How much should India spend on education?
- The Education Policy of 1968, based on the recommendations of the Kothari commission (1964-66), decided that Indian public expenditure on education must be 6% of gross domestic product (GDP).
- This goal was reaffirmed in the New Education Policy of 1986 and its revision in 1992, with a suggestion that every attempt must be made to go beyond 6%.
- But there has been no comprehensive education policy articulated since then
Has any government ever felt of spending this much on education?
- India has never reached even near this goal.
- The closest it has come was in 2001, when this number hit 4.4%.
- The number has been over 4% only in three years since the goal was set
- it has hovered between 3.3% and 3.8% since the 1980s, and currently it is at 3.8%.
6% of GDP for public expenditure on education has become a commonly accepted norm across the world, with credibility drawn from actual experience across many countries.
- It is a directional and normative goal, not a precise measure for what may really be required for the educational well-being of any nation.
Let us look at just three key gaps:
- Some well off countries have invested and built their systems while India is still in the investment and building phase.
- We are way short of our actual need of (e.g.) secondary schools, colleges and teachers.
- There are some critical parts of the education system where we have hardly invested, most notably in teacher education, physical & social sciences, humanities and vocational education.
- In this investment and build-up phase, we need more money than countries that are done with the build-up, but we are significantly short of them.
- This large cumulative investment gap stunts the system and its capacity structurally, i.e. this is a structural investment gap.
- We cut corners and underfund almost everything by design, other than teacher salaries.
- Even on teachers, many states underfund the actual system requirement, by not appointing teachers and by hiring teachers at much lower salaries with short-term contracts.
- Almost every expenditure head is ludicrously underfunded, e.g. school budgets for teaching-learning material, training for teachers and principals, expenditure for basic things such as electricity bill and maintenance, research in colleges and universities.
- One shocking number that is emblematic of this underfunding: each child is supposed to get a nutritious mid-day meal at school for Rs.3.4. And this number has hardly been revised in the face of soaring food inflation.
- This operational funding gap makes ineffective, whatever we have built structurally, and eventually erodes it.
- Proportion of population.
- Proportion of population in the age group of 6 to 21 is about 29% for India.
- With that high a proportion of the population to be educated, India needs proportionately more money, even if other things were to be equal.
- It is clear that we need sustained public spending much in excess of what we have done, probably way over 6% of GDP.
- But this is not going to happen till India’s poor tax-to-GDP ratio, which stands at about 18%, which is very low if we compare to other developing countries.
- Education (and health) will suffer and so will India, till this matter of overarching governance and policy is addressed squarely.
- This is not a matter of finance, but of sustained political action over time, not merely by the professional and elected political class, but by the public, by all of us.