Education, particularly school education, is a key driver for productivity and is essential for improving the quality of life of the people of a nation. While the expenditure on education has been increasing every year and stood at 3.3% of the GDP in 2013-14—as pointed out in the Economic Survey—there is a need not only to increase the amount but also to address issues of quality, access and equity.
By way of illustration, while the per child expenditure by central and state governments has doubled to R11,418 in 2011-12 from R5,202 in 2007-08, the Economic Survey points out two alarming statistics. First, a growing fraction of households have chosen to shift to private instead of the free public schools (in which the government spends an average of R100 per student per month). Second, the learning outcomes in government schools have declined to 32.4% compared to 59% in private schools (learning outcomes have been measured by the percentage of children in Class III that is able to read a Class I text). As the survey points out, there is clearly a need to review the design of government programmes in elementary education and the need to bring in feedback loops so that failure in outcomes can feedback adequately into resourcing and changes in management and even fundamental redesign of education programmes. We need to analyse the Budget in the context of addressing the fundamental issues confronting the sector across elementary, secondary, and higher and vocational education.
At the outset, it is important to recognise that the new government has been in office for just under two months and was not really expected to announce any new schemes. What was expected was a statement of intent and directional guidance on priorities. From this perspective, there are a number of positives for the education and training sectors.
First, there is a focus on skill development and virtual learning and a statement that elementary education is a major priority of the government. This is a public good and, therefore, a primary responsibility of the government.
Second, the launch of a teacher training programme with an initial sum of R500 crore allocation is important for addressing the issue of teacher training and quality. The setting up of a new School Assessment Programme is also an important measure in this regard.
Third, there is a focus on the education of the girl child. The finance minister has announced a new ‘Beti