Bihar, one of the first states to draw up a plan for universal secondary education, is considering involving the private sector to help open more schools for children in the 14-17 age group.
Bihar has put the investment that it needs for education—for all age groups—at Rs10,000 crore per year for the next eight years.
This investment need is apart from the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), the Manmohan Singh government’s flagship programme for universal elementary education, which aims at putting all children in the 6-14 age group in school.
Bihar, one of the poorest states in terms of per capita income and state domestic product, is considering ways to raise sufficient resources. One of the strategies being considered, is to partner with the private sector.
“We may look for private sector involvement,” said M.M. Jha, principal secretary for the state’s human resource development ministry, which oversees education. “Private sector can build a school and we can provide teachers or the other way round. We are still considering (the options).”
The reason why the state feels that private capital may be drawn to secondary schools is because the government is not mandated by law to provide free education to children in this age group, unlike the 6-14 age group where free and compulsory education is a constitutional requirment.
The state government feels that private schools can be allowed to set their fees, subject to government regulation.
Bihar wants to open 17,000 secondary schools in the next eight years, to add to the 3,000 schools that already exist.
Education experts say schools for the older age group are needed across the country because of the demand created by children who entered school as part of SSA. This programme has, since 2004, relied on a cess on every tax-paying Indian to fund elementary schools.
It has helped reduce the number of out-of-school children from 58.02 million in 2001 to 13.4 million in 2005.
“It is a function of success of SSA at least in terms of numbers,” said Samphe D. Lhalungpa, chief of education for the United Nations Children’s Fund, or Unicef, in India, which has worked with the government to bring innovations in teaching in schools in poor districts of Bihar, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.
“There is pressure from Class VIII onwards from children who are getting out or are already out of the SSA”.
Realizing this demand, finance minister P. Chidambaram increased the education cess by 1% in the Budget for this fiscal year, and doubled the outlay for secondary education from Rs1,837 crore in 2006-07 to Rs3,794 in 2007-08. It is not clear how the Union government will share these resources with the states as no formal scheme for achieving universal secondary education has been announced by the former.
The Centre has so far funded 75% of SSA. But this fiscal onwards, it has asked states to fund an equal share in the SSA. Bihar has a budget of Rs3,300 crore for SSA in the current fiscal, one of the largest budgets of all states. The state has released Rs600 crore as the first tranche of funds.