A new report exposed as a dismal failure India's flagship scheme to provide free education for all children aged 6-14. Apart from raising serious questions about the country's ability to deal with the rising inequality that has accompanied its recent rapid economic growth, the findings also suggest that the country's supposedly bright future could be at risk.
As many commentators and economists have pointed out, India's growing young population will be a liability rather than a so-called "democratic dividend" if it can't fix its ailing education system. In some states, attendance of teachers at government schools hovers around 50 percent. Classes are so large, and teachers so unmotivated, that it's not uncommon for some educators to depute poor or low-caste students to tasks like chopping mangos, rather than participating in lessons. And, of course, a large portion of the country's children still don't attend school at all.
In that context, the findings are grim.
The Indian Express reports Thursday that the government's Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) scheme made only "marginal progress" on meeting its obligations under the recently enacted Right to Education law despite a move to more than double its federal funding between 2010 and 2011, according to a new study by the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research and the ASER Center.
SSA is the implementing vehicle for RTE, so the upshot is that nearly three years after the RTE law was passed, there has been little change in conditions at the nation's schools, the paper said.
"According to the report, India's SSA budget increased from Rs 26,169 crore in 2009-10 to Rs 42,926 crore the next year, and to Rs 55,746 crore in 2011-12," the Express said. Assuming a constant exchange rate, that's $5.23 billion for 2009-10, $8.59 billion for 2010-11 and $11.15 billion for 2011-12. But the proportion of schools facing a shortfall in teachers, classrooms, drinking water facilities, kitchen/ shed, playground, complete boundary wall, or a separate room for the headmaster has remained more or less unchanged between 2010 and 2011.
In more dismal news, the study finds that even though most states have met the access norm of a primary school within 1 km of every village, 60 percent of schools in Orissa, Karnataka and Jharkhand do not have functional toilets, and 48 percent of the country's primary schools have a pupil-teacher ratio greater than the mandated 30:1.
So where did the money go? According to the Times of India, only 6 percent of the money went to students, and a hefty portion went to beautification schemes like whitewashing building walls. "We find that whitewashing is so popular because it is a job that is quick and easy and requires very little effort on the part of the school," the paper quoted Yamini Aiyar, director of the joint CPR/ASER Accountability Initiative, as saying.