NATIONAL BUDGET 2020-21 : Business-as-usual budget in crisis time

Nasir Uz Zaman | Published: 00:00, Jun 21,2020 | Updated: 00:02, Jun 21,2020

Nasir Uz Zaman, National Budget 2020-21, Budget in Education Sector,

On June 11, the national budget for the fiscal year 2020-21 was proposed in the parliament amid an epidemic outbreak of the novel coronavirus. From students, teachers to parents, all concerned thought that the budget for the education sector have failed to respond to the crisis the sector is faced with, writes Nasir Uz Zaman

MORE than a hundred thousand people now have been infected with COVID-19 in Bangladesh with all educational institutions being closed since March 16, now stretched until August 6. Academic lives of students from across the country is uncertain. Private sector institutes that are largely dependent on student tuition fees are financially struggling. Online classes are faced with many challenges as a sound infrastructure for online education is not in place. In this context, the national budget for 2020-21 fiscal carried particular significance for the education sector. All concerned expected the budget to speak to the crisis stemming from an epidemic situation in the education sector.

For the financial year 2020-21, the budget proposed to allocate total Tk 66,401 crore for the primary and mass education ministry, department of secondary and higher education, and technical and madrasah education wing together. The increase in the sector from previous year is insignificant, a mere 0.01 per cent.

Under the development budget, Tk 9,404 crore has been allocated for the primary and mass education ministry, Tk 11,865 crore for the department of secondary and higher education and Tk 1,976 crore for the technical and madrasah education wing.

Following the budgetary policy of previous years, budget allocation for the ministry of science and technology and information and communication technology division is shared with the education ministry. For the ministry of science and technology and information and communication technology division, Tk 17,946 crore and Tk 1,415 crore are allocated consecutively.

The demand for increasing budget in the education sector is not something new but amid COVID-19 outbreak when the whole sector is going through a great crisis, a particular need for increased budgetary allocation and planning attention was demanded.

Some educationists suggested that online education could provide an effective solution to the ongoing crisis in the education sector. Koushik Chandra Howlader, an assistant professor at Noakhali Science and Technology University said, there must be adequate digital devices, high-speed internet and platform available for teachers and students to run online classes. Referring to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’ Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2019, which indicated that only 37.6 per cent of households in the country have access to internet and only 5.6 per cent of households have a computer, he said, authorities have to allocate more budget to make the IT gadgets available for students to make remote learning effective. Koushik also added that if the government did not allocate more, a large number of students will be left outside of the remote learning system. Without an increased budget, as Howlader have insisted, required IT infrastructure for online education is not possible. 

In the current debate on how to best utilise online education, the question of added educational expense is one of the main concerns, particularly from student community. The proposed budget has imposed a supplementary duty on the mobile phone and data plans. This newly imposed 5 per cent SD will increase cost of mobile phone usage as well as the cost of internet. On June 15, rejecting the budget, Bangladesh Students’ Union held a protest rally in front of the National Parliament House, Dhaka. Among others, they demanded an increase of budget allocation in education sector. Mehedi Hasan Nobel, president of the organisation, expressed his frustration as he thinks that the budget allocation is not any how reasonable in the present context of Bangladesh. In his words, ‘For a long time, the government allocates limited budget for education. Lack of resources is weakening the education system over time.’

In the COVID-19 outbreak, most of the private educational institutions are struggling for their survival. According to the Bangladesh Education Information and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics’, there are 68,618 private institutions for primary education, 19,802 for secondary education and 3,822 for college education in Bangladesh. Describing the difficulties in the private sector, Nahid Sultana, head teacher of European Standard School (English version), said that they are already struggling to manage the institutional costs, including the academic staffs’ salaries for last three months. Nahid added that the main source of income of the private schools is the tuition fees but with a prolonged closure, staff salaries as well as the existence of the institutions are at stake. In this crisis time, Nahid urged a practical allocation of budget for the sector so that the large number of institutions can survive.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation has already warned that the low and middle income countries may witness an increased school drop-out rates owing to the immediate and long-term consequences of COVID-19 pandemic. UNESCO also points out, ‘It is a challenge to ensure children and youth return and stay in school when schools reopen after closures. This is especially true of protracted closures and when economic shocks place pressure on children to work and generate income for financially distressed families.’

An organisation for increasing public literacy, Campaign for Popular Education also raised similar concern. In a statement addressed to the government on budget allocation for education sector, CAMPE hinted that the epidemic situation has put the progress made over the last two decades in the sector at risk. To address the threat, CAMPE urged the government to initiate a three-year education recovery plan including increased budget allocation in education sector. It has issued a set of recommendation for the government: more budget to strengthen the ICT section of the academic institutions, as in at least 15 per cent allocation of the 2020-21 budget outlay; training for the teachers; inter-institutional or inter-organisational coordination on information technology; regular salaries of all non-MPO and all MPO registered teachers.

Tasbibul Gani Niloy, student of Jahangirnagar University thinks that besides raising the budget allocation, maintaining transparency in spending the budget is also important. From the experience of the last couple of years, Niloy said, financial irregularities were reported in universities, several movements were also held against such corruption. If the authorities do not ensure transparency, students will never be benefitted from the allocated resources. For the greater good, the implementation of budget must be transparent.

In the backdrop of the COVID-19 outbreak, the insignificant increase by 0.01 per cent in education sector is quite disappointing. When students, parents and educationists are hoping for a comprehensive recovery plan from the policy makers, the budget in education sector has appeared inadequate.

Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.

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