Children are allegorically considered clay that is ready to be shaped. Looking at an ant or at the vast night sky, children absorb information at a remarkable pace. For this reason, schools are fast adopting innovative learning methods to give young minds an in-depth understanding of concepts.
According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2018, the proportion of children (age 6–14) not enrolled in school has fallen from 3% in 2016 to 2.8%. The responsibility for continuing this improvement falls to the pedagogies and scholars who design curriculum to ensure positive outcomes. But other factors come to play when looking for answers on how to further improve these outcomes. One of these factors is related to school infrastructure.
Even though various initiatives under Samagra Shiksha Abhiyaan are essential, the school buildings and related amenities play an essential role in motivating students to attend classes. A few state governments have taken a holistic approach to academic performance, and their results serve as a case study for others to follow on how infrastructure contributes in positive student performance. Till the previous Union Budget, 2019-20, where Rs 94,853.64 crores were allocated for education, out of which Rs 56, 536.63 crores were dedicated to schools. The rest was assigned for teacher’s training, higher education, research, and an initiative ‘Study in India’ for overseas students. It failed to make space for the development and maintenance of school infrastructure. But, recent Budget 2020-21, has opened the doorway to hopes and possibilities. This Union Budget, the FM has earmarked Rs 99,300 crores for the education sector.
The role of a “complete” school building was witnessed in Government Senior Secondary School, Beejwad in Alwar, Rajasthan, where student enrollment rose by 75%—from 280 to 490 in 2018–19. The teachers report a visible improvement in the attendance ratio as well. The school witnessed a major migration from private schools in the region. Similarly, students of Government Middle School, Kota Khandevla, Taoru in Haryana, have developed greater interest in attending classes since their school has been reconstructed. The biggest contributing factor to this massive difference is the pleasantly renovated, functioning school building.
The earlier situation of crumbling walls, undrinkable water, and unhygienic washrooms failed to provide students with basic necessities. For female students, this is an added worry in terms of security and attending to menstrual concerns, which led to inequitable learning outcomes.
The gloomy pictures of government schools without renovation in rural areas are highly demotivating for students. The results were poor attention and retention in class, disinterest in attending school, and finally to dropping out.
Initiatives like ‘Transform Lives, one school at a time’ have helped correct the image of government schools in remote regions by providing access to clean drinking water; secure, separate, and functioning toilets for girls and boys; intact infrastructure; and informative positive messaging throughout the school premise for the overall shaping of a child’s personality.
Students in Zila Parishad High School, Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, have shown a major positive change in their attitudes toward learning. The attendance ratio has increased by 15%. Students no longer skip classes or leave their school premise during school hours. Heightened boundary walls keeps them secure within the learning environment. Students now demonstrate improved general knowledge and are showing interest in environmental concerns.
The situation is hard enough when some children still have to walk miles or rely on bullock cart rides to reach schools. And improper infrastructure widens the pre-existing gap in making school ducation a priority for rural inhabitants. Working in the development sector and emphasizing school education provides a firsthand view of how infrastructure maintenance reduces the number of school dropouts and improves overall enrollment and class attendance. A huge strata of young people in rural India are still without basic requirements in educational institutes, while the urban populace is leaping ahead.
Confucius said, “I see and I remember.” Rural children have only seen the impoverishment of government schools; their “clay” is imprinted with images of bleak future. For effective education, the learning space shouldn’t be obsolete if betterment in learning is the priority. The approach of renovating a school is a trait of progressive nation.
(The writer is a communications associate at S M Sehgal Foundation)
A crude policy: Squeezing common man for oil revenues, profits
Petrol price on July 3 in Delhi was 80.43 a litre, a Rs 9.13 increase in 28 days, from June 6, and has stayed there since even as diesel price, now higher than that of petrol, continues to inch upwards as prices change every day at 6 am.
Why are petrol and diesel prices so high? Is it due to the high import cost and a weakening rupee? It is true that crude price of the Indian basket (what the country imports) increased from $19.90 a barrel in March closer to $40 now. And the rupee ha…
Not just today, but these excuses for rising prices have been invalid ever since the government withdrew its price determination role, or the administered prices mechanism. We are made to believe that the high crude prices are the culprit whereas there is no link between crude import price and the price at the pump. Consider the situation in 2013, when crude price was at a high $111.59. At the then prevailing rupee-dollar exchange rate of Rs 66.89, the per-barrel crude rate was Rs 7,464 and per litre Rs 46.94. But petrol in Delhi was sold at Rs 76.06 then. Similarly, in 2018 the per litre cost, factoring in the extant exchange rate and the crude price at that time, was Rs 33.90, but petrol was still sold at Rs 76.
Even in April 2020, when crude price bottomed out to $19.90 and dollar exchange rate was Rs 75.27, imported crude cost Rs 9.42 a litre, but petrol was still being sold at over Rs 70.
The second reason often given for the high fuel prices is the heavy subsidies the government gives to the oil sector. The government’s compiled figures, petroleum and natural gas statistics, themselves refute this claim. The oil sector contributed Rs 4,56,530 crore to the government in 2017-18. The contribution included: Royalty from crude oil (Rs 12,057 crore), royalty from gas (Rs 1722 crore), Oil Development Cess (Rs 13,544 crore), Excise and Custom duties (Rs 2,13,012 crore), sales tax (Rs 1,86,394 crore) and dividend (Rs 29,801 crore). Similarly, the provisional estimates of gains for 2018-19 is Rs 4,33,062 crore.
Oil pays for all subsidies
As per the government’s data, the share of the petroleum sector in total subsidies has increased from 8.3% (Rs 24,833 crore Revised Estimate) in 2018-19 to 11.1% (Rs 37,478 crore) crore in 2019-20 Budget Estimate. But this amount is peanuts compared to what the government gets from the sector, more than Rs 4 lakh crore! The total subsidy of the government in 2017-18 amounted to Rs 2,24,455 crore, which included the subsidy on food (Rs 1,00,282 crore), fertilizers (Rs 66,468 crore), petroleum (Rs 24,460 crore), interest subsidies (Rs 22,146 crore) and other subsidies (Rs 11,099 crore). The total subsidy budgeted for 2019-20 was Rs 3,38,949 crore. This means, the petroleum sector is taking on it the entire subsidy burden of the government.
High profits to companies
Similarly, the claim of the oil companies sustaining losses is baseless. On the contrary, they are making huge profits. As per the latest official data, the net profit earned by public sector oil companies during 2018-19 was Rs 69,714 crore, which was higher than Rs 69,562 crore in 2017-18; ONGC earned the highest profit of Rs 26,716 crore, followed by IOCL, Rs 16,894 crore, and BPCL Rs 7,132 crore. So, the excuse of losses is an outright false claim.
The under-recoveries, to whatever extent they are shown, are also not losses. In simple terms, the under-recoveries are the difference between the actual price the petroleum product is sold at and a notional price, a lower than expected profit, but not loss.
Another reason often quoted for high fuel prices is India’s high dependence on crude imports. It is true that India’s dependence on imports is high, but it is not a justifiable cause for high petrol, diesel and other product prices. True, domestic production of crude is only 34.20 million metric tons (MMT) against the consumption of 213.22 MMT (2018-19 figures), which means an 84% import dependence. But India imports more crude than is domestically consumed. It refines the additional volume and sells the products outside India.
The Petroleum Oil and Lubricants (POL) exports in 2018-19 were worth Rs 2,67,697 crore; the weak rupee gives additional benefit here, which is not much talked about. Petroleum product exports account for 11.6% of the country’s total exports Rs 23,07,663 crore. So, import dependence is not a good excuse for high petrol and diesel prices.
There is, therefore, no justification in not sharing the benefits of low international crude prices with the people by lowering the prices of petrol and diesel. Needless to add, the high petrol and diesel prices have a high cascading effect on prices in general and have the potential to further cripple the Covid-19 ravaged economy. The government will do well to review its fuel pricing policy and make it transparent at least now, and should stop the constant rise in petrol and diesel prices and thereby of other goods.