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Will education get much deserved attention?

Md Solamain Salman
17 May 2023 00:00:00 | Update: 17 May 2023 00:05:04
Will education get much deserved attention?

The allocation on education was 20.1 per cent of Bangladesh’s first national budget in FY1972-73 but this sector’s allocations in recent years’ budgets have always been lower than that of 50 years ago.

In FY1973-74, the allocation was even increased to 20.4 per cent. But since 1974, the education budget has been gradually decreasing instead of rising.

Data from the FY2022-23 national budget shows that the allocation for the education sector was only 12.01 per cent of the total outlay and 1.83 per cent of GDP.

The education sector allocation has been hovering around 10-12 per cent of the total budget over the past decade, except once in 2016 when the jump was over 14 per cent.

Also, the education budget has been hovering around 2 per cent of GDP over the last 20 years, which is lower than many other Asian countries.

Experts have said that such an amount of public expenditure does not match the country’s development aspirations, particularly in view of the upcoming LDC graduation and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

According to the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), the education budget as a share of the total budget decreased from 14 per cent in FY2015-16 to 11.7 per cent in FY2021-22 while the allocation as a share of GDP fell from 1.9 per cent in FY2020-21 to 1.8 per cent in FY23.

It also said the country’s average education expenditure as a percentage of GDP from 1979 to 2020 was the fourth lowest among 45 LDCs (least developed countries).

Bangladesh’s education expenditure as a percentage of GDP was 1.8 per cent in FY018-19, which was the lowest among 28 LDCs and second-lowest among the 104 countries of the world.

CPD Research Fellow Muntaseer Kamal told The Business Post, “The education budget being around 2 per cent of GDP is not enough as per our international commitments.”

The lion part of the allocation is spent on infrastructural development of educational institutions but there is no big investment to improve the quality of education, he said.

“It is not possible to allocate 6 per cent of GDP overnight but the government must increase the allocation gradually to ensure quality education. We hope the education sector will get enough allocation in the upcoming budget for FY2023-24,” he added.

Allocation as share of budget, GDP

Bangladesh has committed in the Dakar Declaration and other global forums to spend 6 per cent of the GDP or allocate at least 20 per cent of the national budget for education. Unesco also stipulates similar budgetary allocations for education.

But the government’s allocation on education sector was 12.01 per cent in the proposed budget in FY23, 11.7 per cent in the revised budget (RB) in FY22, 12.3 per cent in RBFY21, 11.8 per cent in RBFY2019-20, 11.8 per cent in RBFY2018-19, 12.6 per cent in RBFY2017-18, 14 per cent in RBFY2016-17 and 14 per cent in RBFY16.

Educationists said the country’s inflation rate has risen over the last decade when the education sector witnessed rapid growth with the number of students, teachers and institutions increasing. But the budget allocation did not increase in proportion to the sector’s growth.

Meanwhile, the total public expenditure on education was 1.6 per cent of GDP in 1990 and which rose to about 2 per cent in 2000. But the ratio has not gone over 2 per cent since then.

The government allocated only 1.83 per cent of the GDP for education in the proposed budget for FY23. It was 1.8 per cent in RBFY2, 1.9 per cent in RBFY21, 1.9 per cent in RBFY20, 1.8 per cent in RBFY19, 1.8 per cent in RBFY18, 1.9 per cent in RBFY17 and 1.8 per cent in RBFY16.

According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, the government expenditure on education in 2019 was 5.68 per cent of GDP in Bhutan, 4.41 per cent in India, 4.24 per cent in Nepal, 4.12 per cent in the Maldives, 3.21 per cent in Afghanistan, 2.51 per cent in Pakistan, 1.93 per cent in Sri Lanka, and 1.33 per cent in Bangladesh.

Also, in 2018, it was 4.4 per cent of GDP in Nepal, 6.9 per cent in Bhutan and 2.1 per cent in Sri Lanka. This shows that Bangladesh is still lagging compared to its neighbours when it comes to the education budget.

More investment must

Experts said Bangladesh should invest more in education, especially in improving quality, if it wants to change its future and achieve the goals set in the National Education Policy 2010.

Campaign for Popular Education Executive Director Rasheda K Chowdhury told The Business Post, “Education is a key tool to convert human resources to skilled manpower. But we have seen that education is not getting the deserved priority in the national budgets for a long time. I always think, why not have a separate budget for education?”

“Bangladesh has signed many national and international charters or declarations, including SDGs and Child Rights Charter. There, the government has committed to allocate at least 4-6 per cent of GDP or 15-20 per cent of the budget on education but it’s not fulfilling it,” she said.

“All our national commitments, including the 8th Five-Year Plan, Vision 2041 and National Education Policy 2010, talk about investing in human capacity building. But we are not fulfilling those goals either,” she said.

She lamented that the education allocation never goes above 3 per cent of the GDP and not above 13 per cent of the total budget. “There is no separate budget for the education sector. It is being added to the budget of other sectors, like science and technology or the religion ministry.”

Rasheda, also a former caretaker government adviser, said the lion’s share of the budget is spent on infrastructure development and for the salaries of teachers and employees, but the allocation for improving the quality of education is very poor.

Investment is a must to improve the quality of teaching and the development of teachers’ skills. The government has set up many digital labs in educational institutions that need skilled trainers and proper access to the internet, she said.

“The rate of technical education is increasing slowly. There are polytechnic and vocational institutes but there is a lack of skilled trainers. Budget allocation in this regard should be increased,” she added.

Proper utilisation key

Rasheda said an example of the disparity in state spending is a comparison of the per capita expenditure on students at cadet colleges and on students at mainstream institutions. “I think equal allocation should be given to all. Be it madrasah, mainstream or cadet colleges.”

“However, only increasing the allocation is not enough. At the same time, proper utilisation of the budget with integrity and accountability are also major challenges for the government,” she stressed.

After the FY23 budget was announced last year, 15 academicians of the country, including professors Moinul Islam, Shahidul Islam, Jatin Sarkar, Tajul Islam, Anu Muhammad, Sadeka Halim, MM Akash, Kaberi Gayen, Badiur Rahman and Principal Akmal Hossain, in a media statement had urged the government to allocate 25 per cent of the budget on education.

They said the allocated budget for the education sector is poor. After independence, the education sector allocation in the FY1972-73 budget was 20.1 per cent of the total budget. In FY1973-74, it was 20.4 per cent. But sadly, since 1975, the allocation size has gradually decreased.

However, Education Minister Dipu Moni on Tuesday said that the education budget increased in manifolds during the Awami League government’s tenures compared to the budgets before 2006. “We are now allocating 3 per cent of GDP for education but this investment should be at least 4 per cent of GDP,” she said

The minister also said, “I hope that after the ongoing mega projects are complete, the government will take mega projects for education and the sector’s allocation will increase.”