The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bengal cool to Joshi education drive

New Delhi, Oct. 3: The Bengal government does not seem interested in the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan — a programme for universalisation of elementary education — initiated by human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

The programme, aimed at putting all children in the 6 to 14 age group in schools, requires all states to submit to the Centre a five-year perspective plan and within that an annual budget plan for each district.

Bengal has sent a single proposal to the Centre, faring not much better than 15 others who have sent none. One of the reasons of the lack of response from Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Manipur, Meghalaya, Jharkhand, Punjab, Goa and Orissa is their indifference to the education sector. “We have been asking the states for more than a year to send their projects,” said S.C. Tripathi, secretary, elementary education.

In contrast to the ‘black sheep’, there are the ‘good’ states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala Uttaranchal and Madhya Pradesh, which have sent several proposals at present under the consideration of the Centre.

Since Joshi took charge as human resources development minister, he has been focused on launching the Abhiyan, moving a Bill that made education a fundamental right, and made a commitment that all children would complete five years of schooling by 2007.

Given the lackadaisical approach of the states, his aim seems difficult to achieve. “The Centre does not have any power to make the states conform since education is on the concurrent list,” said Tripathi. The officials hoped that decentralisation of the school system will lead to a more efficient system, especially if the community is empowered to take decisions.

The programme hinges on community participation and community intervention to monitor quality of education, attendance of teachers and condition of infrastructure. In case the community fails in its duties, the Centre has put in place a system in which 50 Indian Council of Social Science Research-funded organisations will act as the watchdog.

The Centre has pledged to allocate additional resources apart from the plan outlay based on actual demand, said officials of the education department. Out of an outlay of 1,106 crore, the Centre has released Rs 468.48 crore as the first instalment to the states. Significantly, the District Primary Education Programme (DPEP), which has been touted as the backbone of elementary education, has been clubbed with the Abhiyan.

One of the objectives of the programme is to check the soaring dropout rate, particularly high among girls, and aim for universal retention in elementary education by 2010. The success of the programme will depend on the will of states to bring up education on their priority list.

The Bill on fundamental right to education is likely to be passed by the Lok Sabha in the next session. This, the Centre says, will give the Abhiyan enough teeth for proper implementation.

“The authorities will have to meet the demands of education, parents will have to send their children to school,” said Tripathi.

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