The Ministry of Education has been allocated Rs 1.04 lakh crore in this year’s budget. This allocation constitutes 3% of the central government’s estimated expenditure for 2022-23. The allocation to the National Education Mission is the fifth-largest among all major schemes at Rs 39,553 crore.
This is the second budget after the adoption of the National Education Policy (NEP) in July 2020. The NEP seeks to: (i) achieve 100% enrolment ratio at all levels of school education by 2030, (ii) raise the enrolment ratio in higher education to 50% by 2035, and (iii) improve learning outcomes by achieving foundational literacy and numeracy by grade 3. In light of this, we examine the trends in the financial allocation towards the Ministry of Education, with a specific focus on school education.
As education is a Concurrent List subject, the provision of education is the joint responsibility of the Centre and states. Additionally, the Ministry of Education also prescribes standards for higher education and regulates matters related to institutions of national importance. The central government’s share in total public investment in education (Centre and states combined) has decreased from 19% in 2014-15 to 13% in 2021-22.
As per the Economic Survey (2021-22), India’s share of public investment in education has largely remained constant at 3% of the GDP. This is much less than that of countries such as Germany, USA, UK, and South Africa, which have a public investment level of 5-6% of their GDP in education. The NEP reiterates the goal of increasing public investment in education to 6% of the GDP.
The Indian school education system consists of more than 25 crore students, 96 lakh teachers and 15 lakh schools. Of this, 15 crore students, 57 lakh teachers and 11 lakh schools are in the public sector. In 2022-23, the Department of School Education (DSE) has been allocated Rs 63,449 crore, accounting for 61% of the total allocation. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Education has repeatedly noted that the DSE is allocated funds much below its proposals. In 2018-19, 2020-21 and 2021-22, the department only received 76%, 72% and 56% of the sought funding, respectively.
For 2022-23, 59% of the department’s allocation is for the Samagra Shiksha scheme that aims to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels of school.
The 2022-23 budget also allocates Rs 1,800 crore for ASPIRE, a state-specific initiative supporting the implementation of Samagra Shiksha in Assam, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand. The scheme is supported by the Asian Development Bank, with a total support of about Rs 3,700 crore over a period of six years.
In 2021-22, the Samagra Shiksha scheme received an allocation of Rs 31,050 crore, which was just 53% of the projected demand. Note that in March 2021, the DSE projected a demand of Rs 19,164 crore for the implementation of NEP interventions under the Samagra Shiksha scheme. Sustained underfunding of the DSE’s schemes might become a hindrance in achieving larger objectives.
The National Achievement Survey (2017) revealed that only 50% of class 3 students, 47% of class 5 students and 39% of class 8 students have achieved grade proficiency levels. To address this, the NEP aims to leverage the early development window of up to six years of age by universalising early childhood care and education (ECCE). According to the 2017 National Sample Survey, only about one-third of children in the 3-5 age group were enrolled in an ECCE facility. In contrast, the enrolment rate in ECCE for OECD countries (generally developed countries) is 87%.
One of the thrust areas of the NEP is providing food and nutritional support. As per NFHS-5 (2019-21), a significant number of children below five years of age suffer from stunting (35%), wasting (19%), and being underweight (32%). In the past two years, the midday meal scheme received a little more than half of the amount sought from the Finance Ministry.
In September 2021, the Central government renamed the midday meal scheme as PM POSHAN and expanded its scope by: (i) including pre-primary students studying in government and government-aided primary schools, and (ii) providing supplementary nutrition items to children in aspirational districts and districts with a high prevalence of anaemia. In 2022-23, PM POSHAN has been allocated Rs 10,234 crore, which is 16% of the department’s allocation. Note that the allocation for PM POSHAN is the same as the revised estimates for the midday meal scheme in 2021-22.
Over the past two years, the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated some of the existing challenges in school education. As online learning replaced classroom learning, issues related to the availability of digital devices and internet access have negatively impacted learning. Additionally, Covid has ‘shifted’ students from private schools to public schools (ASER 2021). To deal with the increased enrolment, the Economic Survey (2021-22) recommends equipping public schools with additional teachers, classrooms and teaching materials. As schools reopen after two years, it will be essential to understand the learning losses that have taken place and develop measures to overcome them.
(The writer is an analyst in the research team at PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi)