It remains to be seen how the state's education budget responds to the reduced outlay for the sector in the Union Budget
Education is one of the sectors that got hit the hardest by the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, exacerbating the existing inequalities.
In Bihar, more than 2.17 crore students enrolled at the elementary level, including over 1.08 crore girls, have remained out of school for 10 months now. It is suspected that many of them might never return to school on account of persistent economic hardship triggered by the pandemic, prolonged discontinuation of classes and social pressures for early marriage of girls.
Reversing the adverse impacts of the pandemic on the lives and choices of girls in Bihar ought to be a key priority of the education budget of the state for 2021-22.
Challenges faced by girls in the social context of Bihar are reflected in the alarmingly high prevalence of early marriages in the state — 40.8 per cent (NFHS 2019-20) in case of girls. The figure registered a decline of only 1.7 percentage points in the last four years.
Despite several large-scale programmes initiated by the state government in the recent past, including plans of action for elimination of child marriages and dowry and high-potential schemes such as Mukhyamantri Kanya Utthan Yojana, Bihar records a low transition rate of girl students beyond the secondary stage.
Only 22.5 per cent girls transition from the secondary to the higher secondary level in Bihar, dipping to 18.3 per cent in the case of girls belonging to Scheduled Castes.
The upcoming budget needs to take cognisance of these challenges and accord a bigger thrust on augmenting educational opportunities and resources for the girl child, especially at the secondary level.
As of now, the average number of students enrolled per school at secondary and higher secondary levels is 216 and 121, respectively. This necessitates substantial allocation of funds for creation of additional classroom spaces at secondary and higher secondary levels in particular.
Also, the state is currently facing an acute shortage of professionally qualified teachers. Among the pool of 436,390 government teachers in Bihar, including regular, contractual and part-time teachers, only 63.3 per cent teachers are professionally qualified.
The education budget of 2021 must include provisions for substantial skill up-gradation of teachers, besides filling up vacant positions. Also, nearly 44 per cent schools at upper primary level have a pupil-teacher ratio exceeding 50, which needs to be addressed with a sense of urgency.
In 2020-21, the Scheduled Caste Sub-Plan and Tribal Sub-Plan components of the state budget of Bihar was significantly low, at 8.22 per cent and 0.63 per cent, respectively. These need to be at least doubled to measure up to the composition of SC and ST population in the state.
The share of de-notified, nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes in particular, with a non-exclusive share of Rs 20 lakh allocated for scholarships, is extremely low and needs to be substantially enhanced, along with adequate allocations for their well-being in other development domains as well.
Goals of new education policy
The National Education Policy 2020 proposes several measures towards enhancing the capacities of students in a holistic way, some of which require significant budgetary allocations. For instance, the idea of establishing skill labs in a ‘hub and spoke model’ is a cost-intensive proposition and requires adequate budgetary outlays.
Similarly, the intent of integrating vocational education in the educational offerings of secondary schools in collaboration with ITIs, polytechnics and local industries, calls for substantial investments in establishment of technical institutions within accessible distances from schools.
In particular, NEP’s vision of ensuring adequate number of counsellors, trained social workers and teachers for all subjects, besides adequate facilities and educational resources for each school, demands substantial hike in the educational budget.
The upcoming state budget for education is thus crucial for many reasons. A substantial response is needed to prevent reversal of the hard-earned advancement in the status of girls’ education achieved over several decades.
The share for children’s education has come down to 1.74 per cent from 2.18 per cent in the Union Budget for 2021-22. It remains to be seen how the education budget of Bihar responds to this reduced outlay.
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