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Tax breaks tell on education budget: UN

New Delhi, June 12: The UN’s education arm has expressed concern that India is spending less on education, linking it to tax exemptions and saying this could hurt quality and school enrolment levels.

India’s education spending fell from 4.4 per cent of its GDP in 1999 to 3.3 per cent in 2010, says Unesco’s “Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2013-14”.

It says many countries are spending less on social sectors like education because of the large tax exemptions granted to strong domestic lobbies.

In India, most of the revenues lost to exemptions relate to customs and excise duties and, to a lower extent, to corporate income tax. The loss was equivalent to 5.7 per cent of India’s GDP in 2012-13, the report says quoting a research paper.

It says the Indian government’s expenditure per head on education was $409 in 2011 while the figure for Brazil, a comparable economy, was $952.

Brazil spent 18 per cent of its total plan allocation on education while India spent 10.5 per cent, the report says.

The report identifies teacher shortage — vacancies as well as chronic absenteeism — as a huge problem. Among Indian states, it says, teacher absenteeism varies from 15 per cent in Maharashtra to 42 per cent in Jharkhand on any given day.

Globally, the report says, the number of out-of-school children fell from 107 million in 1999 to 57 million in 2011. In India, the number dropped from 61.84 lakh to 16.74 lakh.

Still, India ranks fourth from the bottom in the number of out-of-school children, above Nigeria (105.42 lakh), Pakistan (54.36 lakh) and Ethiopia (17.03 lakh).

(If the figure were expressed in percentage of overall child population, though, India would come out much better.)

These concerns come at a time President Pranab Mukherjee has been silent on school education in his recent address to a joint sitting of Parliament.

Educationist P.M. Bhargava, former vice-chairman of the National Knowledge Commission, described the omission as “incredible”.

“School education should have been mentioned as the top priority of the country if the present government is serious about putting the country on the road to real progress through participation of all its people,” he said.

Bhargava, founder-director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, said India’s school education was “in a complete mess”.

“We simply cannot set right higher education — that is, provide high-quality higher education in, for example, science and technology on the required scale — unless we set our school education system in order,” he said.

Some 164 countries had pledged in the year 2000, under the Dakar Framework, to try and achieve “education for all” by 2015. The main goals included expanding early child care and education and ensuring that all children had access to quality primary education. The latest Unesco report has tried to assess progress in that direction.

Although no financial target had been set for any country, ensuring access to quality of education hinges crucially on public expenditure in the area.