Massive additional investments are needed to ensure that education delivered meets the basic prerequisites of quality committed under the RTE Act. The government must declare a timeframe and address the current resource gaps to fulfill the goals of universalisation of elementary education, says Anjela Taneja

India is long committed to spending six per cent GDP on education. For decades it formed part of both the UPA and the BJP election manifestos and is part of India’s EFA commitments internationally.  Despite this, India spends below the global average on education (4.7 per cent GDP) and below the levels of spending of its neighbours — Nepal and Bangladesh.

Investment in implementing of Right to Education is investment in quality and learning

Quality of education in India and prevailing learning levels are low. Good education, however, is unlikely without robust investments in quality. The norms and standards of quality in India are laid down in the Right of Education Act. However, current estimates suggest that spending on RTE implementation falls massively short of the resources needed for effective implementation especially in India’s most populous, poor and developmentally lagging states. Thus, actual expenditure in Bihar is only about 31per cent of its requirement. Massive additional investments are needed to ensure that education delivered meets the basic prerequisites of quality committed under the RTE Act. The government must declare a timeframe and address the current resource gaps to fulfill the goals of universalisation of elementary education.

Attention to the specifics needed for quality

While the overall allocation is low, this increase will need to be backed by specific investments on the drivers of quality as well as instruments and systems to ensure their implementation.

Ensuring availability of adequate numbers of trained and qualified teachers

There is a shortage of 9.4 lakh teachers in government schools (5.86 lakh in primary schools and 3.5 lakh in upper primary schools). Around 8.3 per cent primary schools have only one teacher. Both the Union and State Governments must raise their budgetary allocations until every school achieves the teacher pupil ratio norm. Filling these gaps will not be possible without addressing the functioning of teacher training institutions — government and private. Stronger focus is needed to improve quality and scale of teacher training (both in-service and pre-service) and invest in onsite support to teachers.  Bihar is one of the very few states which has allocated 1.6 per cent of its school education budget in teachers’ training. The District Institutes of Education and Training (DIETs), conceived as teacher training and curriculum development institutions, have failed to live up to their roles. Studies have shown that there is about 80 per cent vacancy in faculty positions in some states and 17 per cent of the DIETs do not have their own building — it would be important to understand the reasons and address them urgently. 

Addressing infrastructure gaps

Though the RTE Act has mandated provision for school infrastructure to be established within three years, i.e, by March 31, 2013, the share of schools complying with the entire set of RTE norms has never crossed 10 per cent of schools; indeed, latest estimates by the RTE Forum suggest that the compliance to norms has declined reflecting declining focus on universal RTE compliance. Stronger investment and monitoring is needed to ensure all schools are compliant with all the norms in a time-bound manner.

Ensuring quality inputs

Timely availability of teaching learning materials and textbooks in schools is critical to ensuring quality. Enhancing investments in these aspects is critical. The CAG audit of RTE implementation notes cases of irregular procurement of textbooks, uniforms, computers and so on in 12 States/ UTs.

Investment in equity

Focussed spending is needed to address the needs of marginalised communities, especially, Dalits and Adivasis, with a specific focus on gender to address historic neglect of the educational rights of these groups. Investment must be enhanced in educationally lagging districts and on the improvement of Kasturba Gandhi Vidyalayas and Ashram Schools. More focus is needed to address dropout and address child labour. The CAG Audit report of RTE implementation notes that regular household surveys that could identify out-of-school children by local authorities were not conducted in 21 States/UTs. Appropriate allocations must be made for undertaking such surveys and to enhance provision of special training to all children.

Strengthening financial systems to strengthen monitoring systems

A consistent problem in the education sector has been a long track record of under-spending in education. There is a need to strengthen financial monitoring systems. A major concern is that instead of the spending being distributed evenly throughout the year, there is a “rush of funds” in the last two quarters. Delay in fund receipt at the state level results in delay in release of funds to the district level and subsequently to the school level. Auditing and monitoring mechanisms must be strengthened to address gaps in the data systems and put in place monitoring mechanisms. State Governments may ensure that school management committees (SMCs) are constituted in all schools. They must strengthen their capacity building and ensure school development plans prepared by them form the basis of planning. This will entail enhanced investment in capacity building and functioning of SMCs.

(The author is Director, Education, CARE India)

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