Overview of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA)
Pioneered by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is Indian government’s flagship program to provide universal access to elementary education for children 6-14 years old “in a time bound manner” as mandated by the 86th amendment to the Constitution of India. It was launched in 2001 with an initial outlay of Rs 7000 crore. The scheme aims to improve enrolment, retention, and the quality of education to enable children to achieve grade appropriate levels of learning. It also aims to eliminate gender differences and gaps between different social categories. At the time of SSA’s launch in 2001 there were 3.40 crore out-of-school children between the ages of 6-14. Four years after the launch of SSA with more than 85 percent of the funds utilized, only 1.35 crore children remained out-of-school – a reduction of 60 percent in 4 years (CAG 15 of 2006). It went down to 81.5 lakh in 2009 and currently over 96% children are enrolled.
Should we not rejoice at it? Without SSA a lot kids would have never entered school boundary.
The SSA was Needed to Universalize Elementary Education
The SSA was initiated in 2001 following recommendations from the state education ministers’ conference in 1998. And soon the 86th amendment made free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right. However, it took 7 years for the parliament to pass the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act that operationalized the provision of free and compulsory education. When launched, the SSA aimed to achieve 100% enrolment in a mission mode by 2010. Newer targets have been set after 2010 to comply with RTE provisions. Now SSA is the main vehicle to implement the Right to Education Act (RTE). [detailed report on RTE]
The RTE provides a justiciable legal framework that entitles all children between the ages of 6-14 years free and compulsory admission, attendance and completion of elementary education. It provides the children right to education which is equitable and based on principles of equity and non-discrimination. Additionally, it provides them right to an education that is free from fear, stress and anxiety.
Functional Aspects of the SSA
The costs for SSA are shared by the centre and states. In 2004-05, the central government imposed an education cess of 2 percent on all taxes to mobilize additional funds for SSA and the Mid Day Meal Scheme. In 2008-09, this surcharge was increased to 3 percent. It is being implemented in partnership with State Governments to cover the entire country and addresses the needs of 192 million children in 1.1 million habitations.
The SSA is an attempt to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities of all children, through provision of community-owned quality education in a mission mode. It aims to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, with the active participation of the community in the management of schools. Thus, it seeks effective involvement of the Panchayati Raj Institutions, School Management Committees, Village and Urban Slum level Education Committees, Parents’ Teachers’ Associations, Mother Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous Councils and other grass root level structures in the management of elementary schools.
The program seeks to open new schools in those areas which do not have schooling facilities and strengthen existing school infrastructure through provision of additional class rooms, toilets, drinking water, maintenance grant and school improvement grants. Existing schools with inadequate teacher strength are provided with additional teachers, while the capacity of existing teachers is being strengthened by extensive training, grants for developing teaching-learning materials and strengthening of the academic support structure at a cluster, block and district level. The SSA also seeks to provide quality elementary education including life skills and computer education to bridge the digital divide. SSA has a special focus on girl’s education and children with special needs.
Current Status of SSA
The biggest challenge thus far has been to set up enough infrastructures across the country. Being a pan India activity of its own kind, the problems have been numerous. But ultimately things appear to improve and settle down year by year. In order to gauge progress, there are two very useful measures: One is the education development index (EDI) provides useful insight into how things have been progressing in different states. It also offers a relative picture of the current status across states.
Released on Dec 6, 2013 the latest annual Education Development Index (EDI) for 2012-13, calculated by the National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) on the basis of mammoth District Information of School Education (DISE) data, presents a comprehensive picture of the elementary education in India. It mainly pointed to the north-south divide in terms achievements and quality. The southern states are simply outpacing the north.
The other is the annual state of education report (ASER) from watchdog NGO Pratham since 2005. ASER is the largest annual household survey of children in rural India that focuses on the status of schooling and basic learning. Facilitated by Pratham, ASER 2013 reached 550 districts and close to 16,000 villages, 3.3 lakh households and 6 lakh children in the age group 3-16. Since the implementation of the RTE Act in 2010, school visits in ASER have included indicators of compliance with those norms and standards specified in the Right to Education Act that are easy to measure. In 2013, ASER visited 14,724 government schools.
The ASER report reveals two major findings: The worsening of learning level and preference for private schools or private tuitions in the rural India.
Should We See Only the Dark Side?
Although the picture presented by the above two studies and others done at more regional levels do not portray a very good picture of the realities of the SSA, but taking a balanced and pragmatic approach should be the best choice.
On the positive side, enrolments in the 6-14 age group have increased everywhere, for both boys and girls, and drinking water and toilet facilities in schools have risen too, though not in line with enrolments. On the flip side, the actual attendance nowhere matched the enrollment levels. States like West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Manipur, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand showed attendance figures of less that 60 per cent.
Learning quality is certainly better in the private schools: On checking Class III children’s ability to read a Class I textbook, only 33% children from government schools could do that compared with 60% children from the private schools.
Such a difference could reflect the worsening performance of government schools or the improving performance of private schools, or both. But at least a part of it could also reflect merely a transfer of the better achieving students from government to private schools, thus lowering average achievement levels for the former and increasing them for the latter. This is corroborated by the ASER finding that private school enrolments have risen from 19 per cent of total enrolments in 2006 to 29% in 2013. Further, children in private schools come from relatively better off families; thus there better performance is not a surprise compared with government school children.
While no one can deny that efforts to improve government school performance should continue, but for optimists a child in school is better off than a child outside school. But the question arises: Does just being in school helps students in any way?
Just Being in School Helps!
Even if we think about performance as pure literacy, there are findings from other countries as poor as India – Mexico, Venezuela, Nepal and Zambia – that adult women who have been to school in childhood display impressive literacy skills, suggesting that literacy improves with time and continues to improve even after the child has left school. And this seems to correlate strongly with the number of years spent in school, even for very few years of school attendance.
There is universal finding that women with just a few years of schooling experience more favorable outcomes on a variety of things — infant and child mortalities and illnesses, children’s cognitive development, family nutritional levels — than women with no schooling. Every additional year of maternal schooling, after the first one year of schooling, is associated with a 2-5% fall in the risk of a child death).
What it implies is that mere presence in the school, regardless of the quality of teaching, is rewarding in indirect ways! This indirect learning appears to promote the sense of self-discipline, obedience of authority and time-routine and ability to interact with peers and non-peers. Such attributes don’t show up in the form of academic “output” but they go a long way towards increasing one’s ability to negotiate the world outside home boundaries.
No wonder primary schooling is also associated with the largest rises in economic productivity in developing countries.
In the longer run, of course we want the school to be a platform for education rather than just the producer of a disciplined and obedient workforce and responsible and efficient parenthood. And so it is right that we may be dismayed at the poor showing of most of our schools in the ASER surveys. But in the meantime, sending our children to and keeping them even in our poor performing schools is one small step towards giving them and society some of the social and economic spin-offs that are not to be scoffed at.
You may like to read the detailed PDF report: SSA Report 2014