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Frontlist | Budget: Drop in Education Spending to Widen Digital Divide?

Frontlist | Budget: Drop in Education Spending to Widen Digital Divide?
on Feb 02, 2021
Frontlist | Budget: Drop in Education Spending to Widen Digital Divide?

Centre plans to reduce spending on education by Rs 6,076 crore from Rs 99,300 crore in 2020.

When Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman reached what she called ‘the fourth pillar’ of her budget speech for the year 2021, many may have thought that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre would address and thereby make crucial announcements for children disconnected from the world of education during the coronavirus pandemic. But while Finance Minister Sitharaman’s proposal to set up around 15,000 schools as model institutions under the National Education Policy, another 100 as Sainik schools and a Central University in Leh brought some cheer, the overall drop in expenditure on education left many concerned.
Budget blueprints show that the Centre plans to reduce spending on education by Rs 6,076 crore from Rs 99,300 crore in 2020 to Rs 93,224 in 2021.
Reduced spending, though forced by factors, is unlikely to come to the aid of many students who have little access to online education and may have dropped out of schools due to lack of resources, made worse by the economic impact of the pandemic.
In fact, an Oxfam study conducted between May to June 2020 found that over 80 percent of children enrolled in government schools did not receive any form of education since the lockdown period, while only 20 percent of teachers of government schools were trained for delivering classes online.
What are experts saying?
Dr Partha Chatterjee, HOD - Economics, Shiv Nadar University: Although Dr Chatterjee finds merit in the opening of new Sainik and Eklavya model schools, he wonders how the government would bring back those who have dropped out of schools.
“The most optimistic figure that I have seen is that about 30 to 40 percent children are attending some kind of classes. The big challenge for the government would be ensure that the dropout is not large and to bring them back to school. I don’t see that happening.”
Dr Partha Chatterjee
Anjela Taneja, Health & Education Led, Oxfam India: Tajena maintains that at a time when education of lakhs of children has suffered due to the pandemic, it is unfortunate that the budgetary allocation towards education has been slashed by over Rs 6,000 crore.
“The pandemic has shown that teaching and modes of instructions have been exclusionary and what we need is an approach that recognises reality of the digital divide.”
Anjela Taneja
Are schools happy and content?
Kulbhushan Sharma, President, National Independent Schools Association: Sharma says that while the budget talks about upgrading 15,000 schools in line with the National Education Policy, it is silent on whether small private schools in India will receive any assistance in following standards set by the NEP 2020.
“A finance corporation should have been established so that schools looking to upgrade their infrastructure could have secured finance on minimum interest.”
Kulbhushan Sharma.
Mr Manit Jain, Chairman, FICCI ARISE, Co-founder - The Heritage Group of Schools - Jain opines that in order to fulfil the objectives established by the National Education Policy, spends in the education sector need to go up substantially. “Given the economic crisis that we are in due to COVID and that there are several competing social sectors that demand great attention, it is high time that the state and central governments invite private capital to invest in education,” he says.
What about higher education?
In the higher education space, some of the major announcements made by FM Sitharaman included:
  • Central University in Leh, to provide “accessible higher education for those in Ladakh.
  • Rs 50,000 crore identified as outlay for the National Research Foundation
  • Central assistance in Post-Matric Scholarship Scheme enhanced to 35,2019 crore for six years
  • Umbrella structure to be created in nine cities with dense network of central institutions for better coordination between them, while retaining internal autonomy.
Prof V Ramgopal Rao, Director, IIT Delhi: Rao said he was happy to see fund allocation for National Research Foundation as per the NEP provisions. “NRF will help boost the research ecosystem in the country and will connect R&D happening in the country with the societal problems,” he said. Source: Quint

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