The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education and the Ministry of Education have demanded Tk18,500 crore more in the next budget to execute plans aimed at reducing dropouts and learning losses of pupils during the pandemic-led school closure.
The two ministries' catch-up schemes include introducing mid-day meals, raising stipends, increasing multimedia classes and continuing online classes.
However, the finance ministry has approved only Tk7,804 crore more in the upcoming budget.
"The Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, the Secondary and Higher Education Division and the Technical and Madrasah Education Division – all of them have proposed more budgetary allocations. We will finalise the funds after analysing their proposals," a Finance Division official involved in drafting the national budget told The Business Standard.
Preferring anonymity, the official said the main challenge for the next fiscal year would be to reduce the dropout rate of primary students as educational institutions had remained closed for a year. On the other hand, increasing the quality of secondary and higher education would be emphasised.
"But the government's revenue collection has to be taken into consideration," the Finance Division official noted.
In the current fiscal year, a total of Tk66,403 crore has been allocated for the primary and mass education and education ministries. Of the total allocation, the primary and mass education ministry has Tk24,940crore, secondary and higher education Tk33,119 crore, and technical and madrasah education Tk8,344 crore.
According to initial expenditure ceilings fixed by the Finance Division for the 2021-22 fiscal year, primary and mass education is supposed to spend Tk27,432 crore, secondary and higher education Tk36,431 crore, and technical and madrasa education about Tk10,000 crore.
Primary education will not take any new project
Mohammad Nurunnabi, senior assistant secretary (budget) of the primary and mass education ministry, said the ministry had proposed a Tk29,500crore allocation in the next budget, of which Tk128 crore would be spent on reducing dropouts and recovering learning losses.
He added that the ministry would not take up any new development projects this year due to the pandemic-driven situation.
The official said the authorities would introduce mid-day meals at schools so that students belonging to poor families did not leave their classes. Moreover, monthly stipends for each student would be raised to Tk150 from Tk100.
"Our main focus will be to reduce dropouts and recover learning losses. If required, we will mobilise the unspent funds for these priorities," he added.
Secondary education division to construct buildings, appoint teachers
The Secondary and Higher Education Division has sought Tk43,681 crore in allocation in the next budget – Tk7,250 crore more than the expenditure ceiling fixed by the Finance Division.
Fazlur Rahman, senior assistant secretary (budget) of the Secondary and Higher Education Division, said more money was needed to conduct multimedia classes, continue online teaching, provide educational institutions with broadband internet, construct new buildings and appoint teachers.
"Therefore, we have asked the finance ministry for an additional expenditure of Tk7,250crore," he said.
Officials of the division said 3 lakh teachers would be imparted training on ICT to conduct 30 lakh multimedia classes in the next financial year.
Besides, the division plans to construct and expand new academic buildings in 6,250 private secondary schools, 300 government and 1,500 private colleges. The new educational institutions will have multimedia classrooms and ICT labs.
Meanwhile, the education ministry plans to construct new academic buildings in 323 government secondary schools, provide ICT materials and set up laboratories. Besides, it aims to distribute Tk2,235 crore in stipends to about 44 lakh students from class VI to class XII in the new fiscal year.
Md Moniruzzaman, additional secretary (development) of the Technical and Madrasah Education Division, said the finance ministry spending ceiling was too inadequate for both learning recovery and development.
"Therefore, we have sent a letter to the finance division seeking additional allocation," he told TBS.
No alternative to increasing allocation
Academics and economists have proposed various learning programmes to cover the learning losses of students.
Manzoor Ahmed, professor emeritus at Brac University, said reopening schools, reducing dropouts and recovering learning losses were the crucial challenges.
"The government announced stimulus packages to salvage virus-hit businesses, but no stimulus has been declared to offset the fallout in the education sector. There is no alternative to increasing the allocation for education in the next budget."
He appreciated mid-day meals and stipends as a means of reducing dropouts. "However, committees should be formed at upazila level with the involvement of NGOs to monitor whether the budget allocation is being spent properly," he added.
Manzoor Ahmed commented that students belonging to poor families would require extra classes and special coaching after the reopening. "Each school will have to spend a lot on this," he said.
Meanwhile, former World Bank economist Dr Zahid Hussain thinks if schools are not reopened soon, the dropout rate will increase further.
Dr Hussain said there should be coordination between the education ministry and the health ministry for school reopening.
After the reopening, he said the pupils would have to be provided with virus safety measures, such as sanitizers and face masks.
"For this, the government needs to allocate more in the budget; and school management committees, parents' representatives and local administration can be involved so that the funds are used properly," he added.