The pledge to bring about a paradigm shift in provisioning education to ALL would MAKE OUR celebration of 60 years of independence, worthwhile!

The Elementary Education in India 2005-06, a report presented by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) was not surprising but has been a befitting embarrassment for the Ministry of Human Resource Development, for the report has been a blatant blueprint of the failures of this critical social indicator, sustained over years. In one of my earlier editorials, I had mentioned that creation of impediments in provisioning education to masses had been a calculative conspiracy of successive governments, for it always served their purpose. In the same lines the report reveals that there are more than 32,000 schools (i.e. 3% of all schools) in this country which do not have a single student and no wonder that half of such schools are in rural India (with Karnataka being one of the worst performers with around 8,000 schools without a single student). In addition to this a little more than 6% schools have less than 25 students! The report goes on to state that around 23,000 are still waiting for the allocation of a teacher while as many as one lakh schools run with a single teacher only. What is even more amazing than this is that with that background, the Ministry of HRD had been audaciously doing some hard bargaining for larger allocations for provisioning education in the country! In fact, it is not just the Ministry of HRD; for long, policy-makers have been parroting that the crux of the problem in education is the lack of allocations. But the presence of 32,000 vacant schools indicates that it is not just funds but the predicament lies somewhere else and given the state of affairs, just more of outlays cannot deliver better outcomes. Consider this: the allocation for the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan has increased substantially to around Rs. 15,000 crore annually. In fact, the Planning Commision had been planning to hike the budgetary support to education to more than double, to around 18.2%! I wonder, for what, if the results are such absymal?

Well, today it just cannot be denied that there is a concurrent feeling of being cheated, among masses with respect to education delivery by the state. Such is the sense of deceit that most parents send their wards to private schools (albeit with a fee) than to send them to government schools. For that matter even the meal (which is sub-standard in most cases on account of corruption that riddles the Midday meal scheme) that is given to the kids in government primary schools is no more an incentive.

And add to this that 23,000 schools don’t have a single teacher and that one lakh schools run on a single teacher, then the reasons for the absence of the students in 32,000 schools is not unfounded for. What has been intriguing is the very fact that wherever government has failed to deliver many autonomous and semi-autonomous organisations like the Christian missionaries, the Ramakrishna Mission, Al Amim Mission or for that matter the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh run schools in the very same rural and neglected India has shown results. Not just them, there have been hundreds of individual and community initiatives which dots the length and breadth of the country, with commendable success. The haunting question is, if these autonomous institutions can do it why not the government schools? For it is not only lack of teachers but more than that what has been predominantly missing is any sense of accountability and commitment. A recent survey by the World Bank has stated that at any point of time around 25% of the teachers are absent in the schools. Not only this, it has also been observed that in rural hinterlands teachers jobs are being frequently sublet at a lesser wage. Plus the sense of a secured government job has been most detrimental as then they are found engaging in all other activities (like forming hostile Trade Unions) other than teaching!

It is imperative to take away this deadly security from the teaching staff’s conscience and bring about a major decentralization in the functioning of the primary schools and make them absolutely accountable to the local Panchayat and thus to the people whose children they are teaching. In that case the results are bound to improve. While it is futile to expect such innovations from the HRD Ministry especially when a minister with a license raj mentality is at the helm of affairs! It is time that the Ministry realizes that instead of unnecessarily interfering and forcefully trying to bring about social parity through caste based reservations, the real ground has to start with making the schools function properly. And by school we do not mean mere concrete structures but institutions where the next generation is truly empowered. It is this pledge to bring about a paradigm shift in provisioning education to all would make our celebrations of 60 years of independence, worthwhile!

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