The various grants under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan don't reach all schools - and not on time, either
The country's elementary education budget has more than doubled since 2007-08, from Rs 68,853 crore to Rs 147,059 crore this fiscal, but the number of Standard-III students who could read a Standard-I textbook has plummeted from just under 50 per cent five years ago, to some 30 per cent in 2012. So, what's going wrong?
At the heart of the problem, Accountability Initiative's national school-level PAISA survey, part of the Annual Survey of Education (ASER) - Rural, suggests, is a massively centralised, top-down delivery system, which coupled with a lack of capacity across the board, has ensured a drastic reduction in learning outcomes. (LEARNING THE HARD WAY)
The survey, which covered 14,591 schools, broadly focuses on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the government's main instrument for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The SSA allocation, which stood at Rs 67,307 crore in 2012-13, itself, is comprised of the school maintenance grant (SMG), the school development grant or school grant (SDG) and the teaching-learning material (TLM) grant.
But about 43 per of the total SSA allocation is for teachers, including salaries, training and teaching inputs. Another 35 per cent goes to school infrastructure and 12 per cent is utilised for children, including entitlements and remedial teaching.
"All critical teacher and infrastructure-related decisions are taken by the education bureaucracy, which is managed and controlled by the state government. Funds for infrastructure development are often channelled to schools; however, key decisions related to sanctions and procurement are taken by the district administration," the report adds.
Effectively, it is the school grants, at Rs 1,377 crore in 2012-13, only about two per cent of the SSA corpus, that remains the only fund over which school management committees can exercise some expenditure control.
That, however, isn't the only structural issue that is hobbling India's education sector.
The various grants under the SSA don't reach all schools - and not on time, either. In 2011-12, the report reveals, 87 per cent of the schools surveyed reported receiving the SMG, a spot higher than 84 per cent in the preceding year. Similarly, the TLM was delivered to 89 per cent schools and the SDG to 79 per cent in 2011-12, a little more than 85 per cent and 77 per cent respectively in 2010-11. Though there remain variations in grant receipts across states, the situation nationwide seems to be improving.
Yet, the survey - conducted in October-November, the middle of the financial year - reveals that there hasn't been any substantial improvement in the timely delivery of these grants between 2011-12 and 2012-13. "Just about half of India's schools received their grants by November 2012," it reported.
"In 2011, 41 per cent schools had reported receiving all 3 grants by November; this increased to 43 per cent in 2012. However, more than 30 per cent schools did not receive a single grant by October-November 2012," it added. In 2010-11, in comparison, 26 per cent of school hadn't received a single grant.
But what exactly do India's schools spend their money on?
"Between April 2011 and November 2012, 67 per cent schools white-washed their walls and 70 per cent used some of their money to fund school events. 90 per cent schools purchased chalks/ dusters and registers," the survey reported. In contrast, only 36 per cent schools repaired toilets during the same period, while less than half repaired drinking water facilities.
The spending seems this irrational, the report suggests, because funding is inadequate for the range of work that schools require to undertake. "The money schools get seems to get absorbed in just purchasing essential supplies, leaving little for other activities," it explains, "The emphasis on white-washing suggests a second conclusion - that planning at the school level is weak."
The overall impact of this funding and spending pattern, the PAISA Report asserts, is that only 15 per cent of the government schools in the country are in compliance with all the seven physical infrastructure norms identified by the RTE.
Although SSA funding for teachers and school infrastructure has jumped by over 60 per cent between 2010-11 and 2011-12, there has been no major improvement in the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR): 46 per cent schools have a PTR greater than 30, the ratio mandated by the RTE.
Physical infrastructure is no better. The survey shows that 25 per cent schools did not have a separate toilet for girls, while 47 per cent schools had fewer classrooms than required by the RTE. "There has been no perceptible change in these numbers over the past three years," it adds, even as overall spending on the sector has escalated.
India today has a law that makes access to education a fundamental right, but for many of its young schoolchildren, it isn't turning out to be great learning experience.