Mumbai: India’s smaller, most-literate states tend to distribute money given to them by Delhi for education to schools quickest, are unlikely divert or misappropriate this money–unlike larger, less-literate states–and use central education funding most efficiently, according to our analysis of data from the government’s auditor.

For instance, Mizoram, India’s third-most-literate state, was fastest in moving central money for education to implementing agencies, within 30 days; Goa, India’s fourth-most-literate state, was fastest in moving money from state agencies to schools, within 30 days, according to a 2017 Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report.

35 states/UTs did not spend Rs 10,681cr (($1.53bn)  in 2010, rising to Rs 14,113cr ($2.15bn) in 2016 under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA or Education For All), leading to lower enrolments, fewer classrooms & more teachers in government schools, said the CAG report.

SSA funds not spent by states in 2015-16, Rs 14,113 crore, were equivalent to 67% of Kerala’s education budget for 2018-19.

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2009, provides that all children in the age group of 6-14 years have the right to free and compulsory education in a neighbourhood school till the completion of their elementary education.

SSA, a central government programme, is the main vehicle for implementing the Act. The SSA was revised in March 2011 to correspond to the RTE Act and state RTE rules.

Unspent SSA money rose 24%, from Rs 10,680 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 14,112 crore in 2015-16, the highest being Rs 17,281 crore in 2014-15, although the proportion of funds not utilised fell.

One reason for higher unspent balance of funds was the delay in moving the money,  from centre to state to nodal department to various implementing authorities in districts, blocks and schools. The delay in fund transfers from state government to implementing agency ranged from 373 days in Nagaland to 30 days in Mizoram. Fund transfers took longer from state agencies to district agencies and schools, from 300 days in Arunachal Pradesh to 30 days in Goa.

As many as nine states and union territories (Andhra Pradesh, Daman & Diu, Delhi, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh & Nagaland) did not spend money on research, evaluation, monitoring and supervision, the shortfalls ranging from 9% (Gujarat) to 65% (Jharkhand).

In Odisha, headmasters withdraw money for infrastructure, retire without spending

SSA funds were diverted to other programmes by states, the CAG report said.

For example, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh diverted SSA funds of Rs 8.95 crore and Rs 5.30 crore, respectively, to the National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level.

The CAG survey also found misappropriation of funds in districts; for example, Odisha–where the literacy rate is 73%–reported Rs1.04 crore as withdrawn and retained by 58 headmasters, without executing 80 infrastructure works allotted to them. Out of those 58 headmasters, 14 retired, four expired and two absconded while 38 were continuing in service.

The RTE Act demands that local authorities  maintain a record of all children in their jurisdiction through an annual household survey from their birth till age 14 . The CAG found that 21 states and union territories had not maintained any such records or conducted any such surveys between 2010-2016.

The survey contains information on the number of children up to age 14, children in school and out of school. The lack of information has impacted the quality of data used by the education ministry to create the District Information System for Education (DISE), a database of information about schools in India, the CAG report said.

Net enrolment ratio declines

Net enrolment ratio (NER), or the number of children enrolled to the population of children of official school age, in primary schools declined between 2012-13 and 2015-16, according to the CAG report.

Since the NER relates to children  enrolled in schools within the official school-age range, it should never exceed 100%. However, NERs in excess of 100% were reported by six states which raises question on the data and the claims of governments on RTE achievement, the CAG report said.

The least retention rate (calculated as enrolment in grade V in a year as a proportion of enrolment in grade I four years ago) was in Mizoram primary schools,  where 36% stayed in school, and in Maharashtra in upper primary schools, where no more than 15% stayed in school in 2015-16.

The DISE data was incomplete, and the retention rate was computed without data of all the states, the CAG report said.

The retention rate at government-run schools was “poor” compared to all other management schools according to the CAG report.

More teachers than classrooms

To avoid single-teacher schools, the RTE Act says primary schools with up to 60 students should have two teachers. As the number of students rise, so too must the number of teachers: 40 teachers are prescribed for schools with more than 200 students.

The CAG observed that in 11 states, these rules were not  implemented. For example, in Bihar, the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR, pupils per teacher, set at 30:1 fore primary schools and 35:1 in upper primary) in primary  and upper-primary government schools was 50:1 and 61:1, respectively, during 2012-16.

As many as 3,269 primary schools (8%) and 127 upper primary schools (1%) had a single teacher in Bihar.

In Rajasthan, 11,071 primary schools (29%) and 365 upper primary schools (2%) had a single teacher in 2012-16, compared to the norm of two and three teachers.

The number of schools with more teachers than classrooms increased from 894,329 in 2012-13 to 958,820 in 2015-16, an increase of 7%. This means that while 62% schools in 2012-13 had more than one teacher in a class, this increased to 66% schools in 2015-16.

Source: Comptroller and Auditor General of India

The education ministry told the CAG (January 2017) that 1.7 million classrooms had been constructed since 2000-01, but the CAG report said there were 900,000 schools with an unfavourable teacher-classroom ratio as of March 2016.

No teacher shall be deployed for any non-educational purposes, except for decennial population census, disaster relief duties or duties relating to elections to the local authority, state legislatures or Parliament, according to the RTE Act. The CAG found teachers in nine states deployed for non-educational purposes such as personal assistants of public representatives like collectors, revision of electoral rolls, working as staff members in district administration offices. For example, in Assam, in three out of four districts, 1,559 elementary teachers were engaged in updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) during 2014-15.

(Salve is a programme manager at IndiaSpend.