Most people agree the government’s next step in universal education needs to target teenage dropouts.
But three days before the budget, that’s about the only consensus achieved between the Planning Commission and the ministry of human resource development (HRD), which oversees education.
The two are at loggerheads over how best to spend money on secondary education. The Planning Commission wants to see the launch of 6,000 “model schools”, as announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his Independence Day speech. The HRD ministry has been slower to embrace the idea, submitting its own plans that call for establishment of more Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs), which educate the children of Union government employees, and Navodaya Vidyalayas, government-run residential schools for children in rural areas.
ACADEMIC QUESTION (Graphic)
A series of letters, reviewed by Mint, have been exchanged between the two, but as of Tuesday, no resolution had been reached.
Finance minister P. Chidambaram is expected to allocate Rs500 crore for preparation work for a scheme for universal secondary education.
In the last budget, Chidambaram increased overall funding to education by 34%. He increased funding for school-level initiatives by more than one-third as well, to Rs23,142 crore for 2007-08.
The finance ministry is not willing to allocate more than Rs32,300 crore in the coming Budget for school and higher education programmes, a 12.5% increase over last year, although the HRD ministry had asked for Rs53,300 crore.
The push to expand secondary education is part of the Prime Minister’s much hyped universal education programme. Pushing this, the Planning Commission—Montek Singh Ahluwalia is its deputy chairman—which helps the government allocate money for various programmes, made education top priority in the 11th Plan.
In September, the Planning Commission asked the HRD ministry to draw up a plan to set up the 6,000 model schools, offering its own suggestions based on the Rs12,750 allocated for the schools. It suggested that half the schools be on the KV “template” but with 75:25 sharing of funds between the Centre and states, costing the Centre Rs7,500 crore. And unlike traditional KVs, the schools would be open to all.
It also suggested 500 residential schools be built as Navodaya Vidyalayas for Rs4,000 crore, entirely funded by the Union government. The remaining 2,500 model schools were to be built as public-private partnerships, with costs shared by states, the Centre and the private sector.
In response, HRD minister Arjun Singh came out with two parallel plans of his own.
In one plan, detailed by his ministry before the cabinet secretariat, the break-up of the 6,000 model schools is as follows: 500 new KVs, 500 new Navodaya Vidyalayas, 2,500 new KV template schools and 2,500 public-private schools.
In another plan in December, Arjun Singh personally proposed setting up 1,000 KVs and 700 Navodaya Vidyalayas at a cost of Rs14,938 crore. He said the 1,000 new KVs can be treated as part of the proposed model schools.
Both plans have drawn a strong protest from the Planning Commission, which sees these as against the spirit of universal secondary education, besides being more expensive. The commission worries KV schools will be viewed as elitist and non-inclusive since they were set up for government families. KVs are also entirely funded by the Union government, and state governments do not share their cost.
An official in the HRD ministry, who did not wish to be identified, said Arjun Singh was “seething” at the Prime Minister’s announcement of an education agenda. “Arjun Singh did not hold a single meeting on this agenda. Ultimately, the Prime Minister’s Office called up to ask what is happening on the PM’s announcement,” said the official.
Plan panel officials say they have calculated that KVs have a huge recurring cost liability for the Centre, leaving less money for other model schools. This will bring down the Centre’s share from 75%, making it unattractive for states to put in any money.
The commission wants the ministry to spend money on upgrading existing primary schools and increasing admissions in secondary schools. An official said the current tussle is not a fight. “Government departments do not fight,” said A.N.P. Sinha, principal adviser, education and Plan, in the commission. “Planning Commission has started a dialogue with the ministry.”
Besides the 6,000 model schools, the Prime Minister also announced 370 new colleges. The HRD ministry has not yet addressed this goal.