Elementary education is fundamental in providing the basis for a rational populace and consequently equitable economic growth with advances in all human welfare indices. The wide ranging benefits of elementary education from contribution to economic growth, overcoming economic and social inequalities, empowerment, reduction of population growth and fertility to child health via mother’s schooling has weighed heavily in the evolution of a consensual view of elementary education as a fundamental right. Right of the Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 became operative on April 1, 2010. Thereafter, Government took various steps to implement it including- (i) notification of the Right of the Children to Free and Compulsory Education Rules 2010 and framing of the Model Rules for circulation to the states to enable them to formulate the State Rules under the Act. (ii) National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) as the academic authority to lay down teacher qualification (iii) National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) as the academic authority to lay down the curriculum and evaluation procedure and (iv) National Advisory Council (NAC) under the Act. In addition, Government has taken steps to align the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) norms with the provisions of the RTE Act. The Government has launched the year long ‘Shiksha ka Haq Abhiyan’ to create awareness among people about Right to Education and their entitlements to free and compulsory education. The Government has also accorded approval to financial estimates of Rs 2.31 lakh crore for the implementation of the RTE act over a period of five years starting from 2010-15. The 13th Finance Commission earmarked a sum of Rs 23,068 crore for the same period specifically towards elementary education. Notification of teacher qualification under Section 23 of the RTE Act and the prescription of a teacher Eligibility Test by the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) were other significant developments pursuant to the RTE Act becoming operative in the country. These policy initiatives reaffirm the commitment of the state to universalise elementary education.
Transition from SSA to RTE: Right to Education–Shift of Focus from Quantity to Quality The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) framework of implementation and norms for interventions have been revised to correspond with the provisions of the RTE Act. This includes interventions, inter alia for i. opening new primary and upper primary schools as per the neighbourhood norms notified by State Governments in the RTE Rules, and to expand existing infrastructure(additional classrooms, toilets, drinking water facilities) and provide maintenance grants and school improvement grants ii. support for residential schools for children in areas which are sparsely populated, or hilly or densely forested with difficult terrain, and for urban deprived homeless and street children in difficult circumstances, iii. special training for admission of out-of-school children in age appropriate classes, iv. additional teachers as per norms specified in the RTE Act, and provide extensive training and grants for development for teacher training materials and strengthening the academic support structure v. two sets of uniforms for all girls, and children belonging to SC/ST/BPL families, vi. strengthening of academic support through block and cluster resource centres, schools, etc. vii. Provide quality elementary education including life skills with a special focus on the education of girls and children with special needs as well as computer education to bridge vital divide The focus is no more only on the quantitative expansion of institutions and enrolment but equal emphasis is being laid on the quality improvement. The school system is being revitalized by introducing administrative and management reforms, curriculum renewal, teaching methodologies to evolve the facilitating conditions for learner to remain in the school for eight years and not dropping out. The central government is providing additional support and funds to the state governments by launching Centrally Sponsored Schemes aiming at improvement in educational facilities, enrolment, nutritional level of children and the learning competencies to accomplish the goal of UEE. The sustained effort of the government has resulted into significant growth in number of educational institutions, teachers and students.
A Birds Eye View With the opening of new schools and upgradation of the existing schools access and enrolment at the primary level has attained near universal levels, the gender gap has reduced significantly with more number of girls getting enrolled and the enrolment of children belonging to socially disadvantaged groups i.e. Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes is on increase. Nonetheless there remains an unfinished agenda of universalising education at the upper primary stage. Performance of RTE/SSA In addition to considerable increase in the number of schools special attention has been paid to improve other facilities. These included construction of additional classrooms, toilets, additional drinking water facilities, supply of text books and uniform Age Appropriate Training To ensure that no child remains out of school RTE 2009 makes specific provision for Special Training for age appropriate admission for out-of-school children which imply that children will be enrolled in the class that corresponds to their age. The actions required are (i) immediate enrolment in school;(ii) organisation of special training of flexible duration to enable the child to be at par with other children;(iii) mainstreaming child into regular school in the age-appropriate class on completion of Special Training, (iv) continued support to the child, once admitted to the regular school to ensure that the child gets integrated with the class socially, emotionally and academically.
Uniform Eight year elementary education cycle
There is no uniformity in the structure of elementary education cycle and few states still follow a seven year elementary education cycle. RTE/SSA stipulates that all the states to adopt a common structure of eight years.
Central Teacher Eligibility Test (CTET)
Quality of teachers has been a major cause of worry in the country and one of the basic pre requisites to improve quality. With the aim to recruit quality teachers, CBSE conducted the first CTET test on 26th June 2011.
Education of Children with Special Needs
With the mandate of providing education to every child with special needs irrespective of the kind, category and degree of disability, in an appropriate environment, household surveys and special surveys have been conducted by all the states to identify the children with special needs. 32.68 lakh children with special needs have been identified, 26.46 lakh children with special needs (87.38% of those identified are enrolled in schools. In all about 95.33% of the identified children with special needs have been covered through various strategies like enrollment in schools, School Readiness Programme and Home Based Education.
Focusing on Special Districts
Special focus districts have been identified which are predominantly inhabited by disadvantaged social groups and are deficient in infrastructure. These districts have been divided into three categories viz. a) SFD-A Category (70 districts): Districts with a gap in additional classrooms exceeding 3000. b) SFD-B Category (173 districts): These are districts which have more than 20,000 out of school children (27), districts with Retention Rate lower than 60% (126), and districts with a gender gap of more than 10% at primary or more than 20% at upper primary level (20).
Bridging Gender, Social and Minorities Gaps
In order to increase the participation of girls and other special category children, specific interventions are being made. In order to increase the participation of girls and other special category children, specific interventions are being made. National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), is a focused intervention of Government of India, to reach the “Hardest to Reach” girls, especially those not in school. The programme provides for development of a “model school” in every cluster with more intense community mobilization and supervision of girls enrolment in schools. Gender sensitization of teachers, development of gender-sensitive learning materials, and provision of need-based incentives like escorts, stationery, workbooks and uniforms are some of the endeavours under the programme. Up to June 2012 under NPEGEL around 41,779 Model cluster schools have been developed in 3,353 blocks of 42 districts covering about 41.2 million girls through different strategies.
c) SFD-C Category (109 ST, 61 SC, 121 PMO’s Minority Concentrated Districts (MCD), 88 districts having 20% or more Muslim population, 35 Naxalite affected and 94 Border Area districts): Around 258 such districts have been identified and targetted interventions like the opening of schools, construction of additional classrooms, recruitment of additional teachers were carried on. It is also proposed that the district plans should provide for interventions to focus on the specific problems of these districts. Scheme to Provide quality Education in Madrasa (SPQEM) seeks to bring about qualitative improvement in Madrasas to enable Muslim children attain standards of the national education system in formal education subjects. The salient features of the SPQEM scheme are to strengthen capacities in Madrassas for teaching of the formal curriculum subjects like Science, Mathematics, Language, Social Studies etc. through enhanced payment of teacher honorarium; training of such teachers every two years in new pedagogical practices and provision of Science/Mathematics kits in primary/upper primary level madrassas.
Scheme for Infrastructure Development in Private Aided/ Unaided Minority Institutes (IDMI)
The scheme would facilitate education of minorities by augmenting and strengthening school infrastructure in Minority Institutions (elementary/secondary/ senior secondary schools) in order to expand facilities for formal education to children of minority communities. The scheme will inter alia encourage educational facilities for girls, children with special needs and those who are most deprived educationally amongst minorities.
National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Mid Day Meal Scheme)
Expansion of Midday meal scheme: India’s Mid Day meal scheme is the world’s largest school feeding programme that reaches out to about 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools all over the country. Today the Scheme covers primary and upper primary school children across the country, studying in Government, Government-aided and 30 Local Body schools and EGS/AIE Centres supported under SSA including Madrasas and Maqtabs as well as children under the National Child Labour Projects (NCLP).
Driving factors of Mid Day Meal Scheme
Overall there are 42 national level institutions which monitor the Mid Day Meal Scheme. Panchayats, self help groups and NGOs are actively involved in the management and implementation of the Programme. Most importantly, school management, village education committees and parent-teachers committees monitor the scheme. Representatives of the Panchayats have been vested with the duty of monitoring cleanliness, cooking, and availability of goods on a daily basis. State government officials are recommended that 25% of all primary schools are visited every quarter. Food Corporation of India (FCI) is also responsible for the uninterrupted availability of food grains and is asked to advance quantity of food grains for upto one month. Moreover decentralisation of payment of cost of food grains to the FCI at the district level have been made w.e.f 1.4.2010.
Teacher Management and Training
Recognising the need for training of teachers to further update their knowledge and teaching skills special efforts were made to impart in service-training to the teachers. As a result the percentage of professionally trained teachers has gone up for both regular and contractual teachers. However, still not even half of the contractual teachers are untrained and about a quarter of regular teachers lack professional training. The percentage of teachers receiving in service training in Government schools has been much higher than the aided and unaided schools With the exception of Mizoram, the teacher training percentage has been amongst the lowest in other North Eastern States as well as Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Chandigarh. This calls for more dedicated and conscious efforts at teacher development in the country as a whole with greater priority in the above identified States.
From the foregoing discussion it emerges that states may have to give increased priority to reduce gender and social disparities. Further, several underdeveloped areas/district must be paid greater attention. Efforts must be made to ensure that all children not only attend schools and complete elementary education cycle but also acquire basic competencies expected from completion of primary and upper primary grades. Retention of children from marginalised groups particularly SC, ST and Muslim girls, the most vulnerable should be high on Gender and social inclusion as well as quality agenda. As widely shared teachers would play critical role in this great educational transformation. It is only teacher’s commitment and professional training that can ensure higher levels of participation and learning of children in education. Thus, additional incentives should be provided to teachers to inculcate and sustain teachers’ commitment. Facilities and curricular content of in–service training also needs to be upgraded and strengthened. Develop appropriate teaching learning material and training designs to ensure that gender and social inclusion receive top priority. Capacity building for preparation of region specific school development plans in the light of macro-economic context of these regions is required to bridge the regional disparities.