India’s budgetary spending on school education doesn’t meet Kothari Commission benchmark


By Protiva Kundu*

The enactment of Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009 imposes a duty on the Indian states to fulfill every child’s right to elementary education. Education is also a stand-alone goal among SDGs, which India is one of the signatories. As education is in ‘concurrent list’, both Centre and State Governments have responsibility to achieve the goal of universalization of elementary education.

Along with many other factors, financing of education is an important factor for provisioning of quality education in school. It has long been argued that public provisioning of school education is imperative and it needs more resources. But there is a counter argument from policy makers that the government provides enough resources for school education and the challenges do not lie in allocation, rather the problem is with underutilisation.

In fact for several years now, the whole narrative of education is circling around quality with little focus on financing. The deteriorating learning level of students is the major concern of India’s school education system. Hence, the focus of education policies is eventually shifting from input based to outcome based. For the first time, a consolidated Outcome Budget, covering all Ministries and Departments, is presented along with the other Budget documents in Union Government’s Budget speech for 2017-18.

The more recent example is NITI Aayog’s Action Agenda for three years. The Aayog has strategized its action agenda for school education keeping ‘improvement in learning outcomes’ as central objective for school education. The document argues that better infrastructure, lower pupil-teacher ratio, higher teacher salary or better teacher training are ineffective policy measures for improving learning outcomes in the present context.

Indeed, improving quality of education is need of the hour, but it cannot be achieved without addressing the existing supply side bottlenecks like inadequacy of infrastructure and shortage of human resources including professionally trained teachers. An enabling environment in school, teachers equipped with capacities and learning materials to facilitate learning in classrooms, efficient review and monitoring mechanisms along with equitable and stimulating curricular and pedagogic processes are key to ensuring quality education.

It is anyone’s guess that these inputs and processes in place require a lot of financial resources. Accordingly, adequate resources are prerequisite to address these gaps in quality education. Hence, it would be a flawed approach to address the quality issue by completely ignoring the need for injecting adequate resources for the school education system.

Overall budget for school education as percent of GDP is much lower than the benchmark recommended by Kothari Commission in 1966

Public financing of education, to a large extent, depends on the policy and budgetary priorities for education. In order to assess the adequacy of the prevailing quantum of public financing for the sector, it is useful to have a rough estimate of how much the government should spend on financing quality education, taking into account the existing policy framework for public provisioning of education.


Such a process of estimation had started with the Kothari Commission (1964); it had based on extensive deliberations and analysis recommended six percent of Gross National Product (GNP) per year as the total public expenditure on education in the country to be reached by 1985-86. The Commission had recommended for at least two-thirds of the allocation to be prioritised for school education at least for the first two to three decades.

Subsequently, the National Policy on Education (1986) also reiterated the need to increase public expenditure on education till it reaches 6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Later, Saikia Committee (1997), Tapas Majumdar Committee (1999) and CABE Committee (2005) opined that due to persistent under funding in elementary education, in addition to the prevailing magnitude of public expenditure on education, more resources was needed to achieve universalisation of elementary education.

In the context of the enactment of the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) legislation in 2009, NUEPA (2009) estimated the amount of resource required for successful implementation of RTE by 2015. That the country’s total public expenditure on education needs to be increased to the level of six percent of GDP has been reiterated by a number of political parties in their  election manifestos over the last few decades and it has also been the most popular benchmark for assessing public spending on the sector as referred to in the policy discourse in the country.

A cursory look at the overall composition of government spending on education in the country (taking Union and State Governments together) reveals that the inter-se allocations have been stagnant over the last few years. The latest data provided by Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) shows that till 2013-14 (BE), 3.7 percent of GDP was allocated for education, which is a 0.5 percentage point increase from the 2006-07 level. In this total education spending, State contributes 2.9 percent of GDP and rest one-fourth of the expenditure is financed by Union Government. The overall allocation for education could be lesser for 2017-18(BE) as the share of Union Government has decreased from 0.8 percent in 2013-14 (BE) to 0.47 percent of GDP in 2017-18(BE).

The largest pie of the total education budget goes for school education, which comprises of elementary (I-VIII) and secondary (IX-XII) education. In 2013-14(BE), Union and State Governments together allocated 2.85 percent of the country’s GDP. CBGA and CRY together extended the analysis to get more updated and comprehensive statistics on how much currently Union and State Governments are spending on school education.

Our analysis has shown the expenditure pattern for last four financial years, i.e. 2012-13 actuals, 2013-14 actuals, revised estimates for 2014-15 and budgetary allocation for 2015-16. The figure shows that in last four years, there is a decline in the overall quantum of budgetary spending / allocation for school education as a proportion of the country’s GDP. In fact, after the implementation of RTE in 2010, the school education expenditure has increased just by 0.2 percentage point (from 2.5 percent of GDP in 2009-10 to nearly 2.7 percent of GDP in 2015-16 BE). It seems both Centre and States have not injected any substantially higher magnitude of resources for school education even after the enactment of RTE; rather they have mostly followed incremental budgeting over the last six years.

From this evidence, it can be easily concluded that India’s prevailing quantum of budgetary spending on school education is substantially inadequate in comparison to the benchmark recommended decades ago by Kothari Commission.

*Excerpt from “Is There Enough Public Resource for School Education? Examining the Available Evidences”, a discussion paper for RTE Forum, based on the CRY-CBGA Research Studies titled “How Have States Designed Their School Education Budget” and “Public Financing of School Education in India: A Factsheet”. To download full paper click HERE

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