'Putting a Price Tag on the ‘Right to Education'

By Tripti Lahiri

According to a new estimate put out by a government spending accountability group, getting existing Indian government schools to meet education rules that came into effect last year could cost 152 billion rupees, or about $3.4 billion dollars.
And getting India to fully meet what that law mandates—free and compulsory education for all children between the ages six to 14—could cost well over triple that amount, or about $11 billion.

According to a report only 11% of government schools have the infrastructure they’re supposed to have under the new Right to Education Act.
Presently only 11% of government schools have the infrastructure they’re supposed to have under the new Right to Education Act, according to Accountability Initiative, which put out a report last week tracking a portion of educational spending that contained the estimate of complying with the law.
“We thought it was important to get to grips with what the implications of the Right to Education would be. If you just look at the norms, the [law] is quite focused on different infrastructure, facilities and other requirements in schools,” said Yamini Aiyar, director of the Accountability Initiative, in a recent interview.
The law, which was passed in 2009, sets standards for schools on teacher salaries, classroom size and facilities, which should include a head teacher’s room, a playground and a boundary wall, among other things.
The public spending audit group arrived at the 152-billion-rupee figure by working from answers to a questionnaire on whether schools were Right-to-Education compliant. This was part of a larger survey carried out in about 13,000 schools last year with Pratham, a child-focused nonprofit group that assesses children’s learning levels on an annual basis.
The group estimated the cost in each state for adding more teachers, or a playground, among other things, and multiplied that by the number of schools in each state that would need that work done.
The expense of adding a headmaster’s office (which doubles as a storage room) made for the largest share of the $3.4 billion cost. That was just over a third of the total, or about $1.2 billion dollars.
Teacher salaries (which would be a recurring expense, however) for additional staff to meet pupil-teacher ratios came to a quarter of the total, while walls and fencing would cost a little over fifth of the total.
However that costing exercise only took into account existing schools and existing enrollment. Absorbing about 2.2 million out-of-school students between the ages of 6 and 14 into new schools, could cost another 335 billion rupees ($7.4 billion).
The government hasn’t yet said how much it expects to have to shell out to properly implement the law, said Ms. Aiyar, but the group will be watching for that.
“It’s a good thing to have citizen-led costing,” said Ms. Aiyar, saying they could then compare actual government budgeting to these estimates, and see “whether they’re going to make the allocations to live up to the promise they themselves have made.”

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