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NEW DELHI: Education was seen as an important sector for nation building early on after independence, when a host of IITs and other government colleges were set up. However, the words ‘education’ or ‘teacher’ were never quite buzzwords in budget speeches. This changed in 1991-92 when then finance minister Manmohan Singh mentioned education and related words no less than 19 times in his budget speech. The 2001-02 and 2007-08 budgets also saw significant mentions.
In the Union Budget 2017-18, the outlay for the education sector was increased of 9.9 per cent. Of the outlay of Rs 79,686 crore allocated for the education sector, Rs 46,356.25 crore was for schools and the rest for higher education. While this looks impressive, the real picture is not quite as rosy.
Consider this: India’s overall allocation to this important sector in the last decade has hovered between 3.5-4 per cent of total expenditure. Last year, the figure was 3.7 per cent. This needs to grow, particularly when you compare India’s spends on education is the lowest among peers. A closer look at the state of education in the country reveals further chinks in the education sector, and it is rural India which is bearing the brunt of it. Here’s what the actual picture looks like:
High on enrollment
According to a recently released Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER) 2017 for children of the age group 14-18 in rural sector, the enrollment in class VIII has almost doubled in the decade between 2004-05 and 2014-15 from 11 million to 22 million.
Another upside is that at age 14, the enrollment gap between boys and girls is minimal with 94 per cent of girls and 95 per cent of boys in school. However, as the age progresses not only does enrollment drop but the gap amongst boys and girls also widens. At age 18, only 68 per cent girls are enrolled in school as against 72 per cent boys.
Low on elementary skills
Unfortunately, high enrollment is not an indicator of learning. According to ASER, students in age group 14-18 demonstrated lack of basic skills despite the many years of schooling behind them.
Out of all children in Std. VIII, 27 per cent are unable to read a Std. II level text. While, 42 per cent children in age group 14-18 cannot carry out basic tasks like reading simple sentences in English.
When it comes to basic mathematics, a whopping 57 per cent are unable to solve a 3-digit by 1-digit division sum.
In fact, carrying out daily tasks like counting notes and adding up the weights is tough for 24 per cent and 44 per cent children respectively. While only 54 per cent can read and follow the written instructions on a packet like ORS. Children also fare badly in carrying out day-to-day financial calculations like choosing items of a particular amount from a rate list — only 64 per cent of them can do them correctly.
Students’ general knowledge needs to improve as well. More than half the children – 58 per cent – could not recognise their state on the map of India while 36 per cent were unable to correctly name the capital of the country.
With one out of every 10 Indians currently in the age group of 14-18—amounting to nearly 125 million youth in all (Census 2011), what India needs is an employable and healthy work force. The foundations for which can only be higher education standards. Surely, the FM will keep in mind two factors this budget – focus on education and educators.