Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Elementary Education in India: Reflections on the Changing Public Policy in the Era of Liberalization

Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Elementary Education in India: Reflections on the Changing Public Policy in the Era of Liberalization

Article excerpt

The Context

The goal of Universal Elementary Education (UEE), though a constitutional obligation of state is yet to be achieved. According to latest statistics provided by Government of India the Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) (2) at elementary education level is 93.5 per cent in 2004-05. The high dropout rates and lower attendance rates belittle further whatever progress that has been achieved in enrolling the school children. For example, the dropout rate between classes I to V and I to VIII is reported to be 29 per cent and 51 per cent respectively in 2004-05 (MHRD, 2007). The failure to achieve UEE has been described as one of the most conspicuous failures of public policy in India (Tilak, 2006). Notwithstanding recurrent rhetoric promising to give high priority to achieve UEE, the commitment of the state continues to be weak. In fact the half hearted attempts of state to achieve UEE has been derided as 'shifting goalpost' (Dreze and Sen, 2003; Pai, 2005). The weak commitment of the state is more pronounced in the allocation of public resources to elementary education. (3) This paper explores the trends in the allocation of public resources to elementary education since 1990s.

The period since 1990 represents an interesting twist in Indian history. Far reaching changes are taking place in the Indian economy, society and polity. The liberal economic polices of the World Bank were adopted to replace the state and planning with market as an overarching framework for resource allocation and economic organization. These policies were introduced with the aim of accelerating growth rate by improving efficiency in resource allocation. However, fears were also expressed in several quarters about the adverse consequences of these policies related to the poor, marginal groups and allocation of public resources to social sectors like education. Acknowledging the adverse impact of liberal economic policies on the poor and social sectors, the Indian state has promised to carry out economic reforms with human face and adopted social safety network to safeguard the interests of the poor, marginal groups and public expenditure on social sectors like education. This period, following Jomtien declaration, (4) has also witnessed heightened international advocacy on the imperative to achieve UEE. The Indian state has also once again pledged to achieve UEE and undertook several ambitious initiatives, (5) some of them with external assistance as part of social safety net. Elementary education was made as one of the important components of policies to carry out the economic reforms with a human face.

In this background, an examination of trends in public financing of elementary education since 1990 helps us in unraveling the complex relationship between liberal economic policies, social safety and social sector expenditures. This paper is a modest attempt in that direction.

Public Expenditure on Elementary Education

This section shall examine the trends in public expenditure on elementary education since 1990. At the outset it may be mentioned that the present analysis is confined to revenue expenditure only. Though the expenditure under capital account is very important for the development and asset building in education, it constitutes a very small percent of total expenditure on education, particularly elementary education. For example, it varied between 0.21 to 0.62 per cent since 1990. Another limitation is that the data on public expenditure on elementary education refers to the expenditure of education department only. (6) A third factor to be taken into account is that the central government has accepted the fifth pay commission recommendations with regard to pay scales of government employees during the mid 1990's. The state governments followed the suit during the following years. The pay scales recommended by fifth pay commission are said to be a way above the previously existing scales. …

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