The election manifesto of the Congress party reflects what its leaders envisage for the school education in India. The agenda includes shifting of school education to State List besides allocating greater share of GDP to school education. There is hope as well as skepticism regarding the stance of the political party with respect to education.
Media was predictably abuzz with reactions to the Congress’ election manifesto’s point that promised to transfer school education to the State List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
In addition to that, the manifesto also committed to make school education from class 1st to 12th compulsory and free. While promising to ensure learning outcomes the party said in the manifesto that it will also ensure proper infrastructure and adequately qualified teachers for all schools.
The said targets will be achieved by raising the GDP allocation for education to 6% by 2023-24.
Responding to the promise of transferring school education to the State List exclusively made by the political party, experts voiced their views which are a mix of optimism and skepticism.
Krishna Kumar, former NCERT Director, said School education is currently in the Concurrent List. The execution of the policies related to the school education lies, for the most part, with the states. The only practical difference such move is likely to make will be in the context of the higher education which will end up being the exclusive responsibility of the center. The UGC which currently has a mandate over the central universities will end up having control and say over the state universities too
Protiva Kundu, Research Officer, Center for Budget Governance Accountability, recounted that the school education was in the State List until 1976 after which it was transferred to the Concurrent List and remains therein till date. She expressed the view that there are indications that school education is being centralized to a degree more than warranted and that it will be a good move if it is placed in the State List. In this way, she added, the states will regain the autonomy to design policies according to their respective needs and contexts.
While she said that there is merit in the proposal, she cited the curtailment of resources that come from the center as a drawback. As of today, 2.8 % of the GDP is allocated for school education 0.9% of which comes from the center and 1.9% comes from the states. State will have to spend more on school education if it has to meet the recommendation of the Kothari commission that put the spending to 4% of the GNP in 1966.
Ambarish Rai, National Convener of RTE Forum, said that the manifesto frustrates the cause of pre-schooling and nursery education by omitting them from the declaration. He also opined that as Education is a fundamental right it is meant to be the responsibility of both the center and state governments. The omission of pre-schooling from the purview of the Right to Education was cited as “unfortunate” by him. He also recounted that at least 6 million children are out of school and without attending to the school education adequately higher education can never be bolstered.
A summation can be made by saying that the experts believe in a systemic change to reform the school education and the transferring of it to the state list may be the first step but it will have to be accompanied by much more informed approaches.
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Vinod Kakumanu heads a team of school services professionals and is an independent commentator on Indian school education scenario. Vinod has assisted school promoters establish 35+ schools besides providing ancillary services to over 1000 schools across India. He envisions a future where quality education is made available to every child of the country. The focus he places on the quality of the deliverables and customer satisfaction has made him renowned in the field of K-12 school education.