In this essay, Rithika Nair looks at the under-performing education sector in India and asks whether an increase in allocation in the education budget can guarantee better quality of education. She exaplains that sheer finance alone will be unable to rectify the structural problems of the system and that development will need to play a larger role in the future of India if it is to become a true world power for decades to come.
By Rithika Nair, 5th October, 2012
“Can an increase in allocation in the education budget, guarantee better quality of education?”
India is under-performing in education. Earlier this year, when the then Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee (who is now India’s President) declared the budget for the year 2012-2013, there rose a tumultuous wave of applause, and with that a tirade of criticism, as he allocated a budget of $11.9 billion (Rs. 61,407 crore) to education – an increase of 18% when compared to last year’s budget.1 The better part of the budget was in favour of primary education, with a relatively meagre amount of $2.9 billion (Rs. 15,438 crore) for the benefit of higher education.2
A generous education budget would have plenty to offer to the country’s under-performing schools and universities .3
It would allow for the introduction of the mid-day meal scheme where government and several private schools provide an afternoon meal to children for minimal or no cost. The scheme incentivises parents of poor and below poverty-line backgrounds to send their children to school, encourages children to attend classes to be rewarded with the meal, and also provides children with the nutrition and energy required to concentrate in lessons.
An increased budget would also impart more government sponsored study loans to students for secondary, higher, and college education. It would assign larger amounts to government programmes like the National Skill Development Corporation (which seeks to provide vocational training to the youth, thereby increasing their employability) and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (which works towards universalisation of primary education by providing free and compulsory education to children between the ages of six and fourteen)4. Furthermore, it would enhance access to secondary education and improve its quality, the Rashtriya Madhyam Shiksha Abhiyan.5 More money could build more schools with better infrastructure, increase the salaries of teachers, contribute to more books and stationery, and ensure other necessities such as running water and electricity.
However, there is a limit to the impact that fiscal favours from the government can have on quality education.
While for many, education is about learning, knowledge sharing, and a guide to building dreams, the majority of the Indian population cannot afford this luxury. For some, education, however little it may be, means employment. For the rest, education and employment are two distinct entities, where employment trumps education. This is not a problem that a bigger education budget can solve. Unemployment is an issue that needs to be tackled independently.
Ironically, the issue here is not unemployment, but unemployability. In 2011, a daily national reported, “India has the largest, youngest population in the world. But it is also the most unemployable population as it lacks the work skills that can make it employable.”6 This is an issue that is not explained by polarised school fees. Rather, it questions the very quality of the education system. Many students desire to, and need to learn skills that would provide them with the aptitude for a profession. The Indian education system in its endeavour to imprint facts and jargon upon young learners, under the impression that the gift of memory is akin to the gift of breathing, and out of rote learning rises the educated mind, has forgotten the significance of skills in the real world. There are thousands who consider vocational practices more worthwhile than history, chemistry and geography. Once again, this issue cannot be fixed by higher funds. Development of skills includes imparting technical and vocational education, which includes structured apprenticeships, and other enterprise-based trainings.7 The government-funded National Skill Corporation has not yet implemented its mission in schools, where the educative system must be reformed to include and give equal, if not more importance, to skills development.
Despite having funds, the government has been unable to efficiently manage its existing resources. Many government schools, which are the answers to free and compulsory education, either function in the most dilapidated conditions, or do not function at all. The school buildings are often run-down and in the most hazardous of conditions.8 They are no separate toilets for girls, no drinking water, and no stationary. Human resources in the form of teachers are in-efficient and uninterested.9 In such conditions, children either do not want to attend school or do not have the resources to attend private schools. Moreover, it is common knowledge that due to miles of corruption, only a fraction of the government money reaches the schools, and even less is used by the school for the benefit of the students. More funds which would increase the number of schools in similar conditions is redundant if the government is not capable of maintaining and ensuring a better utilisation of these funds.
Funding for education would never be adequate if it does not target all groups of children. At the Universal Periodic Review earlier this year, the National Disability Network in their report documented India’s abysmal performance in catering to its mentally and physically handicapped persons.10 “Persons with disabilities remain the least educated in the country”, the report stated.11 The provisions for disabled children – in terms of books, resources, additional infrastructure and trained teachers are minimal. Teachers and schools are yet to accept and include children with relatively minor learning disabilities like dyslexia and attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder.
These are not issues that a generous increase in the education budget can solve. These are factors that can only be solved if the government takes on the responsibility of providing quality education to all, instead of building schools for the few. Quality education is more than just a building with desks, tables and teachers. A quality education means ensuring that children are capable and learned, not just literate. A quality education means having quality teachers who not only utilise available tools creatively and are interested in teaching, but who also encourage the children to remain interested in being taught. For the poorest of the poor, a quality education would mean learning a skill that would teach them enough to start something on their own or use that skill to find a job. A quality education for special children would mean learning enough to help them manage as much as possible without constant dependence. A quality education for children with learning disabilities would be something that would guide them patiently till they feel confident enough to be productive by themselves. A quality education for many others would be an unbreakable moulding to build their dreams on. And what underlies a quality education for all these children from different socio-economic and emotional backgrounds is the ability to sustain the interest in being taught, the curiosity to know more, the belief that education is helpful, and the determination to come to school to learn every day.
Rithika Nair is a Human Rights researcher based in New Delhi. Her primary areas of interest are child rights, children involved in armed conflict, and the conflict zones in Africa.
 Prashant K. Nanda, Education Sees 18% Increase in Funding, HT media,16 March 2012. Available at: http://www.livemint.com/2012/03/16153749/Education–sees-18-increase–in.html (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 Hemali Chhapia, Indian Students Rank Second Last in Global Test, The Times of India, 15 January 2012. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Indian–students–rank-2nd–last–in–global–test/articleshow/11492508.cms (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 Vineeta Pandey, India has the Most Unemployable Population: Report, Daily News and Analysis, 16 September 2011. Available at: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report_india–has–the–most–unemployable–population–report_1587604 (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 Avril V. Adams, The Role of Skills Development in Overcoming Social Disadvantage, Education for all Global Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2012. Available at: http://www.unesco.org/new/fileadmin/MULTIMEDIA/HQ/ED/pdf/gmr2012-ED–EFA–MRT–PI-04.pdf (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 Lack of School Facilities Puts Students in Jeopardy, Times of India, 7 April 2012. Available at: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/education/news/Indian–students–rank-2nd–last–in–global–test/articleshow/11492508.cms (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 Mrinal Pande, The “Poor” Condition of Government Schools, Daily News and Analysis, 12 January 2009. Available at: http://www.livemint.com/2009/01/12214943/The-8216poor8217-conditi.html (last accessed on 6.9.2012)
 National Disability Network, Key Issues of 120 Million Persons with Disabilities in India, Universal Periodic Review – India, 2012. Available at: http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/session13/IN/NDN_UPR_IND_S13_2012_NationalDisabilityNetwork_E.pdf (last accessed on 6.9.2012)