Surveys have found that absenteeism in school is high – not all enrolled students regularly attend school. (HT File Photo / Representational)
Even though six of India’s least developed states – among eight high focus states in government jargon – spent more on education per elementary school student in 2014-2015 when compared to 2011-2012, learning outcomes of students did not improve, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of expenditure data and learning outcomes.
The six states are Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Uttarakhand.
Education expenditure per student includes both students in government schools and in government-aided schools. Data for the ninth high focus state, Assam, is not included for per student expenditure.
By 2030, India will have the world’s largest working age population – 1.03 billion. More than half (55.8%) of India’s child population between the ages of six and 13 years lives in nine of the least developed states – Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, MP, Rajasthan, UP and Uttarakhand – according to data from the ministry of human resource development (HRD), and will make up the majority of India’s crucial workforce.
In 2014-2015, over 77 million students – equivalent to the population of Thailand – were enrolled in school in nine high focus states.
Less than 18% of students in Class 3 in Bihar, Uttarakhand and MP, less than 30% in Assam, less than 25% in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, and less than 21% in Odisha could read words, according to a 2016 citizen-led survey, the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Poor education could hold these children back from being productive and efficient, negatively impacting India’s growth and development of its population.
Until now states have focused more on physical infrastructure and enrollment as seen from government data on these indicators.
Rajasthan increased per student expenditure by 40% between 2011-12 and 2014-2015, but less than 20% of students of Class 3 in Rajasthan could read words in 2016, compared to 34% students in 2012.
In UP, where per student expenditure increased 25%, the proportion of students who could read words decreased from 27.1% in 2012 to 15.7% in 2016.
Two high focus states – Bihar and Odisha – reduced spending per student by 10% and 3% respectively between 2014-2015 and 2011-2012.
States have concentrated on infra, enrolment, not education quality
Until now, the government’s emphasis in the education sector appears to have been on physical infrastructure such as availability of drinking water and the use of toilets, and on measures to increase student enrolment.
For instance, Bihar’s gross enrolment ratio (GER) in primary school (students enrolled in school irrespective of their age as a proportion of the total primary-age child population) increased from 59.8% in 2011-12 to 98.07% in 2014-15, according to data from the Unified District Information System on Education (U-DISE).
The net enrolment ratio (students of the right age enrolled in upper primary as a proportion of all upper-primary school-age students) grew in Bihar from 52.7% in 2011-12 to 87.63% in 2014-15.
In Bihar, physical infrastructure such as the proportion of schools with toilets increased from 51.2% in 2012 to 70.6% in 2016. In Chhattisgarh, schools with drinking water facilities increased from 79.2% in 2012 to 85% of schools in 2016.
Other than in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, dropouts reduced in all high focus states between 2012 and 2016.
An excessive focus on outputs has resulted in assessing physical infrastructure creation, provision of teaching and learning materials, appointment of teachers, etc rather than monitoring the learning process to see how many children have learned what, according to a 2008 study on public expenditure on education in India.
“We have looked at the education sector and we believe that we have been able to get the child to the school. The effort now would be to impart quality education to the child,” Anil Swarup, , secretary of India’s department of school education and literacy, told Indiaspend in a recent interview.
Niti Aayog, the government think tank, is in the process of formulating a School Education Quality Index, the aim of which is to “shift the focus of states from inputs towards outcomes, provide objective benchmarks for continuous annual improvements, encourage state-led innovations to improve quality and facilitate sharing of best practices,” according to a 2016 government press release.
Spending hasn’t addressed absenteeism, teacher training
GER in primary school has been almost 100% since 2011-12.
But surveys find that absenteeism in school is high – not all enrolled students regularly attend school – which could impact learning. For instance, in Uttar Pradesh, where spending per student increased 40% between 2011 and 2014, about 55.8% students were present on the day of the survey in 2016, little change from the 56.7% present in school in 2012.
Further, only 51.2% government teachers were professionally trained in Assam in 2014-2015, data show, even though the state spent the highest proportion of its social sector budget (24.7%) of all high focus states on education.
In contrast, 88.2% government school teachers were professionally trained in Mizoram, a neighbouring state which spent 17.4% of total expenditure on education in 2014-15.
Less developed states receive more assistance from the central government
High focus states receive a greater share of resources under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the government’s flagship scheme for elementary education which aims to provide universal education to children between the ages of 6 to 14 years.
Uttar Pradesh received 26% of the total SSA funds in 2016-17, while it accounted for 14% of total elementary enrolment in government schools in 2015. Maharashtra, which accounted for 5% of elementary school students in 2015, received 3% of SSA funds.
SSA funds might not be utilised optimally, according to an analysis by Accountability Initiative, a New Delhi-based advocacy. For instance, Bihar has allocated 80% of its SSA funds to ‘teachers’ in 2016-17, up from 70% in 2015-16 but 57% of government teachers were professionally trained in that year, while 34% teacher posts were vacant in 2016, according to government data.
“High focus states allocate large amount to social sector to improve their indicators, but in reality they spend a small amount as compared to what is allocated,” Avani Kapur, a senior researcher at Accountability Initiative told IndiaSpend. “Hence it is necessary to consider actual accounts in order to know the proper outcomes.”
For instance, though Bihar allocated 21.4% of its total social sector budget on education, it spent 17.5% in 2014-2015.
India’s education policy must be thoroughly revised to put in place better accountability and monitoring mechanisms to exploit the gains of increase in fiscal outlays on education, The Mint reported on January 27, 2017.
Some states have reduced education spending
Though Assam, Chhattisgarh, MP and UP, increased money spent on education as a proportion of the total social sector budget, learning continued to lag behind more developed states such as Maharashtra and Kerala.
Further, even though the quality of education hasn’t improved, some of these states have shifted their focus from education. Spending on education as a proportion of total social sector spending fell in five of these states–Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand–even as learning outcomes declined between 2010 and 2016, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of Reserve Bank of India study of state budgets 2017.
Mixed evidence on the effect of public spending on learning
Increased expenditure on elementary education had a positive impact on enrolment rates, but at a diminishing rate, which means that the positive impact of a rupee is lower with every additional rupee, according to a 2014 research paper by Runu Bhakta from the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research.
“Moreover, public expenditure on elementary education has greater impact on enrolment as compared to dropout rates,” said the study, which analysed data between 2003 and 2011.
Similarly, greater public spending on primary and secondary education had a positive impact on widely used measures of education attainment such as gross secondary enrolment and persistence through grade four, across 50 developing countries, according to this 1999 working paper by researchers at the International Monetary Fund.
Increasing public spending on primary education is likely to be more effective in raising primary education attainment in countries with good governance, according to a 2007 research paper by researchers from World Bank, United States which looked at 91 countries.
(Rao is an intern with IndiaSpend.)
(Indiaspend.org is a data-driven, public-interest journalism non-profit/FactChecker.in is fact-checking initiative, scrutinising for veracity and context statements made by individuals and organisations in public life.)