Not much is happening in the education budget

The Ministry of Education. —BDNews

The budget proposal for the financial year 2023 envisages an allocation of Tk 6,780.64 billion, compared to Tk 6,036.81 billion as proposed in the 2022 financial budget which was eventually revised down to Tk 5,935 billion . The proposed spending is 15.2% of the size of gross domestic product. When preparing the budgets for fiscal years 2022 and 2021, the government had to take into account the Covid-19 epidemic, which may have forced the government to be somewhat conservative. The Russian-Ukrainian war, the rise in the value of the dollar and soaring prices may also have influenced the budget proposals.

The fiscal year 2022 budget allocated 11.69% of spending to education. In the FY2023 proposal, the education allocation as a percentage of expenditures reached 12.01. While the allocation for education has hovered around 12% of the national budget for several years, the proposed budget allocation for education for the next fiscal year is not hopeful and seems traditional. Although we have heard of measures to fill the void created by the Covid epidemic and ravage the education sector for two years, the allocation represents 1.83% of gross domestic product. The global standard established by UNICEF is to allocate 20% of the national budget and 6% of the gross domestic product to education, which is not yet the case in Bangladesh. In terms of education expenditure, the percentage of gross domestic product and total budget expenditure ranks Bangladesh last among South Asian countries. Even Nepal is ahead of Bangladesh in this regard.

A national budget of Tk 6.78 trillion proposed to parliament on June 9 may be a talking point given the rising prices that have constrained citizens. It is true that 118.06 billion taka more has been allocated to three ministries and divisions in charge of education compared to the allocation for the financial year 2022. The division of secondary and higher education, the division of the Madrasah and Technical Education and the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education in the proposal received an allocation of 814.5 billion taka, which was 696.4 billion taka for the outgoing financial year. The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education received an allocation of 317.61 billion taka, which was 282.22 billion taka in the outgoing budget year. The Secondary and Higher Education Division received an allocation of 399.62 billion taka compared to an allocation of 324.13 billion taka in the outgoing fiscal year. The Madrasah and Technical Education Division received an allocation of 97.27 billion taka, which is 7.18 billion taka more than the allocation for the outgoing financial year.

Students from all sorts of streams and educational institutions have been disconnected from in-person business for about two years. The government has tried to connect students to education using technology, but poverty and the unavailability of devices needed for such a connection have had no impact as online and community-based education n did not reach a greater number of students. The gap that government efforts have created and shown and efforts to address the issue through a blended learning mode were discussed. But the budget proposed the imposition of an additional 10% tax on fiber optic connection and laptop computers. This would increase the cost of the internet and the devices needed to use the internet. The approach seems contradictory.

The Minister of Finance said that the education rate at the secondary level, gender equality, general learning and training based on science and technology, allowances and scholarships for students and teachers, various measures to hone the merit of students, the construction of the structure of government and non-government educational institutions and the distribution of books are continuing as part of the government’s plan to spread education and improve its quality. He also speaks of the recruitment of 38,283 teachers through the non-governmental Teacher Registration and Certification Authority and that steps to recruit 15,163 teachers are underway. In 2021-2022, 1,200 classrooms were built. Three hundred and fifteen schools have been transformed into model schools in as many upazilas. The Education Trust Fund has 10 billion taka to help poor, destitute and deserving students. But the model schools do not seem to have an impressive impact on the quality of education.

Schools not yet covered by the monthly payment system are struggling to get the facilities and schools have started calling for nationalization. This area deserves government attention because primary and secondary schools, and even colleges, are not evenly distributed geographically based on demographics. Many public primary schools have only one or two students, and many schools have 30 to 40 students. This suggests a misuse of money in this sector. Densely populated areas have no high schools or colleges.

Areas that need schools have no schools, suggesting a poor distribution of educational facilities. This has been going on for years and needs to be remedied with proper mapping. Neither the 2023 budget proposal nor the 2022 budget suggests any improvement in this regard. Because of such a situation, many teachers feel that they have been deprived of their due. The government has done a lot for teachers. A serious shortcoming has become visible, challenging the authorities on the repair. The budget should have focused on that.

The national curriculum takes on a new form in 2023, as reported by the National Curriculum and Textbook Council. Change has been the focus of concern for several months. But the budget proposal is almost silent on this subject. It is also said that the proposals and plans set out in the Education Policy 2010 have been implemented phase by phase; but, the action does not match the request. Students in classes I, II, VI and VII would receive textbooks designed according to the new curriculum in 2023, which will certainly require a huge amount of money, but this was not mentioned in the budget proposal.

Yet, the allowance was increased from Tk 80 million to Tk 200 million for poor but deserving students. The size of the gross domestic product stands at 44.5 trillion taka, but the education sector received an allocation of less than 2% of the gross domestic product. This is not a good allocation, especially considering that the government claims to have given education the highest priority.

Masum Billah is the President of the Association of English Teachers of Bangladesh.

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