By Vishu Surana, National Law School of India University, Bangalore.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Nelson Mandela realized 30 years ago that education is the most essential tool for social, economic and political transformation and a key instrument for building a just society. For a country like India to develop socially and economically, we need educated individuals. Keeping this in mind, our Human Resource Development Minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar launched the Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan (SMSA) with the aim of improving quality of school education. It aims to unify learning from Class 1 to Class 12 by adopting a holistic teaching approach and using technology to empower teachers and students both.

This scheme subsumes three existing schemes: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan and Teacher Education. The budget for all the three schemes will be combined into a single budget provision. So why was there a need for a single scheme? Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan had been operating for 25 years and had successfully incorporated a universal elementary education program in 3.63 lakh schools. However, a change was required in its operation to ensure universality in not just elementary but also secondary education. The three Schemes were usually more concerned about providing necessary inputs and delivering transitional results/outputs instead of raising schooling outcomes. To counter this, SMSA took shape, as a need arose for an integrated scheme applicable from pre-school to senior secondary level to ensure a holistic training approach. A single administrative unit to bring all types of schools under one umbrella will definitely help in reducing administrative bottlenecks. It will also help harmonize the implementation system and reduce transaction costs at all levels by formulating one comprehensive strategic plan.

The reason this scheme might prove to be beneficial for our country is that the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERTs) and the District Institute of Education and Training (DIETs) have been announced as nodal training institutes, and emphasis has been laid on pre-service training to strengthen the quality of teaching in schools.

Further, by introducing Shagun, an online monitoring system that will enable all States to share progress on their target achievements, the Scheme has increased the involvement of parents in the holistic development of their children. A storehouse to share videos, photographs, case studies and testimonials of innovative practices that States and UTs implement at the local level, has also been created.

Vocational training seeks to be introduced in the curriculum, and IIT Kharagpur has expressed interested in imparting it to students from the next academic year itself. There is also an option to choose hands-on training in an industrial setup for 80 hours. There are certain similar provisions in previous schemes which include transport facility, provisions to provide textbooks and uniforms for all students, reimbursement of 25% of admission fees for economically weaker sections and the inclusion of learning outcomes. There are new additions such as laptops, strengthening of technological infrastructure by using smart classrooms, digital boards, special training for out-of-school children to enable them to be settled, self-training for girls from Class VI to XII and availability of sports equipment for all schools.

What this scheme proposes to do is augment learning outcomes and decrease the present social and gender gap in education by 2020. It also aims at supporting States in implementation of Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Additionally, the focus is on holistic development of school children, with special emphasis on girl education to empower them and provide them self-defense training. Not only that, but it also envisages worldwide access to all students, equity and excellence for the students in any field of their choice and strengthening of Teacher Education Institutions. The vision is to ensure inclusive and equal quality education in accordance with the Sustainable Development Goal for Education.

While I do agree that this Scheme is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, problems are already being faced with respect to its implementation. Several schools in Sikkim, as well as in Daman and Diu, are running without teachers as their extension orders have not been passed under this Scheme. Simply integrating three old schemes and renewing them with a Rs. 30,000 crores budget in the name of “rationalizing resources” is a perplexing exercise in itself. If the government wanted to undertake innovative reforms, it could have intervened where required, at the opportunities present, to ensure accountability by reducing bureaucracy. It could have reformed the Right to Education Act and converted it into a regulatory structure for private schools.

The old SSA was successful in erecting educational facilities in every District of the Country, with an enrolment rate of 97% in primary schools. Thus, the focus now should have been on decentralizing primary education to State governments by joining hands with the Ministry of Women and Child development via the Integrated Child Development Services to ensure accountability.

Had this been done, the SCERTs and DIETs would automatically have catered to the needs of the primary schools, instead of the top-down approach followed under the SMSA. The problem regarding language barriers could also have been resolved as the local government could come up with creating curriculum and teaching lessons in local languages. In fact, until the 42nd Constitutional Amendment, education was only on the State List. The Central Government should have only focused on secondary education by providing a platform for all students to inculcate the requisite skills for better livelihood options. Owing to these reasons, the governments will simply play the blame game to shirk their responsibility for the under-performance of this Scheme. Make no mistake, the initiative to bring all the schemes under one umbrella is appreciated for ensuring universality, however, it is creating more problems rather than making the ride smoother for the stakeholders. To curb these problems, the government must give more autonomy to local governments for carrying out the ostensibly well laid out plans.