Consider the budgetary allocations made to this sector: The piece of the national budget pie that went to education was 13.9, 15.8, 16.2 and 16.7 per cent in 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively. It decreased to 16 per cent in 2007 whereas again in 2008, it increased to 16.8 per cent. For fiscal year 2011/2012 only Rs 63.91 billion (16.61 per cent) of the budget was allocated to the education sector. What is saddening is that the allocation of a little over Rs. 46 billion to the education sector this year falls far too short. For it can neither meet the requirements of the government’s ambitious plans nor go a long way in improving the status of education in the country.
Here are some more grim facts: The share of education in the GDP was 2.8 per cent in 2001. It increased to 3.1, 3.5, 3.6 and 3.7 per cent in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 respectively. It again decreased to 3.6 per cent in
the year 2008. The expenditure per student on primary education in 2008 was 15.2 per cent of GDP per capita. It increased to 17.8 per cent in 2009. These increments can in no way be termed satisfactory.
All these data have been presented to support the thesis statement that the amount education has been receiving as budgetary allocation is simply peanuts. The Education Ministry spends 70 per cent of the total education budget on the salary of teachers, 10 per cent on infrastructure development and the remaining 20 per cent on trainings, scholarships and other requirements of schools. Research and development hardly figure in the national agenda and whatever new education plans are under way are largely donor driven.
Obviously, the expenditure priorities in this sector have to change. For instance, if salaries eat up a major chunk of the budget, the money for development of education is bound to be in short supply. And this calls for greater allocation. There is also serious need to amend the education act, policies and curriculum to meet the required international standards.
Financing of education has long been a topic of debate. The total share of the government in the education budget is 76.16 per cent and foreign aid accounts for 23.84 per cent. Last year, the share of government in education budget was 77.51 per cent and foreign aid stood at 22.49 per cent. There is need for serious rethink on increasing dependence on foreign aid as the possibility of donor countries intervening in our educational programmes is high.
In recent times the private sector has also been investing in this sector. The mushrooming of private educational institutes is evidence enough that this sector has been contributing significantly. As it is evident that the government cannot go it alone it has become necessary to treat the private players as partners who can share the burden. Such a move could indeed lessen the dependence of donors.
At present, despite the significant rise in the number of students in the secondary level, investment has not increased compared to the growth of educational institutions. We need adequate fund and human resources, strong management and coordination between education bodies.
The problems are myriad. The government has not been able to address the
demands of teachers. Its plans lack proper provision for temporary teachers, scholarships to the poor and needy and proper investment in higher education. There is need to upgrade infrastructure in schools as well as teaching materials and overall delivery. These are areas where the private sector can play a significant role by way of their social responsibility.
In terms of the larger perspective, the EFA (Education for All) national plan of action (2001-2015) and SSRP (School Sector Reform Plan) 2009-2015, aim at achieving three objectives: ensuring access and equity in primary/basic education, enhancing quality and relevance of education and improving efficiency and institutional capacity.
The Ministry of Education needs additional budget of Rs 13 billion to implement the Supreme Court directive to the government to provide free education to students up to the secondary level. Educationists believe that at least 25 per cent of the total national budget must be allocated to education sector in order to fulfil Supreme Court verdict. Now this may be a pretty tall order for the government to fulfil as we have already seen that education is not a top priority at the moment. This is where the private sector can come in. But, for this, the government must be willing to accommodate players other than itself in policy making.
In a country where more than one-fourth of the population lives below the poverty line and eight per cent of children in rural Nepal between the age of 5 to 9 have no access to formal schooling, the words of Diogenes Laertius, a third Century BC biographer of philosophers stands out as most relevant: “The foundation of every state is the education of its youths.” Therefore, it should be borne in mind that the government should not dictate policies rather work on them in consultation with private players so as to provide the necessary impetus for the development of education in the country.
Singh is a researcher with Centre for Research Excellence