Mumbai: The state is home to some of the country’s best private schools, but learning levels in government schools have dipped. Seven out of every 10 children studying in Class VIII in Maharashtra’s government schools could perform basic division in 2008, but over a decade later, it’s four out of 10.
Experts say education has not received the attention it deserves in the last five years. The state spends less than 3% of its GDP on education, while the ideal expenditure should be around 6%. “The reality is far from ideal. In fact, the allocation to higher education is as low as 2.8%,” said Vibhuti Patel, professor, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Government’s budgetary allocation for education shows that expenditure has been stagnant. “Though the allocation for 2019-20 is Rs 71,206 crore (an almost 50% increase on actual expenditure on education in 2017-18), we need to remember that this has come in an election year. We need to see at the end of the financial year just how much was actually spent,” said independent researcher and health activist Ravi Duggal.
There is another telling example of neglect: The state spends about Rs 12,000 per student per year in its zilla parishad schools, while the centrally-funded Kendriya Vidyalayas spend Rs 38,000 per student per year. “Clearly, there is a huge gap in the education sector, that needs to be addressed,” Duggal said.
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There is more. Over two decades, the government has been systematically disinvesting in high school and higher education and promoting privatisation and commercialization. “Due to a ‘zero-budget policy’ on higher education, nearly 50% of teacher posts have been vacant as new appointments haven’t been made in place of those who have retired, died or left the system,” said Patel. In school and college education, teacher appointments have been made only on contractual basis, with extremely low pay. “Those employed as teachers in this format attend multiple schools and colleges and are overworked,” Patel said.
In this backdrop, it is not surprising that NGO Pratham’s ASER report, 2018 showed poor learning levels among children. “Aided institutions in the state only receive salary grant, which means they are losing out to private institutions on educational infrastructure. All new policies further promote the government’s role only as regulator, not facilitator,” Patel said. “Political parties must take education more seriously and invest in teachers, infrastructure and retaining students who have enrolled. They cannot continue to be cynical about it.