The Union Budget 2021-22 has come as a big disappointment for the Right to Education Forum 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 percent 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 Rs 31,300 crore, which is far less than the budget allocated for 2019-20, i.e. Rs 36,400 crore. It is also less than the Actual Expenditure of 2019-20 which was Rs 32,376.52 crore, states RTE.
Ambarish Rai, National Convenor, RTE Forum expressed his disappointment saying that 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. Rai says, “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, the Finance Minister didn’t even mention about millions of children 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, adds Rai.
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 the budget along with a 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 ensure:
(a) ensure safe school operations and re-opening of schools;
(b) support measures for recovering all marginalized students’ learning loss and socio-emotional impact during educational disruption;
(c) 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;
(d) In view of the 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.
Rai concluded that the budget is nowhere close to expectations and the government has failed to take into cognizance that investment in education will boost the economic growth of the country.
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