Valley

On education, government looks generous with words but stingy with funds

  • Despite pledges to improve quality of education, government unlikely to increase the budget for the sector
- Binod Ghimire, Kathmandu

May 18, 2019-

In its election manifesto, unveiled in November 2017, the left alliance, now the unified Nepal Communist Party, pledged to allocate 20 percent of the national budget for the education sector.

The left alliance swept the elections and formed the government in February 2018. In May that year, when the finance minister presented the budget for 2018-19, he allocated half of what the left alliance had promised in the manifesto for the education sector--10.19 percent of the total budget.

Percentage-wise, this allocation for the education sector was the lowest in a decade. Of the Rs 1.31 trillion national budget, Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada allocated just Rs 134.5 billion for the pre-primary to the university level education. It also included the share of the science and technology sector, which was under a separate ministry until it was merged with the Ministry of Education.

The government now is preparing to present the budget for the next fiscal year 2019/20, but there are no signs of an increase in budget for the education sector.

“Budget for the education sector is not going to increase in the next fiscal year,” Baikuntha Aryal, spokesperson for the Education Ministry, told the Post.

An estimation by the ministry shows the total education budget for the three tiers of government will be somewhere around Rs 140 billion against Rs 134.5 billion in the current fiscal year. But as the volume of the national budget is also likely to increase to over Rs 1.45 trillion, the education sector’s share won’t cross the mark of 10 percent.

The budget ceiling provided to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology also shows the allocation for the education sector will hover somewhere around 10 percent.

The volume of the education budget has been continuously decreasing since 2011/2012 when the sector got 17.1 percent of the budget for the first time. It has seen a decline of 7 percentage points since then.

A team of educationists led by National Campaign for Education, an umbrella body of around 239 educational organisations, two weeks ago, met with Minister for Finance Khatiwada to draw his attention to the country’s global commitment to education budget.

Allocating at least 20 percent of the national budget—or 6.5 percent of the national GDP—in the education sector has been the global practice, and Nepal has reiterated the commitment in the international forum.

“His (Khatiwada’s) response was not very encouraging. He said it won’t be fair to say the education budget hasn’t increased as it is going up every year,” said Basudev Kafle, a professor at Tribhuvan University and an education expert, who was part of the delegation that met Khatiwada. “The government is just looking at the figure, which has gone up, but it is not looking at the budget in comparison with the national budget.”

During the meeting Khatiwada, according to delegation members, said the government’s priority was development, therefore, the education sector hasn’t seen a remarkable increment in the budget.

Binaya Kusiyait, a professor at Tribhuvan University who has done a number of researches in the education sector, said the government has not realised yet that its goal of ‘Prosperous Nepal, Happy Nepalis’ cannot be achieved only through economic growth; it also needs social justice.

“And to achieve social justice, we need adequate investment in the education sector,” Kusiyait told the Post.

 

Educationists say governments in Nepal have failed to recognise that investment is key to boosting the quality of education.

 

Out of the total budget, around 80 percent goes in the payment of salaries to teachers and officials, around 10 percent for infrastructure development and around seven percent is spent on administrative affairs. And this leaves only 3 percent for improving the quality of education.

Experts have time and again called for ample budget for teachers’ development, student support system, extracurricular and co-curricular activities and student-friendly infrastructure development.

Kafle said though the government’s School Sector Development Programme, which has been running since 2016, has set quality improvement as its main priority, it is not reflected in budget allocation.

“The government has totally failed to set its priorities right,” Kafle told the Post. “We cannot expect development in a true sense without strengthening our education sector.”

Different studies by the Education Review Office under the Ministry of Education show that the performance of school students has degraded in recent years.

One of the latest findings made public last year shows the performance of eighth graders dropped considerably in 2017 compared to 2013.

“The parties tend to make huge commitments, but when they come to power, their priorities change and the promises are never translated into action,” said Kusiyait. “We cannot afford to neglect the education sector if we want to achieve development in a true sense.”

Published: 19-05-2019 07:00

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