India spends about $90 billion annually on education. Approximately 35% of this or $31 billion is the Government’s share. The private sector spends around $50 billion. Tracing the lines in Government education spending can be extremely arduous as we are discovering. And the gaps get bigger as we start looking state-wise. The heartening bit in this story is that Governments themselves have begun cleaning up the mess. Here is one illustrative example.

The state of Maharashtra, like many other states, funds scholarships for students, particularly those belonging to under privileged sections. In 2010, Maharashtra gave out Rs 1,900 crore ($422 million) worth of scholarships, mostly in cash or cheques. Possibly suspecting and chasing large scale leakages, the state government last year passed a resolution saying that all forthcoming payments would only be made into bank accounts. The results were instant. For the year 2010-11, the payout was down to Rs 1,300 crore ($288 million), a staggering Rs 600 crore ($133 million) drop in just a year.

How come? Well, only 1.3 million of 1.9 million children apparently opened the bank accounts. The other 0.6 million? They don't exist. At least if we are to believe some of the officials driving this initiative. There’s more. In the district of Wardha, some 70 colleges allegedly didn’t exist either. And the western state is not alone. The state of Andhra Pradesh has brought down ‘bogus post-matric’ scholarship (for one among many types of scholarships) claims from 350,000 to 250,000 - figures unverified though target for this year is 171,402 students and scholarships worth Rs 300 crore. The AP savings figures are pretty large. The state actually implemented an Online Scholarship Management System for distributing scholarships (to minorities students). In doing so, it brought down the number of processes from 24 to 6 and man days (reportedly) from 900 to 9. Note again this is just one of many state scholarships. We must add here that while we are pretty sure of the Maharashtra numbers, they are yet to be verified through printed data.

The bad news is this education gap is the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The good news is that the problem is being attacked by some very committed government officials in several states that we know of. SPR Foundation will keep digging deeper in coming months.