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Despite govt initiatives, quality, spending on primary education declines

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New Delhi: Despite having been spent Rs.1,15,625 crore ($17.7 billion) on India’s Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), a national programme for universal elementary education, it can be noted that the quality of learning has declined.

For instance, only a fourth of all children in standard III could read a standard II text fluently — a drop of more than 5 percent over five years, according to the 2014 Annual Status Report on Education (ASER).

The SSA received more than half the money (52 percent) in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s school-education allocation in the latest budget, but over the last five years, the SSA budget declined 6 percent — from Rs.23,873 crore ($4.4 billion) in 2012-13 to Rs.22,500 crore ($3.3 billion) for 2016-17.

Education is primarily the responsibility of states, but the central government directly finances 60 percent of education, through programmes such as the SSA. A 66 percent of India’s primary school students attend government schools or government-aided schools — the rest going to costlier private schools.

Of the money set aside for the SSA during 2015-16, only 57 percent was released in September 2015, according to an Accountability Initiative report.

While presenting his third budget earlier this week, Jaitley said nothing about the quality of education. The quality declines may be correlated with reduced funding, but they may not be caused only by a lack of money.

Less than one in five primary school teachers is adequately trained, it was reported last year. The consequence is a marked decline in learning ability, in government and private schools.

The learning levels in government schools plummeted to a low of 41.1% in 2013 but recovered slightly to 42.2 percent in 2014, as reported.

Similarly, with math, a quarter of children in standard III could not recognise numbers between 10 and 99, a drop of 13 percent over five years.

As much as 99 percent new elementary schools have been constructed of the 400,000 sanctioned since the launch of the programme in 2000-01 till September 30, 2015, according to this reply in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of Parliament) on December 7, 2015.

About 23 percent of schools surveyed by Accountability Initiative in 2015-16 needed to build at least one classroom in order to meet Right-to-Education norms. However, only 1 percent of schools received money from SSA during the financial year to construct new classrooms.

There are other gaps in the programme. The enrolment of girls has gone up from 48.12 percent in 2009-10 to 48.19 percent in 2014-15 at the elementary level. Many more girls clearly need to be enrolled. As many as 52 percent of boys are enrolled in primary schools.

The good news: Dropouts are down, highest in six to 14 age group

A 55 percent decline in dropouts was reported in the age group 6-14 years, from 13.46 million in 2005 to 6.1 million in 2013. The annual average primary school dropout rate declined from 6.8 percent in 2009-10 to 4.3 percent in 2013-14.

Mid-day meals in schools received Rs 9,700 crore ($1.4 billion), next only to SSA. About 102 million children across India in 2014-15 used the mid-day meal programme, the world’s largest school feeding scheme.

As part of its rural initiatives, over the next two years, the government is also planning to open 62 new Navodaya Vidyalayas (New-age schools) in the districts without them.

The Navodaya Vidyalaya scheme was launched under the National Policy on Education 1986 to educate the best rural talent. There are 591 Navodaya Vidyalayas across India, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha on December 7, 2015.

Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, which runs these schools, was allocated Rs.2,471 crore ($400 million) — an increase of 8 percent over last year.

Focus on higher education to strengthen infrastructure, but enrolments are low. The finance minister proposed setting up a Higher Education Financing Agency (HEFA) with an initial capital of Rs.1,000 crore ($146 million) to strengthen infrastructure in higher education.

The HEFA will be a not-for-profit organisation, which will use funds from the market and supplement them with donations and corporate social responsibility funds.

Higher education, including central and deemed universities, received the most money- Rs.7,997 crore ($1.2 billion), followed by the Indian Institutes of Technology (Rs.4,984 crore) and University Grants Commission (Rs.4,492 crore).

About 80 percent students were enrolled in undergraduate programmes, but only 0.3 percent (84,058 students) were enrolled for PhDs in 2012-13, a sign that research is weak and faltering, as reported.

Only 21 percent of young men and women aged 18 to 23 are enrolled for higher education. India’s enrolment rate in higher education is 18 percent below the global average of 27 percent and low compared to 26 percent in China and 36 percent in Brazil, a 2014 British Council report pointed out. (Chaitanya Mallapur, IANS)

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Is investing in Bitcoin safe? Get the basics first!

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India has not legitimized bitcoin, hence investment returns are totally based on demand i.e. you get your return only if there is another buyer in the market who is ready to pay you more for it. Currently the high-value of the digital currency owes to its high demand, but once people start selling, there is a possibility that rates will drastically fall. Pixabay
India has not legitimized bitcoin, hence investment returns are totally based on demand i.e. you get your return only if there is another buyer in the market who is ready to pay you more for it. Currently the high-value of the digital currency owes to its high demand, but once people start selling, there is a possibility that rates will drastically fall. Pixabay

With the fussy mania of Bitcoin going around and past, your eyes and ears, in the news and peer discussions, you must be having some basic questions about it: What is bitcoin? Is it legal? How can I get it? But most of all, you must be thinking, ‘Is investing in Bitcoin safe?’

Let’s find out!

Pluto Exchange has launched first app that will trade in bitcoins in India
Pluto Exchange has launched the first app that will trade in bitcoins in India. Wikimedia commons

ALSO READ: Bitcoin Worth Millions Stolen Days Before US Exchange Opens

Clearing the basics

  • Bitcoin is the first ever cryptocurrency that existed, it was invented in 2009 by Satoshi Nakamoto.
  • Cryptocurrencies are nothing but computer codes that have monetary value. No Government has any control over them.
  • Bitcoins ‘self-contain’ their value i.e. there’s no need for any bank to move or store the money.
  • Bitcoin currency is completely unregulated and decentralized.
  • Bitcoins are mined, and they can be mined by anyone in the general public who has a strong computer. However, only 21 billion of bitcoins in total can be mined. Currently, there are around 11 million in circulation.
  • Bitcoin has no underlying physical monetary base to support its value, and it is totally subject to its demand in the market.

What are the risks?

  • Low demand: India has not legitimized bitcoin, hence investment returns are totally based on demand i.e. you get your return only if there is another buyer in the market who is ready to pay you more for it. Currently, the high-value of the digital currency owes to its high demand, but once people start selling, there is a possibility that rates will drastically fall.
  • Unregulated: There is no bank or government tax agency that can track your money and its movement. Hence, it can become a tool for money laundering.
  • Irreversible transactions: There is no insurance protection of your bitcoin wallet i.e. if you lose your wallet’s hard drive data or even your password, your wallet’s content is gone forever.
There is no insurance protection of your bitcoin wallet i.e. if you lose your wallet’s hard drive data or even your password, your wallet’s content is gone forever. Pixabay
There is no insurance protection of your bitcoin wallet i.e. if you lose your wallet’s hard drive data or even your password, your wallet’s content is gone forever. Pixabay

ALSO READ: How can you trade in Bitcoin in India?

Status of Bitcoin in India

Finance minister Arun Jaitley highlighted in a statement that cryptocurrencies are not legal tender and have no regulatory permission or protection in the country.

However, there was no announcement banning or imposing any curbs on the same. The government panel is also awaiting a report on tackling cryptocurrencies in India, Jaitley said.

The government has recently cautioned investors to be wary of virtual currencies like bitcoin, saying they are like Ponzi schemes with no legal tender and protection.

“One of the features of cryptocurrency is that there is lack of dependence on the state. It functions with a degree of anonymity. It operates within a virtual community which is created and enjoys the trust of that virtual community,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told the Rajya Sabha.

“The government is examining the matter. A Committee under the chairmanship of the Economic Affairs Department Secretary is deliberating over all issues related to cryptocurrencies to propose specific actions to be taken… Instead of taking any knee-jerk action, let’s wait for the report of this committee.” Jaitley added