By Ambarish Rai*
India is long committed to spending 6% GDP on education. This was a recommendation of the Kothari Commission, formed part of both the UPA and the BJP election manifestoes and part of Indias EFA commitments internationally. However, Indias spending continues to fall short. Indeed, India continues to spend below the global average on education (3.7% GDP, 2017)
The need for increased allocation to education remains critical despite devolution of finances to the States. It is our experience that corresponding increase in state allocations have not happened to meet the gaps created.
Investment in RTE Implementation is investment in quality and learning
The current government is concerned about the declining quality of education and low learning levels of students. There is indeed a cause for concern given the poor quality of education provided in many schools in India, both government and private. This constitutes a clear risk given the evidence of a closing window for India to take advantage of its demographic dividend. Urgent investments in equitable quality education are needed now.
It is our submission that the first step towards ensuring quality education would be through ensuring that all of Indias schools adhere to the standards laid down under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009.
When it was enacted, no financial memorandum was attached to implement the various provisions of the Act. On multiple occasions, calculations have been made to determine the amount of money that needs to be allocated to attain the goal of universal education for all. However, the funds actually allocated have always fallen short of the necessary amount. Current estimates suggest (Bose, S, Ghosh, P & Sardana, A, 2017) that spending on RTE implementation falls massively short of the resources needed for effective implementation.
Thus, compared to the requirement of public expenditure per student, actual expenditure in Bihar is only about 31 percent. Similarly, in Jharkhand and Orissa the actual spending is 44 percent of their requirements. In Madhya Pradesh it is a little more than half (52 percent). The gap is particularly large in Indias most populous, poor and developmentally lagging states. Massive additional investments are, therefore, needed to ensure that education delivered meets the basic prerequisites of quality.
Ensuring Availability of adequate numbers of trained and qualified teachers
As per RTE Act, with six months from the commencement of the Act, the appropriate government and local authority shall ensure specified pupil-teacher ratio in each school and the appointing authority in relation to a school established, shall ensure that vacancy of teacher in a school under its control shall not exceed 10 percent of its total sanctioned strength. However, after seven years of commencement of the RTE Act, there is a teacher vacancy of 17.51% (more than 9 lakhs) in government schools at the elementary and at Secondary level it is 14.78%. Around 10 % percent primary schools are only single teachers. Their service conditions, qualifications and salaries vary widely.There is a need to ensure availability of the prescribed number of trained teachers in these schools as per the RTE Act. Both the Union and the State Governments must raise their budgetary allocations until every school achieves the teacher pupil ratio norm.
Filling these gaps, however, is not going to be possible without addressing the underlying issues affecting the supply of qualified teachers. The RTE Act has recently been amended to provide additional time to ensuring that all teachers gain the minimum qualifications as per the RTE Act. This creates an urgent need to address the existing gaps in teacher training (both in-service and pre-service) and onsite support to teachers.
Among the existing teachers in government schools, about 20 percent are untrained and the proportion of trained qualified teachers has been almost stagnant since 2010. (MHRD, 2014). As per official data, the share of professionally trained teacher varies from 52.2 percent in Bihar to 99 percent in Maharashtra (DISE, 2015-16). Despite the lack of trained teachers, spending on teachers training is being neglected by most governments. Stronger investments in institutional capacity building are, furthermore, critical. The District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), conceived as teacher training and curriculum development institutions, have failed to live up to their roles. Studies have shown that 17 percent of the DIETs do not have their own building, 40 percent do not have their own hostel facility while 70 percent have no librarian. There is also about 80 percent vacancy in faculty positions in some states.
Most of the DIETs are situated in isolated locations. Staff and faculty members are not adequately trained. Training programs lack innovation and the faculty members have not undergone any capacity building in the last 5 years. It is also important to note that 90 percent of the pre-service teacher education courses are in the non-government sector. Both the Union and the State Governments need to play a more active role in improving the institutional capacity of its training centres, especially in the eastern and north eastern parts of India.
Addressing Infrastructure gaps
Though the RTE Act has mandated provision for school infrastructure to be established within three years, i.e., by 31 March 2013, the same has not been established. The share of schools complying with the entire set of RTE norms has never crossed 10% of schools; indeed, latest estimates by the RTE Forum suggest that the share has declined. Over all infrastructural availability rate is 76.33%. This has impacted drop out of children especially girls belonging to marginalised sections of the society.
Despite incremental budget on girls education, they are still out of school because they do not feel safe and secure in schools. Even separate toilet for girls is not available after seven years of Rte. In 2016-2017 2016-17 revised estimate had been just Rs 43 crores which even doubled in 2017-2018 is not adequate. The CAG audit of RTE implementation notes cases of irregular procurement of textbooks, uniforms, computers etc in 12 States/ UTs. Delays in distribution of textbooks are particularly unfortunate which impact quality of education immensely and eventually children are pushed out of the system.
Identification of out of school
The CAG Audit report of RTE implementation notes that regular household surveys by local authorities were not conducted in 21 States/UTs to maintain/update record of children from their birth till they attain age of 14 years. Appropriate allocations must be made for undertaking such surveys and subsequent to the identification of out of school children, investments need to be made to enhance provision of special training to all children.
Need to address CAG Recommendations under the Audit of RTE Compliance
The CAG has identified the need for strengthened monitoring, data and fiscal systems to ensure strengthened implementation. These systemic recommendations would need to be addressed and necessary investments made to ensure implementation. These include strengthening auditing mechanisms, addressing gaps in the data systems and putting in place monitoring mechanisms. State Governments may ensure that School Management Committees (SMCs) are constituted in all schools, School Development Plans are prepared by all SMCs and prescribed numbers of SMC meetings are held for improving the management and monitoring of the scheme. This would entail enhanced investment in the capacity building and functioning of SMCs. Monitoring mechanism needs to be strengthened and necessary periodical inspections may be conducted by Block Resource Centres and Cluster Resource Centres. Allocations will need to be taken in this regard.
A major concern for most of the states expressed each year is the untimely distribution of SSA funds. Instead of the spending being distributed evenly throughout the year, there is a rush of funds in the last two quarters. Delay in fund receipt at the state level results in delay in release of funds to the district level and subsequently to the school level. This raises questions about the quality of spending under SSA. However, neither the Union Government nor the State Government provides any explanations for the delay in fund flow in every financial quarter.
Equity in spending
While the all India average of per student spending is Rs. 13,974 per year, the highest spending state is Goa with unit cost Rs. 67,041 and lowest spending states is Uttar Pradesh with unit cost Rs. 7,613 per year for education of student enrolled in government and government aided schools (CBGA, 2016). However, in all the states, per student spending is higher than per child spending. In some of the states like Goa, Kerala, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the difference between the per child and the per student spending is significant. This indicates a gap between the total population of the 6-17 age group and the total population of the school enrolled children.
However, these are the states where number of out of school children is not very high which implies a relatively higher percentage of the children in these states are enrolled in private schools. However, what is important to note that Kendriya Vidyalayas which are considered as ’model’ schools financed by the Union Government, spent around Rs. 32,263 per child for their student. If the unit cost of Kendriya Vidyalaya is being considered as ‘benchmark’ for adequacy, then it clearly indicates the extent of under-funding of school education across states.
Need to Increase Budgetary Allocation in Secondary Education and Universalise Education for Children Up To 18 Years
Secondary education provides an indispensable link between elementary and higher education system. However, until the last five years or so, both levels of government had given priority to policy development and financial investments in elementary education. Due to the increasing rate of enrolment at the elementary level, there is also increasing pressure on the secondary level to absorb new entrants. However, where, elementary education has witnessed a near-universal enrolment, only 62 percent of (15-18) age group children are enrolled at secondary level (Class IX-XII) (2013-14).These national averages conceal considerable variation in enrolment across States, sex, social groups, religion and place of residence.
Recognizing the importance of continuing education, the government introduced the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) in 2009 to improve access, quality and equity in secondary education. Moreover, following the recommendation of NITI Aayog sub-group on restructuring centrally sponsored schemes (CSSs), from 2016-17 onwards, the Union Government has reduced its current share on RMSA from 75% to 60% for all general states. If, States do not allocate adequately in RMSA, secondary education will be a serious concern. Therefore, the need of the hour is to increase resource allocation at secondary level. There is an immediate need to recognise secondary education as a fundamental right and thereby ensuring, universalisation of education for children up to 18 years.
Improving Financial Transparency in SSA
Transparency and accountability should also improve to improve budget allocation and utilization. Overtime, Union government is reducing its budgetary allocation for school education. The SSA, which is conceived as the main vehicle for implementation of RTE is witnessing a reduction in the budget. While in 2014-15 (BE), the allocation had reached at Rs.28258 crore, it has dropped down to Rs. 23,500 crore in 2017-18(BE), which is a 17 percent decrease. Not only there is a trend in lesser budget allocation, even what MHRD is committing to provide states as its earmarked share for SSA, it is continuously failing to keep its promise.
As per the then existing resource sharing pattern for SSA (65:35), of the total approved outlay, Union Government (MHRD) committed to share 65 percent, i.e, Rs.5214 crore of the total fund. However, the audited expenditure shows, that in 2015-16, MHRD had released only Rs. 2437 crore, which is only 47 percent of the approved outlay committed by MHRD. From planning to budget allocation to release, at every level of the programme implementation, there is resource gap.
*Submission by Convener, Right to Education (RTE) Forum, to the Ministry of Finance at the Pre-Budget Consultation, held on December 6 under the chairmanship of Arun Jaitely