How does one reconcile the Human Resource Development Ministry’s demand for additional allocation in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan with the figure of 32,000 schools without a single student on its rolls? Keeping in mind the ‘priority status’ of education in India, the Planning Commission plans to hike the budgetary support to education to 18.2 per cent from its current 7.8 per cent. But the ministry’s response has been a demand for an additional Rs 80,000 crore over and above that. Clearly, there are a few lessons that have been missed here.
There’s a crying need for more relevant expenditure in education, from the primary to the higher sector. Far too often, paucity of funds is bandied about as the prime factor stalling India’s educational progress. This is not true. One only has to look at the government’s report on Elementary Education in India (EEI) 2005-06. The existence of 23,000 schools without a single teacher, and hence no student, is just one appalling fact. Surely, the funds can be used as much for recruitment of teachers and paying their salaries as for constructing school buildings. And we’re not talking of remote villages here. The Centre’s allocation of funds to states, meanwhile, is tied to the state’s target and output. At the state level, dismal management and zero accountability seem to be the reasons why India is barely off the starting block in the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals. The HRD Ministry wants half of the amount it has demanded, Rs 40,000 crore, for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and mid-day meal programmes. The schemes have worked, but also point to staggering levels of corruption — from textbook and uniform scams to pilferage of grain meant for children’s meals.
Whether the hike is enough or not we will know only when there are measurable outcomes. If enrolment figures are a reliable yardstick — and even that is in doubt — then we’re way off the mark even with current allocations. That is what the ministry must remember when it yells for ‘More!’ next time.