Home union budget The Elusive 6%: Union Education Budget scores low on direction, relief

The Elusive 6%: Union Education Budget scores low on direction, relief

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By Autar Nehru

An important practice in journalism is to add emotional relief for readers/viewers to tragic/accident news stories by way of saying for instance ‘the injured have been taken to the nearby hospital’ even though they would be without saying this.  In a similar fashion, the union budgets in the past would make a soothing statements or announcement of a scheme that would be appealing to more people in that sense. All this meant that people both connected to education sector or otherwise would have always had something to argue on.

But progressively over the past a few years the word ‘education’ is fading away from budget speeches, so are appetizing statements and  schemes. If last year, education was bundled under youth, this year, it took several hours for some people to find out the exact budgetary allocations for Ministry of Education until someone digged it and shared it on social media.   So, why in a country where youth comprises more than 50% of population does apparently a Government treat education non-seriously?  Is this simply a question of missed priority or a deliberate design? These questions are for askance as the present day government hasn’t shied out from an open agenda of cultural revivalism on education?

At the same time, contrary to a widespread perception that BJP is not invested in education or it wants to keep complement education with an overdoze of skills and thereby discourage the ‘left-oriented’ liberal  thought process in classrooms, the party-led government is rather more focused on changing the narrative of education from being a strictly state managed system service to a broad-based societal/informal delivery piggy banking on smart tech advances.  In hindsight, it wants to disrupt the education system as we know it. That talk of a digital university didn’t attract the kind of criticism that it would have say a decade ago speaks volumes of changing acceptance. The times have moved on and so should the notions on education, perhaps?

Education hasn’t changed its definition. In that sense it remains the same as it were at the beginning of civilization—a process that requires regimental brain conditioning & training and socialization to take place, and therefore teacher-disciples and conversations-group activities. In today’s context it would mean robust campuses and adequate number of teachers to carry out this process systematically and  nothing less.

With NEP 2020 setting a target of 50% GER by 2030, it is very logical to expect both school system as well as the higher education system to be accelerated through budgetary provisions and public expenditure.  So, ideally national budget’s intent and direction should have been in laying out the NEP 2020 highway.

Another compelling reason to expect a generous budget for education was Covid 19 impact. Very recently UNESCO while capturing this impact said, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. Reliance on digital technology for learning has deepened exclusion and gender inequalities. Without remedial action, better support to teachers and increased financing, learning losses and school dropout will continue to rise, reversing progress towards all the Sustainable Development Goals and depriving youth of a future of dignity and opportunity.

So why is Government not jittery about not according education that urgency in its budget? In the midlist of elections to five states with one being fought on slogans such as ‘ladki hoon lad sakti hoonthe National Scheme for Incentive to Girl Child for Secondary Education has been shelved almost without funds. Education Scheme for Madrasas and Minorities is another zero budget item.

Budgetary allocation to Ministry of Education has increased to 1,04,278 crores in 2022-23 from Rs 93,224 crores in the previous year i.e., 2021-22; thus showing an increase of Rs. 11,052 crores which is 11.86 % hike. But relative to 2020-21 decrease and inflation, this hike is insignificant.

Mid Day Meal in Schools now called Pradhan Mantri Poshan Shakti Nirman gets Rs. 10,233.75 crores in the 2022-23 budget which is lower than the same allocated in 2021-22 (Rs. 11,500 crores)and 2020-21( Rs. 12,878.15 crores). When schools reopen fully, this amount may fall short.

In face of all this, announcement for “one class-one TV channel programme of PM eVIDYA and expansion of channels  from 12 to 200 TV channels to provide supplementary education in regional languages for classes 1 to12 looks absurd. Nobody watches educational programs on TV even for one hour. Who makes content and calls the shots also makes a case of Government’s intention of walking away from education.

To be fair on the Government, it has a plan to mitigate the learning loss and communicated to States & UTs under which the Centre will offer additional one-time financial support of Rs. 10,000/- for tablets to about 2.5 million primary school teachers in 2022-23.

Education besides a public good is a top household priority.  That it is a long-term national investment in national development is no secret but then why is the Government not providing masses the ‘psychological relief’ by emphasizing centrality of education expenditure and winning the argument on education? Perhaps the answer lies a determined effort of dislodging the old model and architecture. It is also nudging the society to accept outcomes as the new narrative of education perhaps at the behest of a lobby that sees a huge opportunity for education business in ‘prosperous’ India.

Running away from reality would be bad for country. Schools and colleges are needed to develop social capital, these are the only places for an overwhelming majority of girls to socialize and get out of their homes. Same is true for marginalized and first generation learners. Youth will always need a channel to grow and learn. Discipline, sports, team values, discourse and debate, exploration of science and research—everything comes through a well run education system. So, education system shouldn’t be undermined just like that.

States need a cue and a strong direction of reinventing and innovative models to tide over gaps. They need more money to spend. So, the Government needs to articulate its plans. Singular focus on NEP 2020 should also go with action on ground.

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