School education takes a hit in Union Budget 2021-22

In the Union Budget 2021-22, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman set aside Rs 93,224.31-crore towards education, or around Rs 6,087 crore less than the budget estimate for 2020-21.

03 Feb 2021 | By PrintWeek Team

Experts say, this 6% reduction from Rs 99,311 crore in 2020-21, which is the lowest in three years, may have an adverse effect on school education which is already struggling due the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. This reduction is especially telling as the ministry of education will start implementing the new National Education Policy (NEP) from this year, which advocates increasing government expenditure on education.

The NEP roll-out requires massive investments, with the school education department telling the finance commission that it alone needs Rs 1.14-trillion for a five-year period.

The budget also announced the creation of higher education clusters in nine cities to improve coordination and collaboration among higher educational institutions. Of the total outlay for FY22, Rs 38,350.65-crore was allocated for higher education, and Rs 54,873.66-crore for school education.

Under school education, the finance ministry has allocated Rs 31,050-crore for Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan as opposed to Rs 38,750-crore last year. However, the government has increased its spending on the Midday Meal Scheme by Rs 500-crore this year to Rs 11,500-crore. Allocation for central schools such as Kendriya Vidyalayas and Navodaya Vidyalayas also rose by Rs 1,284-crore and Rs 500 crore, respectively.

That apart, the government announced the establishment of 100 new Sainik Schools in partnership with NGOs, private schools and state governments.

The government also cut funding for the Higher Education Funding Agency (HEFA), rendering it defunct for all practical purposes. Only Rs 1-crore has been allocated to the agency this year — a sharp drop from Rs 2,100-crore in 2020-21.

Commenting on the budget, Monica Malhotra Kandhari, managing director, MBD group, said, “The finance minister announced that over 15,000 schools are to be qualitatively strengthened to include all components of the National Education Policy. This is indeed a commendable step by the government for the effective implementation of NEP as these schools will mentor and work as a model for the policy implementation across the country. The announcement of setting up of 100 new Sainik schools in collaboration with NGOs and private organisations, setting up of Higher Education Commission for better synergy in the higher education institutes are welcome initiatives by the government to further strengthen the education sector in India. In addition, the proposed 750 Ekalavya residential schools in the tribal areas, fund allocated for skill development for students will help in creating a large pool of skilled manpower. The Union Budget has also proposed National Digital Educational Architecture (NDEAR) which will support teaching and learning activities, Simultaneously, the National Initiative for School Heads and Teachers for Holistic Advancement (NISTHA) that will train 56 lakh school teachers in 2021-22 digitally is a promising move.”

Kandhari added that while it’s an encouraging budget overall, it did not address the GST issue. “We would urge the govt to reconsider levying GST on books in order to avail input credit benefit on raw material, capital goods, services and consumables which will benefit further with regards to reduction of prices,” she said.

Meanwhile, top retired military officials have welcomed the decision for 100 new Sainik Schools to be set up in partnership with NGOs, private schools and states, but cautioned that the structure of these institutions should not be tampered with.

Sainik Schools are primarily military schools that run under the purview of Sainik School Society, an organisation under Ministry of Defence. At present, there are 33 Sainik Schools across India. These institutions started coming up in the early 1960s after a policy decision by the then defence minister VK Krishna Menon. From a financial point of view, these Sainik Schools are funded by the Centre as well as individual state governments for infrastructure, expenditures and scholarships under various categories.

Students are selected for Sainik Schools through an annual entrance examination. They are inducted at the middle-school level. Until students complete their secondary education at these schools, they receive extensive training in sports, adventure activities, extracurricular subjects along with routine academics with an aim to prepare them for military training institutions.