Union Budget 2023-24 must allocate funds to ensure proper education for all
The entire education system under the Modi govt’s tenure is heading toward disempowering the unprivileged students
Poor households of the country have increasingly been put into a precarious condition as far as the education of their children are concerned. Public educational institutions, which are the only affordable destination for poor students, are deteriorating in imparting quality education due to a range of issues including insufficient budget among others.
Even the fundamental right to education has not been honoured, which is reflected in the decline in budgetary allocation for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan compared to 2020-21, even as the population is increasing.
Education, beyond this primary level, have been made costlier through a range of policies, a general trend under PM Narendra Modi’s rule since 2014. Tuition fees have been increased and taxes have been imposed on educational services and input materials that have made reading and writing materials unaffordable for poor students.
Such an environment has created two distinct worlds of privileged and unprivileged students. The entire education system is heading toward disempowering the unprivileged students through blocking their path to quality and universal education – right from simple reading and writing materials to quality and affordable educational institutions.
The Union Budget 2023-24 must therefore increase the budgetary support to public education system and ensure that private educational institutions also must earmark certain number of seats for unprivileged students since most of them derive benefits from public resources and certain other facilities from the government.
The last three years under the shadow of COVID-19 are marked with huge learning losses at all level of education. The Union government is yet to come out with effective programmes to make up this learning loss. The crisis has led to a new system of education which is known as online education. Online and offline education are now here to stay.
However, poor students are still not able to access online education or virtual classroom due to lack of proper electricity and internet connectivity and instruments like mobile, laptops, or desktops.
Huge digital gaps are there not only between students of poor and rich households but also between the urban and rural areas. This gap is also visible between girls and boy students, and the students from educated and uneducated households.
This needs to be properly addressed now since the future economy and employment would be heavily dependent on traditional and digital knowledge, skills and trainings.
It would be very unfair if we do not provide equal educational access but would insist on ‘competition’ between the privileged and unprivileged, only to ensure that only students from privileged households succeed in all spheres of life.
The Union Budget 2022-23 had increased the funds for the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan by Rs 6000 crore, but it was still below the budgetary allocation for 2020-21.
The budgetary allocation for teachers’ training and adult education was reduced to almost half, from Rs 250 crore in 2021-22 to Rs 127 crore in 2022-23.
The Union government must take note of the new requirement of teachers’ training in the light of hybrid (physical classroom and digital) education, and also for the effective implement of the provisions of the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 right from the pre-primary to a higher education level. The teachers as well as the students need to be technology-enabled.
Imposing GST on educational services is indeed a bad idea which includes Ed-Tech, training, coaching and other related educational activities. Taxing education is an anathema in civil society.
The Union Budget 2023-24 must remove all taxes on services and goods that make education costly and unaffordable for a majority of Indians at a time when more than 81 crore people out of 140 crore population survive on 5 kg free foodgrains per month.
The NEP 2020 emphasises a new framework for pre-primary education. How can it be implemented if there would not be any clear policy for funding and appropriately trained teachers and other personnels?
The Union Budget 2023-24 therefore clearly needs to have appropriate allocation in this regard.
The NEP lays much emphasis on compulsory and vocational training from secondary education level. It would need huge funding and trained human resources if we really want our students to have an exposure to vocational education from their early school days.
Education sector expenditure has been almost stagnant over the last few years at 3.1 per cent of the GDP. According to the Economic Survey for 2021-22, it was only 2.8 per cent in 2019-20, and 3.1 per cent in 2020-21 revised estimate and 3.1 per cent in 2021-22 budgeted estimate.
The NEP 2020 said that the government would make efforts to increase it to 6 per cent of the GDP, but did not mention the year by which Modi government intends to do it.
Universal school education remains a dream.
NEP 2020 aims for universalisation of education from pre-school to secondary level with 100 per cent gross enrolment ratio in school education by 2030, bring 2 crore out-of-school children back into the mainstream, raise gross enrolment ratio in higher education to 50 per cent by 2035 with 3.5 crore seats to be added in higher education, among other things.
But all these are easier said than done. The Union Budget 2023-24 will need to considerably enhance the educational expenditure if these are to be achieved.
Among these sugar-quoted words, a contradiction exists that says every college would develop into either an autonomous degree-granting college or a constituent college of a university. It only means making education even more costly, since the burden of funding education would be ultimately shifted to students, and only those students would be able to access higher education who can afford it.
The budget allocation for education in 2022-23 was only Rs 1,04,278 crore (2.6 per cent of the total Union Budget) as against Rs 93,224 crore (2.7 per cent of the Union Budget) in 2021-22.
However, the revised estimate for 2021-22 shows that the Centre spent only Rs 88,002 crore which was only 2.3 per cent of the total budget, even less than 2.4 per cent in 2020-21 (actual).
One hopes that the Centre utilises the allocated funds and refrains from making higher allocation only to boast that allocation has been increased.
The children of the common people too need access to education and the Union Budget 2023-24 must not betray them behind by making education even further unaffordable for them.
Views are personal