Education budget ignores COVID-19, lacks roadmap for NEP 2020: Experts

Activists alleged that the Centre cut the education budget “at a time when the needs were most important”.

Education budget ignores COVID-19, lacks roadmap for NEP 2020: Experts Budget 2021 cut close to 5,000 crores from school education (Source: Shutterstock)
Atul Krishna | Feb 5, 2021 - 6:22 p.m. IST
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NEW DELHI: Academics said that Union Budget 2021 has not laid down the financial roadmap to achieve the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, announced by the central government in July last year. The Budget 2021 also cut close to Rs Rs 5,000 crore from the education budget.

Educationists and public policy experts speaking at a webinar organised by the Right To Education Forum, called Budget 2021 “disappointing” and “narrow visioned” as it did not address the inequalities caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and focussed mainly on the small fraction of schools run by the central government.

RTE Forum is a non-profit organisation consisting of educational activists, academics and former bureaucrats.

Academics said that a greater allocation was expected for education since the budget followed the much-touted NEP 2020.

“This year the education budget was expected to be higher because of two reasons. One was the expected COVID-19 response measures. Also, this was the first budget after the introduction of the National Education Policy 2020. But the budget does not talk about any financial roadmap to achieve either of these,” said Protiva Kundu from the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability.

Education budget: Pressure on states

Academics said that even though 40 ministries have provisions for education only 4.41 percent of the GDP is spent on education with school education amounting to 2.8 percent of it.

“This means most of the spending is done by states and in this pandemic year the financial situation of the states is bad. It is a distant dream to expect states to boost education this year,” Kundu said.

They also pointed out that the central government had drastically cut down the budget for education in the revised estimates for last year “at a time when the needs were most important”.

“The revised estimates have cut down funds drastically over the two years.The funds released were nowhere close to the estimates that were made. A closer look at the current budget warrants us to be cautious,” said Praveen Jha, professor of economics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Last year, the central government had cut Rs 10,000 crore from the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan. Academics also fear that since the central government has cut funds for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan, the state governments will be forced to follow suit.

Budget and COVID-19

Academics also said that the budget failed to address the inequalities brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of the most surprising things for me was that the budget does not talk about COVID-19 at all. The question of how education will reach the marginalised children was not addressed. The budget speech went on as if nothing of this sort had even happened,” said R Govinda, former vice chancellor of National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA).

The participants also criticised the budget for having a “narrow vision” and that it focuses more on the central schools which represent a minority of the school-going children in India.

“Overtime increased allocation to Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas through a small number of children attending these central schools as most of the children are in the state public schools and the funding for them is through SSA,” Kundu said.

“The budget talked about strengthening schools but which schools? Are these the central government schools? The education minister keeps talking about CBSE but the truth is that only 20,000 schools are associated with CBSE. The central government should be an pan India government not just a centrally located government.”

“Last year, 500 tribal schools were promised in the budget but only 150 odd were built so far. Then what is the point of announcing 750 more schools this year,” Govinda said.

Education budget: Dependence on cess

RTE Forum members also said that there is an increased dependence on cess for financing education.

Govinda said: “When the education cess was first introduced in 2006, it was said that the cess will be additional to whatever is allocated to education but now the government has taken out what it used to spend and finances education from the cess. The state governments will have to put in the money and they have no cess.”

Cess is a temporary form of tax levied by the government for special purposes, such as education and health. Out of the Rs 31,050 crore allotted for school education, Rs 26,500 crore is from primary education cess and Rs 3,700 crore was from secondary education cess, they said.

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