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$150m fund for out-of-box innovations

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By CHARU SUDAN KASTURI
  • Published 21.05.10
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New Delhi, May 20: India is setting up a $150-million corpus using funds from the World Bank, European Union and the UK government’s Department for International Development to hatch innovative strategies to universalise secondary education.

Called the National Innovation Fund, the corpus will provide financial support to out-of-the-box projects for which budgetary funds cannot be used because of the risk of failure, top government officials have told The Telegraph.

“Think of the fund like a means to discover secondary education’s ‘switch hit’,” a senior official said, referring to cricketer Kevin Pietersen’s path-breaking shot where a batsman switches his bat grip at the last minute to outfox the fielding side. “You need the straight drive in cricket but you also need the switch hit.”

On the eve of the Lok Sabha polls last year, the HRD ministry launched a scheme titled the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan (RMSA) aimed at universalising access and retention in secondary education by 2020. India, at present, has an enrolment ratio of 52 per cent in secondary education. Only 18 per cent of the country’s workforce has received secondary education.

The scheme is the single largest new education project envisaged and launched under the UPA. The right to education law, though implemented by the current government, was first drafted when the NDA was in power.

The ministry will manage the National Innovation Fund and use it to finance projects that meet the overall aims of the RMSA but cannot be funded through money allocated in the budget. It has written to all states asking them for comments on the proposed fund ahead of a meeting organised by the World Bank in Delhi on May 25 where the plan’s contours may be finalised. Several state government representatives are expected to participate in the talks.

The ministry, in a concept note on the fund, has suggested that the corpus be used to finance two kinds of projects: totally new ideas on a pilot basis, and scaling up innovative strategies with established success at the pilot stage.

The states have already suggested a few projects, sources said. These include the possibility of organising state-level competitions in the sciences and math along the lines of the National Olympiads, using parents as volunteers to fill in if there are teacher vacancies, and conditional cash-transfer projects.

The fund can also be used by the ministry to launch a National Innovation Award to recognise successful out-of-the-box strategies in secondary education, the concept note states.

The proposed corpus amount of $150 million works out to about Rs 700 crore. That is almost half the Rs 1,527-crore budgetary allocation for the RMSA in this financial year.

But ministry officials are cautious not to repeat mistakes they admit the government made in primary and tertiary (vocational) education. Funds received from foreign donors and diverted to promote innovation in these sectors over the past decade have not led to any significant successful “innovation” even at the state level.

Aware of apprehensions of a repeat under the secondary education fund, the ministry has outlined — in the concept note itself — plans to protect itself from past failures through a tighter selection and monitoring mechanism.