Disuse, another name for official apathy

Education, a critical input in human resource development and essential for socio-economic development of the country, has got the highest priority in the Eleventh Five Year Plan (2007-12). 

The government has pledged to raise public spending on education (both by Centre and States) to six per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The 11th Plan envisages an outlay of about Rs 2.70 lakh crore at current price (Rs 2.37 lakh crore at 2006–07 price) for education. This is a four-fold increase over the Tenth Plan
allocation of Rs 54,000 crore at 2006–07 price. The share of education in the total Plan outlay will correspondingly increase from 7.7 per cent to 19.4 per cent.
The government’s intention to enhance spending on education - one of the key social sectors - is undoubtedly commendable. The 11th Plan is almost completing its third year (2009-10).

Uninspirational
But when one makes an appraisal of the pattern of spending in some of the crucial segments, which hold key to qualitative improvement of the overall education sector, it is highly disappointing.   

Looking at the overall Plan expenditure in the education sector in the first three years, it appears quite improbable that the government will be able to make use of the total outlay of Rs 2.7 lakh crore as envisaged in the Plan document.
For instance, in 2007-08—the first year of the 11th Plan—as against the Plan outlay of Rs 28,674 crore, the Centre could spend only Rs 25,453 crore.   
In 2008-09, the Plan outlay was Rs 34,400 crore and the Centre utilised funds to the tune of only Rs 31,301 crore. In 2009-10, the Plan outlay is pegged at
Rs 36,400 crore. The actual figure on utilisation of this fund during the current fiscal will be known some time in the next fiscal.

Even presuming that the government avails the entire fund, it is next to impossible for it to exhaust the remaining amount of the Plan outlay in the next two financial years - 2010-11 and 2011-12.
As one makes appraisal of utilisation of funds under elementary education - one of the vital segments of the education sector - the story is equally disappointing.
Nearly 50 per cent of 11th Plan outlay on education is for elementary education. But actual utilisation of funds reflects a different scenario. Though in 2007-08 the government slightly enhanced utilisation of funds to Rs 23191.35 crore as against original Plan outlay of Rs 23142.22 crore, the next year (2008-09) it availed less than what was initially allocated. While the allocation for elementary education was pegged at Rs 27,850 crore, the government could spend only Rs 26,026.57 crore.

Innovative, but slow
An appraisal of the implementation of innovative schemes to supplement the overall efforts to bring about qualitative change in the teaching method at all levels of education, reveals tardy progress.

For example, the 11th Plan has emphasised on application of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the delivery of educational services. The basic idea behind the ICT scheme is to bridge the digital divide between rural and urban school children. An amount of Rs 5000 crore was allocated in the 11th Plan for providing ICT infrastructure in schools.

Realising the importance of the scheme, the government has recently enhanced the outlay on ICT scheme to Rs 6,929 crore. The entire amount is to be spent during the Plan period .

So far, on the ICT scheme the Centre could spend Rs 224.6 crore in 2007-08 and Rs 270 crore in 2008-09. In the current fiscal 2009-10, it proposes to spend Rs 980 crore. It seems quite unlikely that it will spend the balance Rs 5,454.4 crore in the remaining two years of the Plan.

Quality, a casualty?
Even in physical terms, the government appears to be on back-foot in utilising the funds as targeted in the 11th Plan in vital segments of education. What then remains to be said about the qualitative improvements in the education sector?
Though the Plan’s focus on education is commendable, the pattern of utilisation of funds so far reflects that there is a long way to go to achieve the goals set in the Plan document.

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