The finance minister’s promises of more and better schools may remain a dream with the allocation of Rs 93, 224.31 crore in Budget 2021-22, a mere Rs 8,000 crore more than that of the FY 2020-21, which is disappointingly insufficient, say education activists.
Schools have been shut for nearly a year now due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was a real struggle for the education sector to keep going in the prevailing circumstances with a near-total dependence on digital education.
There was hope that the union budget for 2021-22 would bring some succour to the sector, more so with the announcement of the National Education Policy (NEP) last year.
However, education rights activists are disappointed with the Budget 2021-22.
In Budget 2021, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has allocated Rs 93, 224.31 crore to the ministry of education. This is lower than the allocation in the Budget 2020 of Rs 99,311.52 crore, which was later revised to the reduced amount of Rs 85,089 crore. Hence, compared to the revised budget estimate, this year’s allocation is not a significant jump with a rise of only approximately Rs 8,000 crore.
People in the education sector believe this is insufficient to meet the challenges the education sector has faced in the interim months due to the pandemic.
In Budget 2021-22, the department of school education has been allocated Rs 54,873 crores. In the previous budget of 2020-21, this amount was revised to Rs 52,189 crores from the original allocation of Rs 59,845 crore. Significantly, of the revised allocation, Rs 52,520 crore was spent during 2019-20.
Education rights activists had demanded a special COVID-19 package for the sector including a rise of at least 10 per cent in the education budget. This was to promote the infrastructure and digitisation of school education in view of the pandemic and support implementation of the new education policy that would create more institutions, courses and other infrastructure around it.
They are disappointed.
“The country’s public education system is already reeling with the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affecting it,” Ambrish Rai, national convener, Right to Education Forum, told Gaon Connection. He felt the government should have announced more funds and an additional COVID-19 package. “The government’s budget has only been disappointing in this regard,” he stated.
Frighteningly, the education of the girl child was the most hit due to COVID-19 lockdown and closing down of schools. Many of them were forced into domestic work or married off. A survey among five states of the country, titled, Gendered impact of COVID -19 on education of school-aged children in India, was developed designed and conducted by the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (CBPS), on behalf of Champions for Girls Education, an initiative supported by Malala Fund, that works to speed up progress towards girls’ education, and the Right to Education Forum.
The survey, conducted in July, 2020, revealed how education of school girls took a severe downward turn. While the boys were given priority for online studies due to lack of computers or smartphones at home, the economic crunch due to COVID-19 further put the girls at a disadvantage.
According to the survey, only 26 per cent of girls were able to get a smartphone for studies as compared to 37 per cent of boys who clearly got priority from their families when it came to accessing mobile phones and internet facilities.
In the same survey, 71 per cent of the girls said that they had been at home since COVID-19 outbreak and were expected to do domestic chores even during the time of their online studies. Only 38 per cent of the boys said that they were asked to do domestic work at the time of their studies. The survey also cited a number of cases where girls were made to drop out of school and marry early.
That is why, before the budget, many educationists wrote to the finance minister demanding a separate and special provision in the budget towards girl child education.
However, contrary to their expectations, the budget provided to girl students under the National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education, is just Rs one crore in the 2021-22 budget. In the FY 2020-21 budget too, the initial allocation was Rs 110 crores, but it was revised and reduced to Rs one crore.
Further, the new education policy that speaks of gender inclusive funds for promotion of girl child education, did not find a mention in the budget. This, when nearly 57 per cent of girls in India are forced to leave school in Class X or soon thereafter.
Angela Taneja, the head of Oxfam India’s health and education unit also termed the budget as ‘disappointing’. At a time when millions of children are deprived of education due to the pandemic, she had hoped for something special in the education budget, especially for the education of the girl child. No provision had been made in the budget for children who were left behind in the digital race, she pointed out.
Such apathy would adversely affect the enrollment of poor, marginalised communities, especially girls, and cause a leap in the dropout rate at schools, feared Rai.
In her budget speech, the finance minister declared that 100 new Sainik schools would be set up across the country, with the participation of non-profits, private schools and states based on public-private partnerships (PPP). In addition, under the NEP, 750 Eklavya schools in tribal areas and 15,000 model schools would come up in the country, that in turn would set an example for other schools.
Moving towards the PPP model was dangerous and contrary to the basic tenets of right to education, said Rai. Instead of paving the way for privatisation in the education sector, the government should have increased the budget allocation to strengthen an inclusive public education system, he said.
According to Taneja, 750 Eklavya schools (model residential schools for tribal children) were inadequate for the huge tribal population in the country. Millions of tribal students in the rest of the country would still be deprived of education. The need was for 1.5 million new model schools in the country and not a mere 15,000. The standard of education in the country cannot be improved by developing only one per cent schools as ideal and quality institutions, she said.
However, the increase in the budget amount of scholarship for the post matriculate level SC students, was a welcome move, said Taneja. In the current budget, an allocation of Rs 35,219 crore has been made towards the post matriculate level scholarship for SC students for the next six years, which will benefit about four crore students in the country.