I happened to see several articles titled ‘Teachers get 80% of education expenditure’. This title is misleading and tries to further cement this fallacious view that public spending on teachers is ‘wasteful’ and that it should be ‘contained’. I’ve seen several angry tweets by prominent business journalists calling teachers lazy and overpaid. This article thankfully goes on to explain that there is a shortage of teachers. However it doesn’t mention the class of underpaid and overworked para-teachers (contractual) that run India’s rural primary education system. I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of them are dalits and OBCs (no stats to backup this assertion). These teachers have virtually no training. If you remember one of the big ticket announcements of the new government was Madan Mohan Malaviya Teacher Training Programme for which they have allocated a princely sum of Rs 500 crores for the entire country. Under the new financial architecture according to the 14th Finance Commission recommendations, it is a scheme that is “fully supported by the Centre”. Why isn’t the Centre paying attention to one of its own schemes?
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan that funds the primary education system is increasingly being run through cesses and surcharges which are regressive taxes. When more of Union revenues go into this ‘non-divisible pool’, it cannot be transferred to the states under the increased devolution formula in the name of ‘co-operative federalism’. The states are losing out on revenues there. About the learning outcomes part, the ASER Report itself shows that the improvement in learning outcomes in the last ten years has been almost exactly the same in private and public schools. Essentially, understaffed public schools with untrained underpaid teachers are doing as bad as the profit-motive efficient private schools.
PS1: I am by no means a ‘statist’, but let’s get these perceptions like ‘private sector is more efficient than the public sector’ out of the way before we discuss policy issues.
PS2: Even if the private sector is more efficient than the public sector, let’s also look at how incentive systems that both sectors create influence behaviour of the various agents involved. Providing education as a duty and as a business model greatly affects the quality of the programme and also in the experience of the students. Manufacturing literacy is as bad as manufacturing employable factory products.
PS3: If we have more per capita capital expenditure on students than revenue expenditure on teachers, does it mean that our public education systems are more efficient? What is better? A student with a pucca classroom, learning materials like pens, pencils and erasers, OMR-backed tests or a sufficiently paid teacher? Who decides?
For detailed public finance analysis on education, go to http://www.cbgaindia.org