Home / Politics / There is lack of leadership on the elementary education front

New Delhi: Pratham, a non-governmental organization that works in the field of education, will bring out its fifth annual report in January on what schoolchildren are learning in rural India. Its head, Madhav Chavan, says the organization is looking to see how it can make the survey more in-depth. This year, for instance, the 20,000 volunteers who have fanned out to conduct the survey will also try to get information on finances for the first time and find out whether government grants reach schools on time. In an interview, Chavan talks about the state of elementary education including the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA, education for all programme). Edited excerpts:

Lessons on literacy: Madhav Chavan says integration of mother and child education is very important. Ashesh Shah / Mint

Experts say money is not a problem in education.

Money is a problem, don’t listen to experts. SSA money, for example.

Is it a cash-rich scheme?

In principle, it is. But did we move the money meant for SSA at the right time? Then we have the issue of state governments not being able to spend the money at the right time. That goes on between the state governments and the Central government. If money is not a problem, why is the fundamental Right to Education Act not notified? (When a law becomes effective or operational). You passed the Act within 100 days (of the government assuming power). It is already 100 days since you passed it, why can’t you notify it in 100 days, if money is not the problem? I think the government is not putting its might behind it. That is necessary. Otherwise, we would have created an illusion of the right to education.

What else is ASER (Pratham’s Annual Status of Education Report) looking at this year?

We are also looking at whether schools have received grants on time, and how it is spent. SSA money. Now, that is a very interesting one because we don’t know how many schools will give this information. It is something we are trying out this year. ASER will continue but the form of its measurement and reporting will change. We have not decided on that. We will bring out the report, but we may not want to do exactly the same thing. We’ve done it for five years. The other important thing is that the President of India, in her speech (to Parliament in June), said her government is going to bring out five annual reports (on education, health, employment, environment and infrastructure). We want to know what the government is going to do; so that we can decide what we will do. Why was it in the President’s speech, and why haven’t we heard about it since...?

I have talked to a lot of colleges and everyone is hopeful about Kapil Sibal. Is he doing enough in basic education?

I don’t think there is enough happening in literacy and elementary education.

Why is it not happening?

One is that the Right to Education Act was passed, and so there is no more political push required. But, in fact, if the money for it is not there and that is why there is no notification, then there is a bigger problem and it is not something Kapil Sibal can solve on his own. There is lack of leadership on the elementary education front. On the higher education side, for example, there is at least clear thought. That we need to have more investment in higher education, there is a thought that students should get education loans to meet higher expenses, these loans should not be dependent on their mortgage value, it is the education itself that pays off. All these are leadership things that somebody is putting out.

ASER has often measured the link between the mother’s education and a child’s learning.

Rural female literacy was 46% in the last census (in 2001)...rural female literacy should (now) be reaching 56-57%. If you add urban literacy and male literacy, in 2011 we should see 75%. The 11th Plan said 80%, not much of a difference. But the problem is the literacy rates, if you see south of the Vindhyas, will be very high. Unevenness will be in tribal areas, minority areas. This means these areas will always remain backward. There is a need to focus on these areas. For example, the National Literacy Mission should look at which are the backward areas and pull up literacy in these areas.

Literacy and elementary education both are housed in the same ministry, but the two are not aligned. This is a tragedy. Why is nobody thinking about it? Bihar government has created some sort of an example, not necessarily the best example. They have assigned two teachers per school to teach 20 women regularly; with that they want to reach 40 lakh women in a programme called Akshar Anchal. We also contributed to this programme, saying children should take alphabet home, words home.

This integration of mother’s education and child’s education is very important. It is necessary to develop that kind of literacy; especially among mothers of children who are in anganwadis, mothers whose children are in school.

By making mother and child sit together, you can give the mother literacy and make sure the child gets home support.

Do governments listen to you?

They listen, absorption is another thing.

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