Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the already dismal condition of the education system of India has been exacerbated. Due to the pandemic, the schools have remained shut for about 20 months now, leading to poor learning outcomes for the children, especially the poor and disadvantaged.
The comparatively lower public expenditure on education in India and the unavailability of data on public expenditure on education from different Ministries further adds to the plight of India’s education sector.
These challenges offer a vast scope of improvement for the upcoming Budget for FY 2022-23 vis-a-vis the education sector.
Education and Public Spending
India’s Spending and Other Countries: Even before the pandemic, public spending on education in most States was below that of other middle-income countries.
Most major States spent in the range of 2.5% to 3.1% of State income on education, according to the Ministry of Education’s Analysis of Budgeted Expenditure on Education.
This compares with the 4.3% of GDP that lower-middle-income countries spent, as a group, between 2010-11 and 2018-19.
Share of Education in Budget: In the 2021-22 Budget, in the midst of the gravest education crisis, the trend of increasing public spending on education was in the opposite direction for the Central government and many State governments.
The Central government’s allocation for the Education Department was slashed compared to the previous year, even though the size of the overall budget increased.
Of the major States and Delhi, 8 states either reduced or just about maintained their budget allocation for education departments in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21.
7 States marginally increased their allocation by 2%-5%.
Only 6 States increased their allocation by more than 5%, though it remains to be seen how actual expenditures compare with budget allocation.
Need for Increasing Public Spending on Education:
Lower Expenditure than Countries with Similar GDP: UNESCO’s2030 framework for action suggests public education spending levels of between 4% and 6% of GDP and 15%-20% of public expenditure.
A recent World Bank study notes that India spent 14.1 % of its budget on education, compared to 18.5% in Vietnam and 20.6% in Indonesia, countries with similar levels of GDP.
Since India has a higher share of population under the age of 19 years than these countries, it should actually be allocating a greater share of the budget than these countries.
Lockdown Caused a Major Loss to the Disadvantaged: The vast majority of the total children enrolled in preschool and school did not have meaningful structured learning opportunities during the 20 months of school closures.
They have lost basic literacy and numeracy skills, and even the habit of learning.
Millions have disengaged from education, due to lack of contact with teachers.
In anticipation of the Omicron wave, the schools were again rushed to be closed, contrary to all international trends.
Failure of Technology in Replacing Teacher Training: Many State governments and the Central government have been spending public resources to use technology in education, however, there is no clear idea about how much of public resources was/is being spent on technology.
Also, there are apprehensions about the efficacy of online learning as less than 20% of all students could access even pre recorded videos.
Opacity of Expenditure Data - An Underlying Issue: As per the Economic Survey of 2020-21, the combined Central and State government spending on education was estimated to be 2.8% of GDP (2018-19), whereas, the data from the Ministry of Education indicates that public spending on education had reached 4.3% of GDP in the same year, rising from 3.8% of GDP in 2011-12.
The difference in the figures is due to the inclusion of expenditure on education by Ministries other than the Education Ministry.
Such as the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (on Anganwadis, scholarships, etc.) and the Ministry of Science and Technology (for higher education).
However, the composition of these expenditures is not readily available due to the fact that education expenditures of departments (other than the Education Ministry) are not shown by level.
The estimation of education expenditure by other departments of the State governments is even more crude, as they do not even provide separate expenditures on education.
Multi-Pronged Approach for Reviving Education System: The disaster caused by the Covid-19 pandemic could be the opportunity to reverse the chronic under-funding of India’s public education system.
The education system now needs not only an infusion of resources for multiple years, but also a strengthened focus on the needs of the poor and disadvantaged children who are most likely to be impacted adversely in such educational crises.
However, Increased public spending alone is a necessary but not sufficient condition to address all the problems. It is also necessary to take account of what the public money is being spent on and keeping record of how effectively the resources are used is also important.
Additional Resources: The additional needs besides increased public spending include:
Back-to-school campaigns and re-enrolment drives
Expanded nutrition programmes to address malnutrition
Reorganisation of the curriculum to help children learn language and mathematics in particular
Support their socio-emotional development, especially in early grades
Additional learning materials, teacher training and ongoing support, additional education programmes and increased instructional time during vacations and weekends
Expectations from the Upcoming Budget: In an era of data deluge, it is astonishing that public expenditure data on the education sector are not easily available.
The opacity of expenditure data provides an opportunity for the upcoming Budget to resolve the confusions regarding the additional funds that will be allocated for different levels of education by the principal departments in 2021-22.
The budget must also have a provision for the funds that will specifically address the issue of education emergency faced by the children who have been deprived of learning opportunities.
Discuss the challenges faced by the education sector of India with reference to lower public expenditure.