When many students are on the verge of dropping out due to the discontinuation of their academic activities during the coronavirus pandemic, the traditional allocation for education in the proposed budget with no specific plan to recover the learning loss has frustrated the country’s educationists.
They also criticised Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal for not keeping separate allocations for enlisting the new educational institutions under the Monthly Pay Order (MPO) scheme.
The education budget for fiscal 2020-21 remains almost unchanged in terms of size and the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), compared to the current budget.
There have been expectations that the allocation for education will go up significantly in the next fiscal year to contain the possible increase of dropouts in schools which will eventually cause a rise in child marriage, early pregnancy and child labour.
Kamal allocated a total Tk 66,401 crore for education — Tk 24,940 crore for the primary and mass education ministry, Tk 33,117 crore for secondary and higher education division and Tk 8,344 crore for technical and madrasa education division — in the next fiscal year.
The amount is 11.69 percent of the total budget and 2.09 percent of the GDP.
In the current budget, the allocation for education is Tk 61,118 crore, which is 11.68 percent of the total budget and 2.10 percent of the GDP, according to budget documents.
Kamal said educational institutions have been closed since March 17, causing discontinuation of the regular academic activities of around 40 million students across the country.
“Our most important task in education for the next fiscal year would be to bring back the continuity in the curriculum and cover the loss caused by the long study break. We are allocating sufficient resources to this sector in the next fiscal year to achieve this objective,” Kamal said, without giving any guidelines on how the losses would be made up.
According to a recent survey conducted by the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE), the coronavirus pandemic might increase the dropout rate in schools which may give rise to child marriage.
Of the 126 respondents consist of NGO workers and teachers, 84 percent said dropouts will increase at schools, 71 percent forecast an increase in child labour while 58 percent predicted a rise in early marriage.
Against this backdrop, the educationists called for at least 15 percent of the budget to be allocated for the education.
“We are frustrated. This is a traditional education budget. With the allocation, it will not be possible to recover the learning loss caused by the Covid-19,” said Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director at the CAMPE.
She hoped that the government would address the issue in the revised budget and education, health and human resource development would get their due priorities.
Brac University Professor Emeritus Manzoor Ahmed proposed that the government should allocate Tk 5,000 crore exclusively for upazila-based education recovery plan.
Mohibul Hassan Chowdhoury, deputy minister for education, said, “We will take steps to make up the education loss due to the coronavirus situation. We will take extra classes. For that we do not need to look at the budget.”
Bangladesh Teachers Association President Nazrul Islam Rony said non-MPO teachers were frustrated as there was no separate allocation for enlisting non-government educational institutions under the MPO scheme.
“The teachers have been suffering financial hardship due to the coronavirus situation,” he said.
Mohibul said they would include new educational institutions after they fulfil the criteria. “We have a plan to assist the teachers who have been in hardship in the time of Covid-19,” he added.
The education sector’s share in the budget has been falling for the last few years. In the revised budget of 2010-11 fiscal year, for example, the figure was 14.3 percent, although Unesco recommends spending 6 percent of GDP and 20 percent of the national budget in the education sector.
Kamal in the budget speech announced that the government would provide internet connectivity two laptops and two multimedia projectors to all primary schools.
Aiming to enhance the contribution of renewable energy, the government will install solar panels on the roof-top of every educational institution in the country, he said.