Why Budget 2023 must focus on affordable, quality education
Quality education to all is a must if we as a nation aspire to be self-reliant economically in a sustainable manner
Today our GER in higher education is less than 30% in which the share of poor students, to be precise, students belonging to marginalized sections of society such as OBCs, SCs and ST, is minimal despite the fact that there is a provision of reservation for them in the government run institutions. Lack of transparency, proper monitoring and enabling measures are one of the key factors which have a frustrating impact on their advancement towards the top seats of learning
The Union Budget-2023-24 should be very particular about streamlining, expanding and adding more value to the existing infrastructure and mechanism to make affordable and quality education easily accessible to all. So, when we celebrate the centenary of our independence in 2047, we should have at least a 90 per cent gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education. It is certainly a tall order but can easily be achieved if the Centre and state governments work in tandem with each other and in a mission mode for the next 25 years. This will be the best service to the nation and will lay the foundation of a truly stronger and much more inclusive India. Today our GER in higher education is less than 30 per cent in which the share of poor students, to be precise, students belonging to marginalized sections of society such as OBCs, SCs and ST, is minimal despite the fact that there is a provision of reservation for them in the government run institutions. Lack of transparency, proper monitoring and enabling measures are one of the key factors which have a frustrating impact on their advancement towards the top seats of learning. Majority of poor students are still deprived of the privilege and dignity to be a part of the celebrated campuses in public and private sectors. Of course, a miniscule percentage of them are from downtrodden sections but that is not enough at all in India of the 21st century.
Quality education to all is a must if we as a nation aspire to be self-reliant economically in a sustainable manner. Education is key to empowering all through inclusion. Unfortunately, most of the top schools in the private sector are out of reach for the poor students. Even lower-middle class families cannot afford to send their children to a large number of elite schools in the private sector across the county. Perhaps, they will never be able to do so unless these schools are also brought under the ambit of affirmative policy. Since we are not ready to share certain key privileges, facilities and responsibilities with all sections of society, the interventions of the government should be enormous to mainstream majority communities, which are educationally and socially backward.
A majority of poor students drop out from schools before they appear in the Class X final examination. Very few of them go up to Class XII. As a result, the number of students from weaker sections of society entering colleges and universities is quite less. Poverty is one of the key reasons as education is its first casualty. In line with the new National Education Policy (NEP-2020), which envisages that we should be spending at least 6 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) in education, and at least two per cent of it should be invested in the education of OBC, SC and ST students from Class IX to XII. It will help us retain them in schools during the most critical phase of education. At present, we are spending only 4.6 per cent of our GDP on education. It is imperative that while the economy is growing, we need to invest more on education.
I would like to share some of the findings of the Union Ministry of Education's detailed report on the Unified District Information System for Education Plus (UDISE+) for 2021-22 on school education. In 2021-22, total students enrolled in school education from primary to higher secondary stood at 25.57 crore as compared to 25.38 crore enrolment in 2020-21, registering an increase of 19.36 lakh enrolments. Total number of SC enrolment increased to 4.82 crore in 2021-22 as compared to 4.78 crore in 2020-21. Similarly, total ST enrolment increased to 2.51 crore in 2021-22 from 2.49 crore in 2020-21. Total other backward students also increased to 11.48 crore in 2021-22 from 11.35 crore in 2020-21. There is a huge mismatch between SC, ST and OBC population, the number of their children in schools and their presence in colleges and universities.
So, spending more on education of those who are socially and educationally backward and deprived even after 75 years of Independence will help us reap great dividends of demography and our beloved nation turns 100 in 2047. There are around 260 million students from Class I to XII in our country, who are going to 1.48 million schools including 1.05 million government schools. There are around 9.6 million teachers, who are part of these schools. Its impact on the GER in higher education is not being reflected as the majority of them drop out before they reach Class XI. If we talk about the level of education among OBC, SC and ST women, we will have the shocks of shame and strokes of moral guilt, and these hapless women bear the brunt of being uneducated throughout their lives. As per the findings of 'India Discrimination Report 2022,' a report of Oxfam India, discrimination accounts for 100 per cent of the employment inequality women face in the labour market in rural areas and 98 per cent in urban areas. The report indicates towards discrimination being a driving factor behind the low women's Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) in the country. According to the Union Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation (MoSPI), the LFPR for women in India was only 25.1 per cent in 2020-21 in both urban and rural areas. This is considerably lower than Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, according to the latest World Bank estimates.
The LFPR for women in South Africa was 46 per cent in 2021, the report said. The LFPR for women in India has rapidly declined from 42.7 per cent in 2004-05 to a mere 25.1 per cent in 2021, showing the withdrawal of women from the workforce despite a rapid economic growth in the period. In 2019-20, 60 per cent of all males aged 15 years and above had regular salaried and self-employed jobs, while 19 per cent of all similarly-aged females had regular and self-employment. There is also a significant gap in the earnings between men and women in the case of regular and self-employment in urban areas. The average monthly earning is Rs 15,996 for men and merely Rs 6,626 for women in urban areas in self-employment.
Prof Amitabh Kundu, one of the authors of the India Discrimination Report, has been quoted in media, saying: "There have not been many attempts to quantify the discrimination faced by marginalised communities across the country. We have used a statistical method called 'decomposition' to understand differential outcomes in employment, wages, health and access to agricultural credit among various social groups. This has helped us to quantify the discrimination faced by marginalised communities from 2004-05 to 2019-20." The findings of the report are unique and this will help the policy makers of the Union and State governments to design programmatic interventions that will tackle discrimination and bring inclusivity in the labour, capital and endowment markets," he added. I am sorry to say that nothing will work. Education - that too quality education - is the only solution!
(The writer is a senior journalist, columnist and author. The views
expressed are strictly his personal)