenges in proper implementation.

Two deadlines of 2013 and 2015 have elapsed and the concern of non-implementation due to inadequate resources continues to remain a major barrier to universal school education. In this Budget, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has increased only Rs 1,305 crores for the National Education Mission which comprise of the SSA, the Rashtriya Madhayamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) along with teacher training and adult education. It shows that the government does not prioritise primary and secondary education along with teacher training and development, which form an essential component for achieving quality education. A nominal increase of Rs 300 crores in mid-day meals is also totally insufficient to combat malnutrition among the millions of school-going children.

This neglect will severely impact universalisation of education from pre-primary till the secondary education. Even after a long drawn struggle, this continues to remain a distant dream even today. The education commission (1964-1966) popularly known as the Kothari Education Commission for the first time recommended a 6% allocation of GDP on education – which was never achieved. At present it is only 3.8%. He also talked about a diverse curriculum in tune with the life of the people and importance of qualified teachers. The commission also mentioned how to evolve a common school system on the basis of neighbourhood schools to enable equal access to all children. Successive plans and policies supported these recommendations and strived to achieve equal education for all children in the country.

We have today reached at a stage where providing free and compulsory elementary education has become a fundamental right – a part of right to life. It is also widely recognised that the right to education is a pre-condition for a citizen’s ability to exercise other fundamental rights. After the recognition of right to education as a fundamental right by a Supreme Court judgment, the constitution of India was amended to insert Article 21-A in it.

Unfortunately after six years of implementation of the Act, only 9.5% schools have been made RTE compliant across the country. It has been well documented that millions of children are still out of school and that thousands of additional schools are yet to be built while lakhs of teachers are yet to be recruited and trained. Low allocation is hampering the quality of education in government schools which have a teacher vacancy of more than 5 lakh and at least 6.4 lakh teachers are untrained. Ten percent of the schools are single teacher schools, 30% of the schools are without functional toilets for girls and 20% of the schools still lack safe drinking water.

India failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving universal primary education by 2015. As per recent official data, around 63 lakh children aged between six to 17 years are working for more than 180 days in a year. These figures display how the ruling party ignores the promises made in their election manifesto to enhance financing education up to 6% – which if implemented could have made education accessible to each and every child.

The finance minister also ignored the suggestions made by the RTE Forum and other civil society activists during the pre-budget consultation with him. How can digitalisation of education and skill training be possible without the universalisation of basic education?

This budget will benefit only a select few children in higher education, depriving millions of children from their universal rights to education.

The SSA, which is the vehicle for the RTE has got Rs 22,500 crore in 2016-17 (budget estimates), which was only 2.2% more than the allocation of Rs 22,015.06 crore in 2015-2016 (revised estimates). Of this total amount, 65% is financed through education cess, 29% as gross budgetary support and 6% through externally aided projects. The analysis of expenditure on education for select states show a devolution of 42% of the divisible pool – instead of the earlier 32% – which has not resulted in an increase in the share of the education sector in total states budget. Out of 10 states whose share in the education sector in the total state budget we have analysed, there have actually been declines in the shares of five states – Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Orissa.

The Budget 2016 allocated Rs 1,51,581 crore for the social sector – including education and health care. The then Budget included a plan for 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas to be opened and the SSA was meant to increase focus on quality of education. Regulatory architecture was to be provided to ten public and ten private institutions to emerge as world-class teaching and research institutions, set up by higher education financing agency with an initial capital base of Rs 1,000 crores. And the digital depository for school leaving certificates, college degrees, academic awards and mark sheets was also supposed to be set-up.

It was expected that the government should now set a new timeline for implementing the Act and get the financial implications of its implementation during the stipulated time frame. The government should have calculated on the basis of the norms incorporated in the Act and presented it to the parliament for approval. The Union budget should have provided for the resources to be spent during the first year of the revised time schedule. It goes without saying that this amount will be substantially higher than what has been recently provided in the central budget. However the neglect is evident in the union budget and has raised questions regarding the political will of the government in implementing RTE Act. This will further have serious implications in achieving universal and equitable education for children in the country.

Ambarish Rai is the national convener of the Right to Education Forum.