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Missing lessons – Frontline

A CAG audit shows that the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan in the National Capital Territory is far from reaching its goals.

THE aim of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (SSA), launched as a flagship programme of the Union Ministry for Human Resource Development in 2001-02, was to provide elementary education to all children in the 6-14 age group. A recent report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India shows that hardly any of the SSA goals have been reached in the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Implementation has been slow and the funds have been poorly utilised, the CAG report says.

A close look at the report shows that a large number of children are out of school, and most of them belong to the Scheduled Castes (S.Cs) and Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The total enrolment in primary schools has increased but that of S.C. children decreased by 8.09 per cent in 2004-05; enrolment of girl children of the S.C./S.T. category has also fallen. Amenities as basic as toilets for girls are not provided in 537 of the 4,455 schools in the National Capital Territory.

The CAG audit, which was conducted in 2002-03 and 2004-05, noted that while the SSA envisaged participation of the local community in the planning process, the programme in Delhi was centralised. The planning took place at the headquarters of the Universalisation of Elementary Education (UEE) Mission. But there were more serious issues, such as a trend of decreasing enrolment of male children except in north-west Delhi. This indicates, the report says, either that an alarming number of children are not joining schools or that there is a lack of authentic data, which would mean that the government is not interested in finding out who is out of school and why.

One aim of the SSA was to provide quality education to children of the S.C./S.T. category, taking into account that such children have special needs and problems. But even after a decline was registered in the enrolment of S.C./S.T. children in 2004-05, the UEE Mission did little to change the situation. Indeed, Delhi had a higher proportion of S.C./S.T. children of the 6-14 age group out of school. The figure was 90 for every thousand children of the category in Delhi, 19 in Chandigarh, two in Puducherry, 69 in Haryana, 43 in Punjab and 89 in Rajasthan.

There was no shortage of teachers, but the audit found their distribution to be skewed and their training inadequate. Instead of the stipulated 20 days’ training for all in-service teachers of primary and upper primary schools, only two days of training was imparted to 1,498 of 45,359 teachers and 20 days’ training to 14,559 out of 42,000 teachers between 2003 and 2005.

The SSA had envisaged the constitution of Block Resource Centres (BRCs) and Cluster Resource Centres (CRCs) to provide continuous academic support to teachers: SSA norms stipulate one BRC for each community block. During 2003-04, the Mission provided no funds to set up resource centres. No CRC was set up though Rs.4 lakhs was spent on furniture for 40 CRCs.

The audit found that there were 13,591 classrooms in the National Capital Territory that had partially pucca structures, while 734 classrooms had kuccha structures; 818 `classrooms’ functioned out of tents. Over 1.6 lakh children were studying in schools without electricity while over a lakh did not even have drinking water in their schools. There were 1.75 lakh children studying in schools without toilets. It is surprising that the issue did not receive more attention because the attendance of girl children is known to be contingent on the availability of such amenities. This meant that nearly 1.68 lakh girl children were denied the facility.

The UEE did nothing about the situation in the past three years, though funds were not a constraint.

The audit quotes a 2004-05 study of the Human Resource Development Ministry, which put the number of out-of-school children in Delhi at 4.15 lakhs. The audit’s own survey revealed that 42 in every thousand children in the 6-14 age group were out of school; the figure is 19 in Chandigarh, 12 in Puducherry, 34 in Haryana and 24 in Punjab.

One of the major objectives of the SSA was to bring all children into the educational fold by 2003, through formal schools, education guarantee centres, alternative schools or “back to school” camps. It was estimated by the UEE that there were 1.88 lakh out-of-school children in Delhi in July 2003. The only strategy deployed to get them in school was the opening of learning centres, which were supposed to prepare the children for mainstream education. Frontline had earlier reported about the difficulties faced by these learning centres. The audit report noted that such learning centres were interim measures, not meant to continue beyond a specific period by which time the children needed to be absorbed into regular schools.

The CAG found no shortage of teachers in the capital’s SSA schools, but the distribution of teachers was skewed and their training often inadequate.-BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were tasked with putting 50 per cent of the children enrolled in learning centres in formal schools every year. Until March 31, 2005, it was found, only one-fourth of the children had been put in mainstream schools. Besides, it was not clear how many of them had stayed on in school. The report says that though SSA guidelines require the State implementation agency to evaluate the impact of the intervention, no such study was conducted until August 2005. Also, of the Rs.51.47 lakhs earmarked for the purpose in the annual work plan and budget for 2004-05, only Rs.11,000 was spent on research and evaluation; but no report was available with the UEE Mission.

The audit report noted that the learning centres were the only institutions used by the Mission to bring children into the fold of education. A large number of children remain out of school and most probably work for their living. A field inspection of 75 learning centres revealed that attendance was low. For instance, of the 3,000 children enrolled, only 1,620 were found present. On an average, only 22 children were present in each of the learning centres. The audit estimated that 73,590 out-of-school children were enrolled in 2003-04 and 2004-05 against 1.33 lakh enrolments claimed by the Mission. In response to the audit’s findings, the government stated that the learning centres could not be monitored properly because of lack of conveyance for monitoring officials; it added that the problem had been addressed and that NGOs had been directed to maintain a pictorial record of each child to help in monitoring.

Until March 31, 2005, the NGOs hired on a contract basis had enrolled only 1.33 lakh out-of-school children. At least one assessment and one project report of the Union Ministry of Human Resource Development placed the total number of out-of-school children between four and seven lakhs.

The SSA gives importance to early childhood care and education in the 3-6 age group to improve participation of children in the schooling system; this has long been recognised as crucial for the development of emotional, cognitive, sensory and social skills. The SSA has provision for funds to organise early childhood care and education; yet, the audit notes, this was not included in the annual work plan for 2003-04. The government cited staff shortage, but it is not clear why additional recruitment was not made.

Early childhood programmes, according to UNESCO’s recent Global Monitoring Report on Education For All (EFA), can alter the developmental trajectory of a child. The first three years are the most crucial for brain development. The role of the early years in the formation of the human brain has been highlighted by neurobiology and other research fields, says the 2007 EFA report. A strong correlation has been found between early care and primary school attendance and performance. There are at least 30 countries, including 10 in Latin America and the Caribbean, which have laws making pre-primary education compulsory. India is yet to pass a law making education free and compulsory. Most Scandinavian countries, a few countries in Western Europe, Belarus, Cuba, Jamaica and a few others were found to have a pre-primary net enrolment ratio of at least 90 per cent without compulsory attendance laws. Even in an economically embargoed country like Cuba, enforcement was found to be very high and all teachers in pre-primary education met formal requirements. The situation is different in the United States where most teachers in child-care centres are not required to have a degree.

The report says that a serious decline in pre-primary education was noted in the constituent countries of the Soviet Union after its break-up, but most of the countries were regaining lost ground. Globally, primary school enrolment recorded the fastest increase between 1999 and 2004. South and South West Asia accounted for 19 per cent of this spurt, says the UNESCO report. However, data from household surveys indicated that many children enrolled in school did not attend school regularly. Among the measures suggested to foster inclusion are abolishing school fees, providing income support to households so that reliance on child labour is reduced, teaching in the mother tongue, and offering education opportunities for disabled children.

Notably, the audit survey of the SSA in Delhi reported that 34.9 per cent of parents said that they could not afford to send their children to school while 33.3 per cent stated that their children were “too young to go to school”. Some 4.7 per cent of the urban blocks did not have a primary school within a radius of one kilometre. This perhaps could be one of the reasons parents do not send their young children to school.

The overall picture is dismal. Whether it is early childhood care or primary education, the onus is on the government. It has to provide the teachers and the schools, enforce enrolment and monitor out-of-school children.

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