Body blows to Indian education -Debaditya Bhattacharya
Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget spells out the colossal failure that the draft NEP is fated to be
In her budget speech on July 5, the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, reiterated the government’s plan of bringing in a new National Education Policy, thereby initiating “major changes in both school and higher education”. Her announcement comes close on the heels of a draft NEP published by the ministry of human resource development in June. Even as feedback has been sought on the draft policy, Sitharaman mandated the setting up of a research funding body, which was mentioned for the first time in the draft NEP. Whether or not this may be regarded as a breach of legislative procedure, the NEP draft has caught the fancy of the ruling-party legislators. However, did the Union budget live up to the policy directions indicated in the NEP draft? What has the Narendra Modi government’s first budget promised for the education sector?
In suggesting a massive structural overhaul of institutional governance and pedagogical objectives, the draft NEP argued for more than doubling the public expenditure in education. Sitharaman’s budget outlay generates an illusion of increased spending in the sector, with an overall hike of nearly 13 per cent from last year’s allocation estimates. But a deeper probe of the data reveals a different story. The share of school education funding has, in fact, dropped from 2.05 per cent to 2.03 per cent in the current fiscal outlay. Similarly, in higher education, the share of cumulative Central expenditure has fallen from 1.43 per cent in 2018-19 to an estimated 1.38 per cent in 2019-20. These figures point towards an effective decrease in the proportion of education spending over successive budgets, and a consequent lowering of the sector’s priority within the Centre’s budgetary commitments.
The trend is further vindicated by a 2 per cent reduction in the Centre’s contribution towards school education and literacy, from a revised estimate of Rs 8,621 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 8,465 crore. Add to this the present annual inflation rate of 5.24 per cent, and the total allocations have declined by more than 7 per cent in school education. Pitted against the NEP’s proposal of extending the Right to Education Act to cover school-going children of all ages till Class XII, a steep fall in resource-availability sounds sinister.
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