The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the government’s flagship project to achieve universal education for children in the age group 6 to 14. What has spurred the project to its current priority level is the realisation that India is poised on a now-or-never moment. The one conditionality that every ‘India Arrives’ forecast incorporates is the dire need for a foundation based on sound education. An education that has reach, scope and relevance. The UN’s Millennium Development goals aim at universal primary ‘education for all’ by 2015. But India has set a tougher target for itself and wants to achieve this by 2010.
Estimates of progress on the initiative vary but there is no doubt that India is way behind schedule, UN warnings notwithstanding. While the programme has picked up momentum over the last couple of years, it has been beset with implementation glitches from inception. One only has to follow the programme’s roll-out state-wise to know that, where implemented with commitment and integrity wonders have been achieved. Himachal Pradesh’s rapid progress to become only second to Kerala in literacy levels is only one such example. On the other hand, in Delhi, the implementation of the SSA and mid-day meal scheme have been in the news for all the wrong reasons — corruption, laxity and apathy. The SSA lacks neither resource nor, apparently, commitment of politicians and the bureaucracy. Yet the only measure of its impact is in the form of enrolment, with little credible input on drop-out rates or reasons thereof, or the status of trained manpower and infrastructure required to make any education relevant.
But the SSA’s finally picking up steam. Expenditure against allocation has seen a steady rise. Where it still lacks is in capacity building in terms of teacher training, remuneration and infrastructure. Increased funding for the project is most welcome but will take us only so far. The SSA is not just a budgetary initiative aimed at investing more money. It has to be infused with new vigour, ideas and a much greater degree of accountability for the project to match its purpose.