The quality of education imparted to children of today will determine the quality of demographic dividend of tomorrow and in turn the economic growth rate in coming years. A child therefore needs to be taught, nurtured and provided with opportunities to learn, grow and discover his inherent strengths and skills so that he grows up to be a well informed, confident and learned member of the society who adds value to the socio-economic and moral fabric of the country.
It is in this context that Indian government realized the importance of imparting mass elementary education to the children of today irrespective of their socio-economic background and thus promulgated the 86th constitutional amendment which made ‘Right to free and compulsory education’ a fundamental right under article 21A of Indian Constitution. But why did government feel the need to give such a noble effort of imparting elementary education to the masses in the age group of 6 to 14 years a legislative backing! Secondly, what were the shortcomings in India’s education sector that have prevented the dissemination of quality education!
The answer to the first question lies in the realization that investment today in human capital will reap dividends once these young minds become a part of the labour force and seek employment, and thus government launched Sarva Siksha Abhiyan as the flagship scheme to impart elementary education to the children of India. This flagship scheme endeavored to provision for educational infrastructure and facilities, and instill a culture of learning which had been lacking in India.
India, even after seven decades of independence had failed to set up a universal elementary education system that is accessible to all classes without prejudice as it lacked easy accessibility to schools within child’s near neighbourhood thereby minimizing the travelling time, lacked ergonomical seating arrangement such that the child sits comfortably and focuses all his attention on learning, lacked clean and functional toilets for boys and girls, lacked well trained teachers with inspiring personality, fell short of acceptable pupil-teacher ratio and most importantly, failed to provision for the pedagogical tools – books at cheap rate, that are essential to impart quality education. More importantly, there was a need to usher behavioural and attitudinal change amongst the parents to encourage them to send their ward to schools by highlighting the job prospects of an educated person as well as the career growth path that would not only raise their standard of living but also raise their societal status. These shortcomings as mentioned above were also highlighted by Amartya Sen in his book ‘India: Development and Participation’ (published 2002) as well as by Indian government, and thus was launched SSA in year 2001-02.
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is a programme for Universal Elementary Education. This programme is also an attempt to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities to all children through provision of community - owned quality education in a mission mode. It is a response to the demand for quality basic education all over the country.
- Programme with a clear time frame for universal elementary education.
- A response to the demand for quality basic education all over the country.
- An opportunity for promoting social justice through basic education.
- A expression of political will for universal elementary education across the country.
- A partnership between the central, state and the local government.
- An opportunity for states to develop their own vision of elementary education.
- An effort at effective involving the Panchyati Raj Institutions, school management Committees, village and urban slum level Education Committees, parent’s Teachers’ Associations, Mother-Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous councils and other grassroots level structures in the management of elementary schools.
- To provide useful and elementary education for all children in the 6-14 age group.
- To bridge social, regional and gender gaps with the active participation of community in the management of schools.
- To allow children to learn about and master their natural environment in order to develop their potential both spiritually and materially.
- To inculcate value-based learning this allows children an opportunity to work for each other’s well being rather than to permit mere selfish pursuits.
- To realize the importance of Early Childhood Care and education and looks at the 0-14 age as a continuum.
Despite such noble features, the abhiyan fell short of ushering the desired changes as was measured by poor gross enrollment ratio, absenteeism, high dropout rate, poor learning curves, poor quality of teachers and a dismal pupil-teacher ratio. Most parents especially in the rural areas were not convinced of the benefits of education and felt that they’d be losing a pair of working hands if they sent their child to school. Secondly, the prevalent opportunities of schooling at Navodya Vidyalayas, Kendriya Vidyalayas, Madarsas and other government run schools were found to be lacking the pedagogical tools to mainstream those students who had not been attending school and had surpassed the age bracket at which a normal school going child would attend a particular standard (ex. 2nd class at age 6-7)
Thirdly, the teaching imparted at minority denominated educational institutions under article 29 and 30 of Indian Constitution, such as at madarsas was found to be lacking in western sciences and thus children passing out of such madarsas lacked the skill set to apply for jobs and thus took up menial semi-skilled avocations to earn a living. Fourthly, it was observed that students passing out of private educational institutions turned out to be better contributors to society as compared to students who passed out of government aided schools, as private schools had the funds to attract better teacher talent and provide for vocational and extra-curricular activities that enabled the students to develop a holistic personality and dawn a liberal attitude towards life.
The abhiyan had fallen short off ushering in a culture of learning and evoking the conscience of people to partake in the socio-economic growth of the country by sending their wards to school. Moreover, the data collated by Pratham’s ASER painted a gloomy picture in terms of gross enrollment ratio, poor learning outcomes, absenteeism etc. Therefore, need was felt to give this noble effort legislative backing in form of an enforceable act and thus the provisions of article 21A were legislated as Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009. SSA has since then become the vehicle to implement the provisions of this act.
The RTE act is based on the premise that every child is born with some skills which if nurtured the proper way becomes an asset and adds to nation’s human capital, and therefore it becomes State’s responsibility to provide for opportunities of learning and growth. There are a number of unique provisions of the act that seek to ensure child’s fundamental right to education such as the ‘No detention policy’ whereby no child can be detained till 8th standard, reservation of 25% seats in private schools for students who belong to economically weaker sections of the society, doing away with the need to ascertain the educational background of student’s parents so as to ensure their ability to get the ward’s home work done etc. Furthermore, schools are to assess the student’s performance in a comprehensive manner and on a year-long continuous basis rather than assessing him on the basis of his final exam performance.
In addition to these legislative provisions, emphasis is also being laid on learning-by-doing activities, provisioning of hostels for girl students under Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya component of SSA, motivate students to take up science and mathematics under Rashtriya Avishkar Abhiyan, prepare special material for tribal students to bridge their learning and language gaps under Padhe Bharat, Badhe Bharat initiative, to impart quality training to teachers under Madan Mohan Malviya National Teacher Training Mission etc.
It is essential that the bright young minds of India are carefully nurtured from the young age so as to prepare them to take up leadership roles in tomorrow’s India and catapult India’s economic growth rate. And though the gestation period is long, investment to improve the quality of demographic dividend today will reap benefits in time to come by raising living standards, ameliorating poverty and portraying India as a land of well educated.