As part of Mint’s budget coverage, we talk to NGOs across various sectors to get a grassroots perspective on what they need and expect from the upcoming budget. To get an analysis about major issues pertaining to education in India, we interviewed Dr. Madhav Chavan, the director of educational NGO Pratham.
What are the biggest challenges within your area of work?
Within elementary education, the biggest challenge is governance and reforms in the education sector. Most of the schools are managed by the government.That has problems related to accountability of the management system and the teachers and so on. On the side of vocational training, the biggest challenge is capital. There’s a lot of infrastructure owned by the government, but this is not available to people who can be trained to use it effectively for the needs of the economy.
If you had one wish related to the budget, what would it be?
Money allocation is more or less decided in the eleventh plan. I don’t see how the budget is going to change this in any way. However, I would like to see the budget start to define a per child cost for elementary schools. The first UPA government came out talking about outcome budgets, but funds were allocated as basically inputs and not related to any outputs or outcomes.
We really don’t know how much we are spending on education as a nation. This number is very elusive. If you ask how much the state government is spending, the answer is not very precise. If you break this down to a per child cost, the answer is even less precise. If you go to a school and say okay there are so many students and so many teachers, that is not it – the overall cost seems to be completely different. So I think there is a need to put an average per child cost, state by state and at the union level also. Once you have the per child cost then many things start flowing.
Is there a particular provision within the budget that you would drop?
I would not drop any provision as such. What I would like to do is reorganize the budget. Now mid-day meals fall under education. I would like to put this under child welfare or health. I’m not convinced that mid-day meals are leading to better enrollment or attendance.
How would you define inclusive growth and how do you think this concept could best be achieved?
Expansion, inclusion and excellence, not just inclusive growth, are all important.
We should acknowledge that excellence is not just for a select few – that is the real essence of inclusion.
We already have some things going in the rural areas – Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya has led to some important achievements. I think we need to take that a little further. There should be mechanisms for identifying bright and brilliant children, not only based on their examination aptitude. Apart from that I think a bigger focus needs to be placed on developing human resources in Adivasi (tribal) areas and Muslim minority areas. While money has increased, you still have the problem of not finding science teachers for Adivasi areas, or not finding enough educated people in backward districts to teach in schools. So the challenge of creating human resources to deliver education in these areas is something that really needs to be addressed.