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RTE Forum asks FM for extra Covid-19 package for 'safe, secure' education

By Our Representative

The civil rights group Right to Education (RTE) Forum has asked Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to “adequately enhance” public financing for universalization of school education, even as prioritizing education spending “by adopting and adhering to a clearly laid down financial roadmap.” In a submission, signed by Ambarish Rai, national convener, RTE Forum, it also insisted on the need to “respond to widening inequities through inclusive budgeting.”
Even as seeking “adequate schools, teachers and infrastructure”, Rai, in his submission at the pre-budget consultation convened by Sitharaman, emphasised, “The budget for education must be enhanced up to 6% of GDP, as reiterated time and again, along with an extra budget as Covid-19 package to ensure safe and secure education of the children.”
Underlining the grim existing situation in the field of education in India, Rai said, “There are three clear imperatives that the Union Budget FY 2020-21 must address.” These are, he said:
  • One, to enable the extension of free and compulsory RTE to all levels of schooling -- a vision endorsed in the newly passed National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 -- there is an imminent need for proper planning backed by financial outlays for expansion and strengthening of the public school system.
  • Second, Covid-19 has amply demonstrated the downside of market-based strategy of school education that has been actively promoted in India. Economic vulnerabilities have severely disrupted parents’ ability to continue their children’s education, with some at risk of dropping out and others turning to public schools. It is an opportunity to restore the lost social balance in educational provisions through strengthened public schools. 
  • And third, the exceptional challenges arising out of Covid-19 pandemic requires a social policy perspective towards education financing. Along with learning, issues of food security and nutrition, equity and inclusion that are manifesting in heightened forms must be central to policies and budgets on school education.
According to Rai, “Not only has there not been any fiscal stimulus on education, expenditure has lagged far behind even the low levels of budgeted expenditure. By October 2020, only 36% of the budgeted expenditure of the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), for FY2020-21 was spent (Monthly Accounts, CGA). Central government must treat school education as a priority sector and not relegate it to Category C.”
Demanding adequate allocations for immediate Covid-19 Response Strategy, Rai said, “The situation of out-of-school children was already poor prior to Covid-19. An estimated 35 million children were out of school in 6-17 age group (National Sample Survey Organisation, 2017-18), with disproportionate share belonging to marginalised communities and girls. Increase in poverty and long months of school closure is leading to rapid increase in child labour and number of out of school.”
Seeking for for adequate schools, teachers and infrastructure, he said, “Every year, thousands of public schools are being closed down. School closures need to be reversed immediately. One cannot ignore the need for small schools in view of social distancing norms; return of thousands of migrants to the villages; shifts in enrolments away from private schools; and the urgent need to prevent drop outs and secure continuation of education through better access, particularly for the vulnerable groups.”
“A large percentage of schools have been violating the RTE norms on teacher requirements across the country. As has been repeatedly pointed out, a large percentage of schools do not fulfill teacher-student ratio as per the RTE Act, 2009, simply because we have a shortage of 10.1 lakhs teachers in the country. There is need for proper investment for teacher education, teacher trainings and for filling up of teacher vacancies,” he said.
He added, “Along with appointment of teachers, there is need to meet other infrastructure gaps. Currently, only 54% schools have toilet, drinking water and handwashing facilities. These facts have to be factored into budgetary outlays and implementation strategies.”

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