Retain, enhance investments in education to fulfill vision of 5 trillion-dollar economy

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Submission to the Union Minister of Finance, Government of India, by Ambarish Rai, National Convener, RTE Forum for adequate enhancement of public financing for universalization of school education:

This year marks the ten years of completion of the enactment of Right to Education Act 2009. Evidence both based on the field reports and macro-data, CAG reports as well as independent studies, points to the multiple areas of non-compliance. According to UDISE 2016-17 only 12.7% schools comply with its provisions. Availability of finances has been a big bottleneck in the implementation of the provisions of the act for education of a reasonable quality for all (Bose, Ghosh and Sardana, 2019).

Furthermore, the introduction of the draft National Education Policy 2019 calls for enhanced allocations to meet its expanded mandate of education until 18 years of age. An incremental increase on education over a period of 10 years will not address the immediate crisis in terms of quality and equity in education so a significant increase is needed now if India is to meet its SDG commitments in terms of early childhood and secondary education. This is particularly critical this year as India is poised to undertake its Voluntary National Review for the SDGs in 2020.

Investment in education is important for ensuring each citizen of India performs to his or her potential and is also, according to the OECD, critical to beat recessions, boost earnings and contribute to national economic growth. Greater levels of education increase the likelihood that citizens are employed and enhance the income earned.

Accordingly, it is critical to retain and enhance investments in education if India is to fulfill its vision of a 5 trillion-dollar economy. Hence, there is an urgent need to enhance budgetary allocation for education and move towards 6% of GDP, which is a long-standing national commitment and has been reaffirmed in the draft NEP 2019. In this context it would be important for the Central government to:

  • Enhance educational allocations to early childhood and secondary education, without compromising on existing RTE Act Commitments in line with the provisions of the draft National Education Policy.
  • Prepare and present a financial roadmap for the implementation of the RTE Act: There is need to make a departure from the practice of incremental budgeting and adopt a clear financial roadmap for universalization of elementary education compliant with the RTE Act 2009. This normative roadmap should be based on the framework of equitable financing which would allow public education of equitable quality for everyone. A clear and transparent disclosure of methodology, assumptions and estimates should underlie the roadmap. Financial Roadmap is Crucial for RTE to be a Substantive Right and the responsibility to prepare that roadmap lies with the Center. (Refer to Section 7, RTE Act).

Doing so is necessary to enhance quality of education and should be prioritized

— Investing in teachers, the biggest determinant of quality education. Filling teacher vacancies and strengthening teacher training and onsite support to teachers (e.g. strengthening CRCs and BRCs)

— Ensuring adequate, timely availability of teaching learning materials including textbooks and libraries and enhancement of the overall quality of schools

— Invest more in the education of out of school children, migrants and child labourers, especially those in educationally lagging areas and from marginalized communities to address educational inequality; greater emphasis is needed to ensure that education offered is gender transformative

— Invest for the education of girls and ensure availability of more public secondary schools in the neighbourhood. Relatively less number of girls transit to secondary level, it is even lower for girls from SC, ST, OBC and minority Communities.

— Take cognisance of the RPWD Act 2016 that details many requirements for the implementation and realisation of the right to education of children with disabilities. Children with disabilities are the largest group of out of school children in the country and that strategies to bring them into schools need to be put into place and budgeted.

  • Provide a big push in Financial Resources to educationally lagging 16 States: Within an overall picture of inadequacy of current levels of spending, the unequal position of the States has to be recognised. Our federal setup makes it important to examine the funds required by each State and their own ability to find resources. Sixteen States are identified where the additional resource requirement exceeds 1 percent of GSDP of the particular State. A big push from the Center for these States is inevitable if all regions and all States are to fulfill the RTE mandate. The quantum of fiscal transfer to these 16 States would need to be substantial, estimated at 1.01 percent of GDP. The additional resource requirements for RTE are: Bihar (Rs 47,736 crores), UP (Rs 38,316 crores), MP (Rs 22,682 crores), WB (Rs.19,870 crores), Rajasthan (Rs. 17,731 crores), Orissa (Rs.13,306 crores), Jharkhand (Rs.11122 crores), Chhattisgarh (Rs.7708 crores), Assam (Rs.10875 crores) and seven other Special Category States J&K, Meghalaya, Tripura, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram (Rs. 10,201 crores).  All estimates are in 2015-16 prices. For details refer to Bose, Ghosh and Sardana (2019).
  • Allow States the Initiative in Planning and Implementation while equalizing fiscal disadvantages in the States: Against the massive inadequacy in spending that is seen in a very large number of states, the Center has consistently reduced its contribution to overall public spending on elementary education in the recent years. Financial concurrency between the Center and the States has to be restored, given the vast difference between needs and revenue capacity in the above mentioned 16 states. However, the States should be allowed to plan and implement their programmes in a way most suited to local needs and conditions, and should not be straitjacketed.
  • Nudge the Remaining States for Fulfilment of RTE and regulation of private school sector as per the RTE norms.

Education is particularly critical for moving towards sustainable and inclusive economic growth by developing the skills and knowledge of today’s youth. Education is one of the most important investments a country can make in its people and its future.

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