Article: Activists, teachers slam Andhra Govt for slashing funds to education sector

Activists, Teachers Slam Andhra Govt for Slashing Funds to Education Sector

Although it’s been decades since Kothari Commission had recommended that states spend about 30% of their annual budget on education and the Union government earmark 10% of funds yearly, the sector still faces neglect and cash crunch. In fact, Andhra Pradesh has consistently slashed funds for the education sector since the reorganisation of the state in 2014.

The share of budgetary allocation for education in Andhra Pradesh (11.52%) is, in fact, lower than the national average; in 2022-23, the average of allocations made by all states towards education stood at 14.8%.

The state finance minister Buggana Rajendranath Reddy in his budget speech pegged the allocation for general education at Rs 32,198.39 crore out of a budget of 2,79,279.27 crore. This amounts to 11.52% of the budget. But the government on its website said it made an allocation of 16.87% of its budget for general education. However, at 16.87%, it should have been Rs 47,114.36 crore.

Speaking on this anomaly, Vitapu Balasubramaniam, a former member of the state’s legislative council who was elected from a teacher’s constituency, says, “It would be good if the government allocates 16% for education. The higher figure shown on the website is a jugglery of statistics. The government might claim that amount given to mothers of school-going children under Amma Vodi is also going towards education. But the government itself placed a bill saying that it will pay this amount through revenue accruing from the excise department. This amount does not go into improving education infrastructure or others like teachers’ salaries.”

Amma Vodi Jaganna Vasati Deevana Jaganna Vidya Deevana Mana Badi Naadu Nedu
Rs 6,500 crore Rs 2,200 crore Rs 2,842 crore Rs 3,500 crore

It is the same in the case of expenditure to run Gurukul and tribal schools which is normally spent from Scheduled Tribe welfare funds, says Balasubramaniam. “The governments thus claim the same as expenditure under both heads to hoodwink the public. Playing with numbers is another way of telling lies,” he explains.

Meanwhile, allocations made to technical education and medical education are not shown as expenditures on general education.

Implication of merger 

Naturally, the shortage of funds has shown an adverse impact on schools and students in the state.

The government went ahead with the merger of third, fourth, and fifth classes with the nearest high schools even though objections against the move were raised by teachers, intellectuals, and even students. The move has resulted in protests from parents across the state.

The move is in violation of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE), which categorically states that students of third, fourth, and fifth classes should be provided class-wise teaching. However, the government went ahead with its plans. It has thus started engaging subject-wise teachers for these students. It further shifted some SGTs (secondary grade teachers who have only studied plus-two and underwent teacher training course while being recruited) by promoting them to meet the needs in high schools. The teachers in high schools are called ‘school assistants’, and they are degree holders with a B.Ed (Bachelor of Education).

Representational image. A classroom in Patna. Photo: PTI

This has resulted in a bizarre situation in the case of upper primary schools, lament teachers, given that plus-two qualified teachers now teach sixth, seventh, and eighth classes. While the lower third to fifth-class kids are being taught by the school assistants.

This has affected nearly 4,500 primary schools and with a fall in the student numbers, attempts to close 2,500 primary schools are being made, says Ramesh Patnaik, AP Save Education Committee.

Further without bothering to correct the student-teacher ratio to the ideal 20:1, the government increased the number of students per class from 30 to 40 for primary classes. It further changed the ratio for classes six, seven, and eighth from 35 to 52, and for ninth and tenth classes, it went up from 50 to 60. The number of classes a teacher has to take have also increased from 30 to 38 a week. This is more evident in the case of Hindi language teachers.

“This will affect the education standards. The government thus seems to have achieved its hidden and actual agenda of reducing the teacher posts by at least 10,000,” Patnaik observes.

There is a fear among teachers and those associated with schools that the government may close several schools under the name of rationalisation, and this seems to be quite possible that the number of students in several schools are declining.

In case of need, the government has co-opted teachers who had cleared the DSC (district selection committee) exams in the unified AP and whose recruitment was stuck in a legal tussle. Being taken on consolidated pay, many of them currently have less than 10 years of service. Consequently, the chances of any recruitment of teachers are nil in the near future.

Also read: Five Charts on the Status of School Education in India

Speaking to a cross-section of teachers, it becomes evident that in the name of improving educational standards, the government seems to be relying on casting an eye on teachers and making them fill out many applications for teaching plans and registers. The increased attention has only made things worse, they aver.

Non-teaching duties like uploading of student attendance online, mid-day meal information, photos of toilets, and even their own attendance through facial recognition apps have been made mandatory. Increased working hours, they say, have not come with books being provided for students in time and lack of teacher recruitment for the past five years now.

This, teachers say, sometimes forces them to get the students to fill their workbooks as a formality to avoid departmental penal action against them. They say this happens when children of parents who migrate for more than two months take them along and then return back to school.

Student numbers lay it bare

The government rejects the claim that several students have left public schools in the state. Answering a question on closure of schools in the state, the education minister said on the floor of the assembly that 39,69,648 students are studying in government schools, and added there has been no closure of schools. He went on to add that the previous Telugu Desam Party government had closed 5,000 schools between 2014 and 2019 and 3,000 of them were reopened by them again.

But data provided by the AP education department to the MLCs as per information on April 30, 2021, says 43,56,643 students were studying in government schools. A rise of 6,35,655 students from 2018-19. Of this around two lakh students were dropouts.

Commenting on this, Dr. Guntupalli Srinivas, a doctor by profession and social worker, who had written an open letter to the education department, says, “Student strength in government schools had increased across the country due to covid induced economic pain. Even in Uttar Pradesh, without any Nadu Nedu (an AP government programme to improve school infrastructure) programme government, schools saw a 13% increase in student strength. Data on student strength is not being made available transparently now on their website.”

The government has made uploading of students’ attendance every day online mandatory. It further has data on the number of students who avail of their mid-day meals.

“When they have such real-time data why were they taking the plea that UDISE data has not been finalised to reveal student strength in government schools earlier? With the government taking over aided schools the strength in them has fallen as per the education minister’s reply in the assembly from 2,08,000 in 2018-19 to 1,09,000 currently. These students have also added to numbers in government schools,” he explains.

While some variation in student strength can be explained due to reverse migration of parents to their place of work post covid to even places outside the state, the real reasons for the fall in student numbers need to be probed further by the government.

Meanwhile, as can be expected from the above developments, in reply to a question from an MLC supported by the CPI(M), Vitapu Balasubramanyam, the state government told the Assembly that 717 teacher posts are vacant. But the Union government had in reply to a query by Aam Admi Party leader Sanjay Singh on December 14, 2022, seeking the status of government schools in the country, pegged the teacher vacancies in AP at 50,677. The vacancy of teacher jobs is set to be 19.64%.

MLC Sheikh Sabjee from the teachers’ constituency of East and West Godavari districts says there are 1,90,000 sanctioned posts in the school education department even today but there are only 1,46,000 teachers working now. This, he says, makes it clear that there are a lot more vacancies of teachers than the government is saying.

G. Ram Mohan is a freelance journalist.

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