The ambitious Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA2) project aimed at universal elementary education may have come in for flak at home, but clearly inspires investor confidence among donor agencies from abroad.
The UK Department for International Development (DFID) has pumped Rs 1,200 crore into the second phase of the programme, aimed at ensuring that all children between the ages of six to 14 are enrolled in primary school. As with all such programmes, the focus is on getting girls and children from marginalised groups into school.
Nemat Shafik, DFID’s permanent secretary, who was recently in Delhi, feels the DFID played a major part in the success of SSA1 and raised enrollment rates to 96 per cent. But she is worried that dropout rates were also high. That is why, she says, DFID is targeting child nutrition and gender discrimination in the education system.
Shafik says the development programme for India is the largest the organisation has undertaken for over a decade. “We see great changes happening here, India becoming a global power. But let us not forget that more than 400 million people live in extreme poverty and another 500 million live on between one and three dollars a day. Without education, India will not be able to consolidate the gains it has made economically so far.”
Of the states DFID is looking at, Bihar features on the top of the list. “There is a real need for urban services, health and medical care for pregnant women and newborns in the state. I am heartened with the resolve on the part of the state government to improve these services despite all the negative talk about the state,” Shafik says.
In the past, DFID has worked in Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. Shafik credits British PM Gordon Brown with the stepped up initiatives to invest in India’s social sector. Brown has taken a personal interest in DFID’s India programmes, she says.