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Business News/ Politics / Universal education still not reaching girls, underprivileged

New Delhi: The government’s push to get all children between the ages of 6 and 14 into school seems to be having mixed results: overall enrolment has indeed increased, but girls and the underprivileged aren’t deriving their fair share of the benefits.

The numbers indicate that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme may be achieving its mandate, with as many as 96.5% of the children in the target group nationwide attending school, according to a survey conducted by the human resource development (HRD) ministry.

SSA, the government’s flagship universal education programme, was launched in 2001-02. Enrolment increased from 131 million in 2001-02 to 182 million in 2004-05. Out-of-school children dropped from 32 million in 2001-02 to 7.1 million in 2005-06, a 78% reduction.

As much as Rs28,077 crore, excluding additional funding by state governments, was spent between 2002 and 2007 on the programme, part of the government’s initiative to promote inclusive growth.

But the programme hasn’t had as beneficial an effect among sections of society that need it the most, according to data restricted to 10 states and one union territory.

Push for education: Children at a government primary school in Amazir village, Madhya Pradesh. Several states have introduced incentives such as free textbooks and bicycles for girls to go to school this year. Madhu Kapparath / Mint

Experts say the institutional mindset towards children from these categories could be hindering the programme. Motivation is key to pushing such children to make use of the system, according to Anita Rampal, a professor at Delhi University’s department of education.

What’s important “is that the school ethos is supportive of such children", Rampal said. “In many schools, including even Delhi, teachers usually do not have much expectations from these children. That’s how children’s experience of a classroom is constructed."

The survey shows that the enrolment of girls had also fallen in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Chandigarh between 2003 and 2007. The enrolment of SC and ST children had fallen in Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal in the same period.

Given that one of SSA’s key objectives is to bridge gender and social category gaps at the primary stage by 2007 and at elementary education level by 2010, several state governments such as Bihar and Madhya Pradesh have introduced incentives such as free textbooks and bicycles for girls to go to school this year.

The HRD ministry has announced several initiatives under the 11th Plan to boost educational standards among the SC and ST communities, including the setting up of 20 Navodaya Vidyalayas and 10 schools in districts having a large concentration of these communities.

“The states need to make sure that the enrolment of girls and SC and STs improve as, besides overall improvement in enrolment ratio, the objective of SSA is also to narrow inequality," said a Planning Commission official, who did not want to be identified.

The HRD ministry’s presentation said student absenteeism (less than 75% attendance) was high in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Assam. The reasons: work at home (sibling care and helping parents), ill health, festivals and seasonal migration.

It also adds that some habitations in Bihar, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and West Bengal do not have access to any school.

The SSA programme, widely hailed for its achievements in universal enrolment, has often been criticized for its lack of flexibility in funding patterns and the absence of any concrete mechanism to assess teaching-learning outcomes.

“The measurement of teaching-learning is also key to the success of such programmes," Rampal said. The curriculum doesn’t “just mean what the textbooks say, but also what happens in the classroom".

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Updated: 15 Oct 2009, 09:31 PM IST
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