Some Issues and Problems
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the most significant effort of Govt. of India initiated in November 2000 as a Centrally-sponsored scheme, to ensure universal elementary education (of all children in the age group 6-14 years). The broad objectives of SSA are :(a)enrolment of all children in schools, Education Guarantee Scheme centres, alternate schools and `back-to-school` camps; (b) retention of all children till upper primary stage; (c) bridging gender and social category gaps in enrolment, retention and learning; and (d) ensuring significant enhancement in learning achievement levels of children at primary and upper primary stages. The scheme got a thrust when it became a medium to implement Right to Education (RTE) Act which came into force on 1st April, 2010. The SSA, a major flagship scheme of the UPA Govts., is unlikely to be discontinued but may be tweaked and reoriented for better outcomes. Nagaland, as a beneficiary State, is one of the stake holders, and all concerned in the State should perforce, be conscious of implementing the scheme with seriousness and efficiency. Nagaland, with a position in the Human Development Index relatively better than many States of the Indian Union, should be enthusiastic about SSA.
As a result of the State`s efforts and the support under SSA, Nagaland has shown some positive outcomes. The Gross Enrolment Ratios (GER) indicate that, the State is doing well in enrolment at primary and upper primary school levels. Official statistics compiled by Union Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD), indicate that the State is above the national average GER at both primary and upper primary levels. Furthermore, the State`s annual dropout rate at primary level has also improved over the recent years as evident from the rate declining from 11.41 in (2009-10) to 5.46 in (2012-13) though, the rate at upper primary level has increased from 2.95 in (2011-12) to 10.52 in (2012-13).
The latest National Achievement Survey (sponsored by UNICEF) published by National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) as per its Class-3 (Cycle 3), however shows that, at the north-east regional level, Nagaland students fared below Tripura, Mizoram, Sikkim and Manipur in regard to Language skills and were marginally below the national average. So far as ability in Mathematics was concerned, Nagaland students performed below Mizoram, Manipur, Tripura and Sikkim and were also below the national average. Performance of the State`s urban students was lower than the national average in Language skills, while rural students were at par with the national average. Performance of Nagaland`s urban students was well below the national average in Mathematics, while for rural students it was marginally higher. In this backdrop, the State has to make further efforts to improve in these areas by deriving full benefits of the programmes under SSA.
Under SSA, till 2014-15 on a cumulative basis, 490 primary schools and 593 upper primary schools have been sanctioned for Nagaland. Of these, 945 are operational. 97 primary schools and 41 upper primary schools are yet to be opened. The Central Govt. had also stepped in to a substantial extent towards creating physical assets like new school buildings, refurbishing existing dilapidated buildings, providing toilets and urinals in the SSA schools as well as separate toilets for girl students and drinking water facilities.
Nagaland had reported 6692 out-of-school children in 2013-14. The Central Govt. had consequently approved Rs. 4.72 crores on account of special training for mainstreaming out-of-school children in regular schools in the current financial year. While cognizance of this need is a welcome development, it is encouraging to note that the Project Approval Board (concerned with annual works plans and budgets) of SSA, have appreciated the need for executing a comprehensive programme for Science and Mathematics at upper primary levels. Some funds have also been earmarked for this purpose, and residential training for more than 1200 Mathematics and Science teachers at block level and thereafter, at cluster level, planned for the current financial year. These efforts should lead to positive outcome towards improvement of cognitive capacity and skills of the State`s children.
Nagaland, despite achieving a degree of success on the school education front, still have some issues to contend with. The State has shown high drop-out rates and low retention rates in five districts viz. Mon ( 12); Tuensang (14.3); Zunebhoto (8.4); Phek (8.3); and Wokha (7.2). Corrective measures are required to remedy the situation, and the effectiveness of schemes like Mid-Day Meal Scheme which are intended to attract children to schools, need to be re-assessed vis-à-vis these districts. The average drop-out rate of 5.5 at primary level though not inferior to the national average , can be improved. There is a requirement to improve average attendance rate of teachers at primary and upper primary levels as was evident from the rates of 76.5 and 69.4 respectively, in 2012-13. It will require a substantial effort on the part of the State Govt. as well as the SSA programme office in Nagaland to upgrade the educational status of their children both at primary and upper primary levels, considering the not-too-adequate performance in the attainment of language and computing skills. The State was at par with the national average in Class-5 for Mathematics and, above for reading, comprehension and Environmental Science. Nevertheless, the State was below national average in Class-8 for Language, Social Science, Mathematics and Science. These developments seem to indicate that, Nagaland is capable of improvement through appropriate interventions while implementing SSA and complementary State Govt. programmes.
Another important issue concerns the welfare of the teachers under the SSA scheme. There are some issues in this regard. As stated above, the overall funding of SSA has been substantial. However, the State has not been able to fully deploy its share of funds, on the scheme, leading to periodic constraints. The Centre finds it difficult within the existing governmental budgetary - cum - accounting system and audit controls to continuously release funds when release of intermediate shares of the State Govt. are pending. Without the State`s 10 per cent matching share, the major share of flow of funds from the Centre has been getting affected. There has been dissatisfaction and unrest among the teachers under SSA, owing to non-disbursement of salary to them on a regular basis. This situation should hopefully improve after release of Rs. 21 crore at the end of the last financial year (as reported by the State to MHRD). Both the Centre and the State need to evolve a mechanism for unimpeded flow of funds as related to the activities decided by the PAB of SSA, for sustaining this major welfare-oriented scheme and augmenting the targeted outcomes.
The author is Shri Gautam Sen (IDAS:Retd.), presently serving as Adviser (Finance Commission matters) of Govt. of Nagaland, and has functioned earlier as Financial Adviser of North Eastern Council under Union Ministry of Home Affairs during the Ninth Plan period. The views expressed are the author`s own and do not represent the opinion of either the Central Govt. or the State Govt. of Nagaland.