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Total education budget down by 6% amidst 'fillip' to privatisation, commercialisation

Counterview Desk 

The Union budget 2021-22 cannot fulfil the expectation of Right to Education (RTE) of children and address the challenges posed by Covid-19 pandemic, in view of the fact that allocations for total education (Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan) have been reduced by by 6% compared to the last financial year, Ambarish Rai, national convenor, RTE Forum, said in a media communique.
Government’s shrinking responsibility and meagre allocation will lead education towards adverse situation affecting the future of millions of children. It will encourage privatisation and commercialisation making road to profit-making private players”, he added.
According to Rai, “Mere mention of 15,000 exemplar schools to be created in line with New Education Policy (NEP) is not enough. The allocations are nowhere close to the required amount needed to undo the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure every child return to school. Online courses do not guarantee quality education; rather it widens the inequality, as evident over the last 10 months.”

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Union Budget 2021-22 comes as a big disappointment as it fails to allocate the required amount to undo the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget, yet again, failed to provide allocation of 6% of GDP on education, as promised in the National Education Policy 2020.
It is strange that the budget allocated for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan for 2021-22 is only INR 31,050 crore, far less than the budget allocated for 2019-20 which was INR 36,400 crore and also less than the Actual Expenditure of 2019-20 which was INR 32,376.52 crore. 
It is also significantly less than the Budget Estimate of the previous year allocated for overall School Education Budget under National Education Mission (Samgra Shiksha Abhiyan and Teacher Training & Adult Education). This is only INR 31, 300 Crore (2021-22) as compared to INR 38, 860/- allocated in 2020-21.
Instead of increasing allocations to strengthen an Inclusive Public Education System, the government is paving the way for privatisation and PPP model in education. This neglect will adversely impact children, particularly those from poor, marginalised communities and also girls, adding to the already increasing number of Out of school children in India. The commitment to universalize secondary education (SDG Goal 4) by 2030 will also remain a distant dream.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the extended school closures has led to a loss of learning days, during this time, children from marginalised communities unable to access online education were involved in household chores and the possibility of these children dropping out of the education system looms large.
In such a situation, a mere mention of 15,000 exemplar schools to be created in line with NEP is not enough. There was no mention of operationalisation of the Gender Inclusion Fund (promised in NEP 2020) which is essential given the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on girls. Instead, funds for the National Scheme for Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education got reduced to merely Rs 1 crore from Rs 110 crore last year.
During her speech, Finance Minister Narmala Sitharaman didn’t even mention about millions of children who were deprived of education as they were unable to access online learning, nor did she mention about ensuring low and no-technology options, for those deprived. 
Finance Minister Narmala Sitharaman didn’t even mention about millions of children who were deprived of education as they were unable to access online learning
If the government intends to revive public education and universalise school education then it must extend the Right to Education Act 2009, and ensure free and compulsory education to all children from pre-primary to class 12 (3-18 years), it would have focused its attention on ensuring adequate allocation of budget along with clear roadmap for strengthening the public education system, he added.
The Union budget should have focused on the exceptional challenges arising out of Covid-19 pandemic and made necessary allocations to:
  1. ensure safe school operations and re-opening of schools;
  2. support measures for recovering all marginalized students’ learning loss and socio-emotional impact during educational disruption;
  3. ensure (re)enrolment and targeted support for learners who are at risk of not returning to school, especially, dalits, adivasis, girls, those living in poverty and persons with disabilities;
  4. in view of evidence of the existence of a digital divide, it would be critical to ensure that low and no-technology options are prioritized over the introduction of digital modes of instruction.
The budget is nowhere close to expectations and the government has failed to take in cognizance that investment in education will boost the economic growth of the country.

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