Thursday, March 1, 2007

Education Cess -lost opportunity for "Inclusive Development"

Yesterday the Finance Minister presented the Union Budget, I was busy all through the day and could not follow the budget speech, however in the evening , I coaxed my son Neelabjo to spare some TV viewing time for me (he is a Jetex and a Cartoon Network aficionado, and evenings are his TV time) …my son reluctantly agreed, and I got to watch the Budget highlights .

What I could gather from the Budget analysis was that Corporate India was not particularly happy with the outcomes to the extent somebody calling it a Budget of the 1980’s. Kapil Sibal (playing the role of the “boy on the burning deck”….) was trying hard to convince all and sundry that the Finance Minister and the UPA government were delivering to their promise , it was really hilarious to watch Mr Sibal , do what he was doing , he had very few takers ……

However what was most significant for me was the increase of the Education Cess from 2% to 3% which means an ordinary tax payer like me (aam aadmi ) has to shell out more on this account . My initial reactions to the increase of the Education Cess were favorable, but in a few minutes a lot of thoughts crossed my mind. I remembered the last general elections, the Congress and its slogan of “Congress ka haath, aam aadmi ka saath” (which essentially means that the Congress is with the common man). This electoral slogan probably helped the UPA to come to power and there are reasons to believe that the “Inclusive Development” theme was in good currency with the Indian electorate. Inclusive Development defined as -development which benefit all sections of society.

As a conscientious Indian citizen, I have been trying to look for evidences of inclusive development over the last few years and to me Education Cess was a tool to achieve this dream meaningfully. I believed that the amounts of money raised on this account would make a significant impact on the competitiveness of the nation, revamp the education system and build employable skills in Indian youth (remember 1% or half of the money was to be allocated to the improvement of the primary school system and the other half would be spend in vocation education – this made eminent sense to me, and I didn't crib when my pay slip reflected deductions on this account).

We are couple of years into the implementation of the Education Cess process , however yesterday I heard Mr Gopalkrishnan –ED Tata Sons and Naina Lal Kidwai –Chairperson HSBC India comment that the Education Cess was like a black hole , nobody knows what’s happening with the money . It was either Kapil Sibal or Ashiwini Kumar –Union Ministers who spoke about the Sarva Sikhsaya Abhiyan but their claims sounded so hollow and rhetorical …….. In addition to this the experts in this field pointed out that the government had made a good job only of allocation of some resources but the issues of implementation still remain a challenge

My views on this issue is similar , I think the Government is not quite sure of what its doing ….

In my blog post title “Mission –Primary Education” (dt Feb 26) , I had written about some indicators which could be helpful to measure the success of the governments efforts in this direction. Ironically there is no evidence to suggest that the government would have done a good job on any of the indices that I had referred to in my post.

I would like to draw your attention to the 5th metric that I had suggested in the post and it was about the drop out ratio in our schools. I had mentioned that the drop out rate after class 8 is alarming and in the vicinity of 55%, and Mr Sibal proudly announced that in this Budget 100,000 scholarships have been declared for students Class 8 and above – he would like us to believe that this is indeed a great move in the direction of inclusive development. Well a announcement of a scholarship scheme is indeed a good idea , but if you would clinically look at the phenomenan one would realize that it’s merely an act of resource allocation-nothing wrong with it , but a very tactical step . This might help in marginally reducing the level of drop outs and make it economically viable for some households to send their children to school, but am not sure if steps such as these would have any impact on increasing the standards of our education system.

I would like to submit that there is a common thread in terms of the responses that the Government has to the theme of inclusive development. Mr Arjun Singh argues that the reservation policy for higher education enables weaker sections of the society to improve their lot and therefore is inclusive development indeed…!!! , while there might be some merit in the argument , however I would argue that subsidies such as these do not help the country or the individual in the long run (these are like the subsidies that the public sector enjoyed for a long time …did not help profitability at all …) . Similar to the reservation policy, is the Education Cess implementation, there are tactical moves, while there might be some amount of thought in the allocation of resources, I think there ought to be far more imagination and detailing on issues which are more fundamental. And I repeat with anguish, where are the efforts on:

a) Curriculum Development (modernizing the curricula…)
b) Technology based Learning
c) Teacher Development
d) Examination reforms

I see none of these happening , it's painful to see that even in a relatively poor county like ours , we have raised the resources but now don’t know how to use it , and in doing so losing a great opportunity of development ….Mr Prime Minister, do you hear me …..!!!

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