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Tirupati: The Andhra Pradesh budget for 2022-23, which was presented on March 11, 2022, has slightly increased the allocation for the state’s education sector to 11.74% compared with 10.7% in the last financial year. However, it is still low when compared to other southern states.
The education budget allocation has fallen since the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh in 2014 (Table 1). This does not augur well for Andhra Pradesh, which has a literacy rate of 66.4% – lower than Bihar’s 70.9%, as per the National Sample Survey 2017-18. As per the 2021-22 socio-economic survey, the state’s literacy rate (67.35%) is also lower than the national average (72.98%). Moreover, the 2011 census pegged the state at the 31st position in literacy.
The state also failed to comply with the recommendations of the Kothari Commission, which suggested 30% of the state budget be earmarked toward education.
Ramesh Patnaik, convenor of the Save Education Committee of Andhra Pradesh, “We are asking the government to spend at least 20% of their budget on education. The late chief minister N.T. Rama Rao had spent 19% during his tenure. The percentage spent has fallen over the years and is not in keeping with the rising inflation and needs.”
In 2020-21, the number of students enrolled in the state’s government schools increased by 635,655 from 2018-19 (Table 2). Of this, around two lakh students dropped out of school.
As far as teacher posts are concerned, there are more than 50,000 vacant – affecting the quality of trained teachers. Of the 226,266 sanctioned posts in the education department, only 173,713 are filled up.
The state government recently came up with a proposal to transfer Classes 3, 4, 5 of primary schools to nearby upper primary schools and high schools. The upper primary schools will be converted into high schools, and classrooms will be constructed as per the requirement.
The move was claimed to be in line with the Union government’s new education policy.
According to G. Hrudaya Raju, president of the Andhra Pradesh Teachers’ Federation (APTF), “When it was initially rolled out, the norm was to merge the three classes with the nearest high school within a 250-metre distance. But this [the distance] has been currently increased to three kilometres. The move is not in line with the Union government’s policy which stated that the existing structure should not be disturbed.”
With the changed norms, the government plans to have a primary school within a one-kilometre distance, an upper primary school within a three-kilometre radius and a high school within a five-kilometre radius.
The unions say that this will impact the students’ attendance, and a lack of sufficient students in primary schools would then make them fit to be closed. The government also plans to bring the anganwadis into the primary school premises.
K.S.S. Prasad, president of the United Teachers’ Federation, Andhra Pradesh, said, “This is not what we had asked for. Our demand was to merge the pre-primary anganwadi system into the primary school to increase retention of children. Children who come to anganwadis are those who join government schools.”
The teachers’ unions say this move will affect 39,140 primary schools in the state.
The government has, however, tried to justify the exercise by saying that they are appointing subject-wise teachers in the primary schools. It also said that the move will promote 30,000 primary school teachers as secondary grade teachers.
Meanwhile, to address the shortage of teachers, the government has shut Telugu medium classes, troubling first-generation learners who opted to study in this medium.
Further, the state’s education department is absorbing private-aided schools, which were earlier run with the help of government grants, to fill up vacancies. Students and parents protested against the move, as many of these schools not only have a long legacy but are also the nearest and preferred schools for many. After the protests, the government decided to roll back its decision and allowed schools to operate in the old format.
On asking the rationale behind an objection to subject-wise teachers from Class 3, K. Kulasekhar Reddy, general secretary of APTF, said, “Unlike private English medium school students who start learning in LKG and UKG, the government school students start learning only in Class 3. Teachers devote more time to Telugu and math, which are difficult subjects, and adjust timings accordingly, which is not possible with separate subject teachers.”
It is important to note that most students in government schools are first-generation learners and don’t get the required help from their parents, he added.
According to Patnaik, convenor of the Save Education Committee of Andhra Pradesh, the changes are a violation of the Right to Education Act. As per section 38(4) of the Act, every rule or notification made by the state government under this Act shall be laid, as soon as may be after it is made, before the state legislatures.
“The exercise was initially taken up on May 31, 2021 by issuing a government order, but the government backtracked it after facing opposition and restricted the distance to 250 metres. However, the exercise affected nearly 4,000 schools,” he said.
The process of amalgamation of schools also affected Urdu, Oriya, Kannada and Tamil medium, and other schools, said Sheikh Sabjee, a member of the state legislative council, representing the East and West Godavari Teachers’ constituency.
The government-appointed Ashutosh Mishra Committee on October 5, 2020 came up with a revised pay commission. State government employees, including teachers, took to the streets saying that instead of a hike, the salary revision only resulted in pay cuts for all. What infuriated them more was the government’s bid to slash the additional quantum of pension benefits to employees until 80 years.
However, the strike was called off after government employees’ unions settled for lesser cuts in benefits.
Meanwhile, the government is yet to scrap the contributory pension scheme (CPS) for which it has sought time. The teachers’ unions have demanded that the CPS be repealed and the old pension scheme be introduced again.
The government has even failed to release the fourth instalment of the cash transfer scheme, Jagananna Vidya Deevena, for the academic year 2020-21. The programme was launched by the state government to encourage students hailing from poor economic backgrounds to pursue higher education by reimbursing full fee which includes tuition, special and examination fees.