After a decade of the Indian National Congress-led UPA alliance holding the reins of the Indian government, the 2014 Lok Sabha elections generated interest much more than the usual discourse about the “largest democratic process in the world”. With the incumbent government providing easy pickings, Narendra Modi led the charge of the Bharatiya Janata Party to a poll position where they could form a government without pandering to allies (which was a bane the Congress could not avoid). In this context, revolutionary reforms were expected from the new government. Here, we look at the education budget announced by the new Finance Minister, Arun Jaitely, in July 2014 by focussing on some important schemes.
The expenditure on education was 3.3% of the GDP last year and the budgetary allocation for the coming year has increased by 12% to INR 83,771 Cr. While an increase in expenditure is inevitable considering inflation and the positive growth of the economy, it is also necessary considering that 1.4 million children are out of school in India according to the latest UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the government’s flagship program for the universalization of elementary education, has been merged with the Right to Education Act from 2010 and has therefore due to an increase in the range and quantity of targets has seen the amount allocated to it rise consistently from INR 25,555 Cr in 2012-13 to INR 28,635 Cr in 2014-15. However, the specific allocations to the North Eastern Region in the budget for all major heads have been integrated into the General Education budget. The Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh, which is the fund created from the Education Cess, is expected to cover INR 18,841 Cr of the total allocation for SSA in 2014-15. The Mid-day meals programme has claimed to cover all children in class I to VIII across the country from 2008-09, and with increasing enrolment the costs have also increased. While the separate allocation for NER has been integrated to the General Education budget, as mentioned earlier, the total amount allocated for the programme has risen from INR 11,830 Cr in 2012-13 to INR 13,215 Cr in 2013-14 and has remained the same in this budget. As with the SSA, the share of the Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh has increased to INR 8,734 Cr in 2014-15 from INR 6,927 Cr in 2012-13 and INR 7,976 Cr in 2013-14.
The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksya Abhiyan (RMSA) was launched in 2009-10 to meet the increased demand for secondary education due to the massive increase in the number of students completing primary education after the implementation of the SSA. The amount allocated for the RMSA has increased from INR 3,123 Cr in 2012-13 and INR 3,983 Cr in 2013-14 to INR 4,966 Cr in 2014-15. This huge increase this year, as compared to the increase in the previous year, can be understood as a result of the integration of several previously separate secondary education-related schemes into the RMSA under the new budget. The ICT in Schools scheme, the scheme for construction of Girls Hostels for students of Secondary and Higher Secondary schools, Vocationalization of Education and the Inclusive Education for Disabled at Secondary Schools are all now part of the RMSA. This can be related to the new government’s broad policy directive of “less government, more governance” whereby the complications that arise out of multiple schemes targeting the same demographic are avoided.
By and large, the elementary and secondary education budget for 2014-15 continues to support the policies in place, rather than attempt to create reforms. The focus of the expenditure continues to be on inputs and infrastructure of schools. The School Assessment Programme for monitoring the performance of schools is on initiative that might shift this focus on to outcomes and efficiency of the delivery system. However, with only INR 30 Cr allocated for the programme, there seems to be a lack of conviction to supplement the laudable intention. This is also applicable for the Communication Linked Interface for Cultivating Knowledge (CLICK) scheme which is an ambitious programme for setting up virtual classrooms but is one of the INR 100 Cr programs provided in the Union Budget. Though the Finance Minister has claimed the budgetary allocations are only pointers and further funding will ensue on a needs-basis, it seems unlikely considering the huge mountain to climb in terms of reducing the fiscal deficit left by the earlier government. Universal education has been the focus of the Indian government for several years now but the desirable jump to universal quality of education will have to wait, it seems.