– Niranjan Aradhya
As we know, the COVID-19 outbreak from March 2020 to till dated had a catastrophic effect on the schooling system in India. In this context of education emergency, there were big expectations from the budget for the education sector, especially to the school education system to deal effectively with the challenges induced by the pandemic including the learning deprivation, nutrition, and social wellbeing of children. Against this backdrop, the right to education has not received its due priority and importance.
With a marginal increase of Rs.6333 crores to Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (Rs.31,050 crores in 2021-22 to 37,383 crores in the current 2022-23 budget), the budget further derailed the implementation of the RTE Act that provides for the fundamental right to education. It is important to note that the information provided to Lok Sabha to answer an unstarred question in August 2021, reveals that the national average of RTE compliance is just 25.5 percent after 12 years of implementing the RTE Act. For states, it ranges from 1.3 to 63.6. The facilities prescribed under norms and standards include classrooms, a separate toilet for girls and boys, safe drinking water, a ramp, playground, boundary wall, teaching-learning, and sports materials. The budget is a clear indication that the central government is no more interested in implementing the RTE Act that provides for minimum norms and standards for creating the enabling environment for learning to achieve universal quality education.
The budget is nothing but the copy and paste of the programmes announced in the last year, 2020-21. Programmes like One class and ONE television channel programme of PM eVIDYA, and new Sainik schools were already announced in the previous budget.
What is ridiculous is that though all research across the globe clearly indicated that digital education is not the substitute for classroom learning, and it further aggravates inequality and discriminations in education in countries like India due to big digital gap, the budget lays undue importance on digital learning to satisfy the tycoons of digital education. The Centre is mindlessly promoting digital education. The budget announced 750 virtual labs in science and mathematics, 75 skilling e-labs , e-content in all spoken languages will be developed for delivery via the internet, mobile phones, TV and radio through Digital Teachers. It further says that a competitive mechanism for the development of quality e-content by the teachers will be set up to empower and equip them with digital tools of teaching and facilitate better learning outcomes.
It is a clear indication from the budget that the Indian school education system is losing its vision of equitable quality education to all children as provided under the Right to Education. Instead, the system is moving towards benefiting 20 percent of the child population belonging to the affluent class at the cost of excluding 80 percent of children from the marginalized and poor people. This is a great dishonor to the social justice mandate of the Constitution. It reminds me the description of our education system from J.P.Naik at the end of 18th Century.
“The Indian society was then highly stratified, hierarchical, and inegalitarian. There was a small group of well-to-do persons at the top consisting of the feudal overlords and their dependents and supporters…. the bulk of the people, however, were poor and underprivileged…the Scheduled Castes who were treated as untouchables and the Scheduled Tribes who were not integrated into mainstream society formed the lowest, the poorest, and the most exploited groups… the educational picture broadly reflected this socio-economic background of inequality… access to the formal system of education was inscriptive, mostly based on birth, and restricted to the literary and priestly castes or classes, well-to-do landlords, moneylenders, and traders”.