Given the state of education in the country, if one tells you to guess the public spending on the sector, you will probably say that it is very low compared to developed countries or the newly industrialised countries like China, Russia, and Brazil.
But what if you are told that public spending on education in India is one of the highest in the world among developing countries and equivalent to developed countries.
Data from the World Bank tells us that the global average of public spending on education was 4.5 per cent of GDP in 2017 while India, in the same year, spent 4.4 per cent.
China, the country we want to compete with, only 4.1 per cent of GDP on education despite having a tax-to-GDP ratio higher than that of India.
For Russia, the spending is even lower at around 4 per cent.
On a global scale, the public spending on education as part of total public spending is around 14.3 per cent while for India, the average spending of all states on education is 15.9 per cent. On top of that, the Union government spends around 3 per cent of its total expenditure on education.
So, despite a low tax-to-GDP ratio compared to newly industrialised developing countries as well as developed countries, India’s expenditure on education is comparable to those countries.
India prioritised education in public spending, especially in the last two decades, but any substantial impact of that on the quality of education is yet to be seen.
Where does all the money go?
Every Tom, Dick and Harry, irrespective of his/her competency, will tell you that India needs to increase its spending on education. The Kothari Commission, which argued that 6 per cent of GDP should be spent on education, is the most common document referred to, to advance this argument.
Most of the committee reports and policies formulated after that argue the same.
However, no one is talking about what is the return on investment on the money being invested. The enrollment ratio in public schools and colleges in India is one of the lowest in the world despite comparable spending.
So, the question here arises: where does all this money go?
Well, all of it is being spent on what economists call 'revenue expenditure', that too on teacher salaries. In most of the states, the share of teacher salaries as a percentage of total expenditure is between 70 per cent to as high as around 90 per cent. On an average, teacher salaries constitute more than 75 per cent of the total expenditure.
No country in the world pays its teachers as much as India does. In India, the salary of a government primary school teacher is as much as 40,000 per month — around Rs 5 lakh per annum.
The salary of an average school teacher is four times higher than the per capita income of the country. The salary of assistant professors is even higher at around Rs 70,000 per month and Rs 8 lakh per year, which is 6 times the per capita income of the country.
In comparison, the of a government school teacher in California, one of the richest states in the United States, is 68,000 dollars per annum against a per capita income of 59,000 dollars.
In most of the American states, the per capita income of the teachers is comparable to per capita income of the state. On the other hand, in India, per capita income of a government teacher in Uttar Pradesh is around Rs 5 lakh per annum against a per capita income of Rs 70,000.
Indian states are paying as much as 5 to 10 times more the per capita income to government teachers.
And, it is not that these state governments are paying this much to the teachers out of sheer will. The teachers are being paid so much because they have become a political constituency.
Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, a professor at the University College London, published a research paper in which she that ‘over-politicization of teachers is killing public education in India’.
Teachers have become too important a political constituency to be ignored by any political dispensation. In almost all the states that have legislative councils, a certain percentage of seats are reserved for teachers.
Every year, one can see the news of teacher agitations in one or the other state of the country.
“Strikes and agitations by aided and local-government school teachers have led to enactment of important education legislation (such as the Salary Disbursement Act, 1971 and the Basic Education Act, 1972 in Uttar Pradesh, the Direct Payment Agreement 1972 in Kerala, etc) which have all but nationalised aided private schools, increased teachers job-security and reduced their accountability to local government officials,” Geeta Gandhi Kingdon.
Teachers are so important as a political constituency — given their large numbers — that every manifesto of every political party in states like Uttar Pradesh dedicates a page for them.
Therefore, every party talks about ‘regularisation’ of teachers or about an increase in their salaries.
However, this hefty pay is limited to only the government teachers. Private teachers, who are comparatively better, have remuneration ranging from as low as 5,000 rupees per month to a maximum of 25,000 rupees per month compared to 42,000 rupees for government teachers.
Despite such low payments to the private school teacher, the majority of Indian children are studying in private schools — even in areas with low per capita incomes — because education in these schools is much better according to parents.
The reason behind poor educational infrastructure and education quality:
Government teachers are overpaid and there is very little accountability. More than one-third of the total public expenditure on education goes to teacher/professor salaries and the spending on educational infrastructure, curriculum development, screening, co-curricular activities and many other aspects of learning is very little.
Therefore, there is always a fund crunch for educational infrastructure despite public spending on education in India being one of the highest in the world.
Moreover, there is no accountability of the teachers towards the students and their learning outcomes despite the fact they are paid such a hefty paycheck.
Every survey, from domestic ones like Pratham Education Survey to international ones like PISA, talks about the poor learning outcome of the Indian students.
Until the governments (state and Centre) balance the public spending on education between the educational infrastructure and teacher/professor salaries, learning outcomes would remain poor even if the state further increases the spending.
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