Education budget Gap between targets and resources

The national budget that came out a month ago dismayed many who had expected a marked change in education sector. The Maoist-led government that talked up educational change in the past, in the end was able to provide precious little. Although the total sum went up to Rs 39 billion, allocation for education sector decreased as a percentage of budget.

Most of the difference, moreover, will not go into development in education but rather be consumed in salary increases for teachers. This will cause a big dent in government’s initiative to make education up to grade 8 free. The amount set aside will not even be enough to pay the facilitators of the programme, let alone the expenses of literacy campaign. For instance, the dearth of school teachers will be left unaddressed with resources lacking.

Free primary education, compulsory basic education, eradication of illiteracy in two years, linking education with life skills, per capita funding, free education for Karnali people up to 12th grade are popular proposals. However, the Finance Minister seems to have miscalculated the amount of money that will be needed for the realisation of these goals. He might now have realised the gulf between the amount set aside for education and the amount needed to carry out his ambitious plans.

The Ministry of Education had asked the government Rs 68 billion to remove educational obstacles in remote areas so as to avail equal educational opportunities in all parts of the country. However, the MOE had failed to put forward any new initiative in educational programme. The amount would simply go to tide over the expenses of 60,000 additional teachers. This is a clear indication of government priority for recurrent expenditure instead of developing the education sector.

The new budget has again failed to give a proper direction to education sector. The MOE offers the ready excuse of its hands being tied now that it has not received enough budget. One thing no one seems to have understood is that unless Nepal defines a minimum standard of schooling, no amount of money will improve the education sector. Without proper classrooms, well-trained and devoted teachers, favourable learning environment, nutritious food, expenditure will be irrelevant.

Simply distributing salaries and asking teachers to do their job in return does not work. Donor agencies have been increasing their contribution in education. Unfortunately, complexities in Nepali education sector have been increasing simultaneously as well. This indicates lack of honesty on the part of the government and the weak monitoring on the part of donor agencies.

The government says it has achieved 54% literacy and 89% NER in primary education without having much knowledge about what the real impact on social life has been. Donors measure their progress solely on the basis of their expenses in Nepali education. Schools of differing qualities churn out students of disparate educational skills, thus widening the gap between the two sets. That the new budget has failed to address this issue is the crux of the problem of Nepali education sector.

If we do not even have enough money for chalk and dusters, talk about introducing modern technology is far-fetched. But sans IT, the country cannot compete with advanced education establishments around the world. All policies seem to be ad-hoc. Enforcing compulsory basic education is not a joke. How can the government make claims about future when it has failed to come up with even a rough draft of how to go about things?

In the name of providing compulsory education, the government might have expected foreign countries to come calling with donations. But will they give the money without assessing our efforts? The same is true in case of free education. Making education compulsory and free won’t guarantee quality sans a clear new agenda. Catchy slogans about education without a concrete agenda is useless.

To cover up for the deficit in education sector, the government has asked private educational institutions to provide 5% of all their transactions to the government. This initiative will generate hardly Rs 400 million a year. Instead, with indirect taxation, the revenue could be in billions. For example, if only 2 paisa a cigarette were shunted for education, almost Rs 2 billions a year would be generated. There are several such measures the government might implement.

Some in the Ministry of Finance have recommended indirect taxes for education to make it free. Unfortunately, the government turned a deaf ear to these people. As a result, the Finance Minister now has to beg donors for money. In return for their taxes for education sector, what will the people get in return? The private educational institutions are asking the same question of the government. Nobody pays taxes if they give no return. All in all, the new budget for education is the same old wine in a new bottle.

Dr. Wagley is an educationist