Whither Elementary Education?

Milan K Sinha



"Teach the children so that it will not be necessary to teach the adults" - Abraham Lincoln

   During last one decade, two major initiatives were taken by the Central Govt. for universalisation of elementary education in the country. It was under the Prime-ministership of Atal Behari Vajpayee, the famous Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) was launched and Right to Education Act 2009 was passed  during the present Central Govt. headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The other milestones in the direction of making the elementary education accessible to all children up to the age of 14 years after independence till the end of last century were Constitutional Mandate of 1950, National Policy of Education'1986, Supreme Court's historic Unnikrishnan Judgement, 1993 etc.  


The aim of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA) has been  to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, with the active participation of the community in the management of schools. All efforts to support pre-school learning in ICDS centres or special pre-school centres in non ICDS areas are made to supplement the efforts of the Ministry of Women and Child Development. The objectives of SSA  programme has been  an endeavour to provide an opportunity for improving human capabilities of all children, through the provision of community-owned quality education .

    Right of children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE Act, 2009)  which came into force  from 1st April,2010 provides for free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years . As per the provisions of the Act:

  • All children  in the age group of 6-14 years will be provided 8 years of elementary education in an age appropriate classroom in the vicinity of his/her neighbourhood.
  • Any cost that prevents a child from accessing school will be borne by the State which shall have the responsibility of enrolling the child as well as ensuring attendance and completion of 8 years of schooling.
  • No donation and capitation fee is allowed. No admission test or interview either for child or parents will take place.
  • A fixed student and teacher ratio is to be maintained.Norms for teachers training and qualifications are also clearly mentioned in the Act.
  • All private schools shall be required to enroll children from weaker sections and disadvantaged communities in their incoming class to the extent of 25% of their enrollment, by simple random selection. Govt. will fund education of these children. No seats in this quota can be left vacant. These children will be treated on par with all the other children in the school.
  • All schools will have to adhere to the norms and standard prescribed in the Act, failing which penalty will be levied and other actions to be initiated.
  • Norms and standards of teacher qualification and training are to be  laid down by an Academic Authority.
  • The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) has been mandated to monitor the implementation of this historic Right. NCPCR to invite all concerned including civil society, writers, media, members of the judiciary etc. to come forward  to join hands for working  together to build a movement to ensure that every child of this country goes to  school and are enabled to get at least 8 years of quality education.

     We have seen that both  SSA and RTE Act  put lots of  emphasis on  universalisation of education at the elementary level, but it would be interesting to know the ground realities which speaks clearly that there is an urgent need to make the implementation mechanism very effective at the base level to ensure fulfillment of the promises made to achieve the pious goal: 

  • Approx 20 crore children fall under the age group 6-14 years.
  • About 80% of all recognised schools imparting elementary education in the country are  Govt. schools(either Govt. run or supported)
  • Out of total schools in the country, about 87% schools are located in rural areas.
  • Presently, more than 5 lakh  post of teachers are vacant.
  • To bring the pupil-teacher ratio to 30:1 as prescribed by the RTE Act, 5.1 lakh additional teachers are required.
  • Among the existing teachers, more than 7.5 lac teachers are reported to be  untrained who need to  acquire necessary qualification within five years of the RTE Act coming into force.
  • Assam, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal  are some of the states having untrained teachers ranging from 25% to 55% of their total teacher population.
  • Although Govt. schools provide free education, yet various surveys point out the growing trend of sending the children to private schools  even  by parents  coming from low income group.
  • Enrollment in schools improved substantially, but dropout rate is still a major cause of concern, the main reasons being : Prevalence of child labour as means to supplement parents' income, poor management of Mid-Day Meal Scheme, lack of adequate infrastructural facilities in schools etc.


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