"For fifty years we have been a developing nation. It is time we see ourselves as a developed nation." This is the part of the speech of Dr Abdul Kalam in Hyderabad. Whenever we are talking about Developed nation, suddenly education comes to picture with other major indicators like the growth rate of the economy, birth rate, death rate, infant mortality rate (IMR), and literacy rate. These indicators are all interconnected with each other and the literacy rate has been the major determinant of the rise or fall in the other indicators. There is enough evidence even in Orissa to show that a low literacy rate correlates with high birth rate, high IMR, and decrease in the rate of life expectancy. The recognition of this fact has created awareness on the need to focus upon literacy and elementary education programmes, not simply as a matter of social justice but more to foster economic growth, social well-being, and social stability.
The Constitution of India casts an obligation on the State to provide free and compulsory education to all children up to the age of 14. The literacy rate in Orissa during 1951 was 15.8% against the all India average of 18.3%, which increased to 63.6% in 2001 against the all India average of 65.4%. While the male literacy rate of 63.1% in the State in 1991 increased to 75.9% in 2001, the female literacy rate increased from 34.7% to 51.0%. There has been a steady improvement in the literacy rates of the State over successive decades, which is a result of expansion of educational infrastructure both quantitative and qualitative.
In 1950-51, there were 9,801 Primary Schools with 16,525 teachers and 3.15 lakh students. There were 501 Upper Primary Schools with 2,569 teachers and 40,000 students. Also there were 172 High Schools with 2,247 teachers and 16,000 students. Since 1950-51, there has been a considerable expansion in the number of educational institutions, enrollment and number of teachers at all levels during successive plan periods. In 2003-2004, there are 44,416 Primary Schools with 52.54 lakh enrollment and 97 lakh teachers in the State. There is one Primary School for every 3.5 Sq.Km area. The state government has established 14, 233 Upper Primary Schools for each 10.94 km area in the State.
Issues of Concern
Education is the key to social & economic development of any society. It encompasses every sphere of human life. Level of literacy has a profound bearing on the level of human development. There are major issues, which are directly or indirectly concerned with the education in Orissa. First, the dropout rate in primary and upper primary schools is become a major issue of concern. In the same time dropout rate become a major setback in the increasing literacy rate which was at the primary stage 33.6%. But if you compare girls dropout rate with boys, the dropout rate for girls was 35.4% and for boys 31.9%. Dropout rate at upper primary stage was 57.5% in 2003-04. Out of them 56.5% boys dropped out in upper primary stage while 58.6% girls dropped out in the same year. Second issue is infrastructure of school buildings, which are in bad conditions. And the old or unsafe school buildings of our state are inadequate to meet the needs of school children. Many of them one-room (or even open-air) operations with poorly paid teachers.
Steps taken by the State Government
Orissa government has always made concerted efforts to provide education to all. Some major initiatives were taken to offer quality education for a brighter future not only for Oriyas but also for the state, at last for the nation. Some steps were directed towards the reform and renewal of state's education system. In the same time there has been a considerable expansion in the number of educational institutions, enrolment and number of teachers at all levels during successive plan periods.
The central and state governments have been expanding the provision of primary formal and non-formal education to realise the goal of Universilisation of Elementary Education (UEE). Elementary education is recognised as a fundamental right of all citizens in India. The directive principles of state policy envisage UEE as one of the major goals to be achieved and mandated in a timeframe. As per guidelines adopted at the national level, the State aims at providing access to Primary Schools within one kilometer and Upper Primary Schools within three kilometers from habitations having 300 or more and 500 or more respectively. In order to achieve the goal of Universalisation of Elementary Education and to improve the quality, steps have been initiated to engage more 9,563 para teachers under State Plan.
Government of India's flagship programme 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan' was launched on nation-wide scale to universalize elementary education by providing for community ownership and monitoring of the school system. The objectives of the programme are compulsory Education to all the Children of 6-14 years age group by 2007. Under the programme, there were 780 new primary schools, 2,771 new upper primary schools were opened and. 25,594 Swechasevi Sikhshya Sahayaks were appointed in 2003-04. The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan programme calls for community participation through effective decentralisation - involvement of Village Education Committee (VEC), Members of Panchayat Raj institutions and Womens' group. It ensures transparency and accountability of the school system to the community. To lesson the burden of Directorate of Higher Education, the state government has been established three regional Directorates in Bhubaneswar, Berhampur and Sambalpur. Regional Directors of these Directorates have been vested with similar powers of Director of Higher Education. Today, access to the qualitative education is reducing in Orissa. The reason is a lack of budget, weak governance and decline of physical infrastructure, shortage of teachers and their low salary, obsolete teaching plans, poverty and malnutrition, and absence of parents and society participation.
Hurdles to achieve the Goal
Funds become major hurdle for every developmental programme in Orissa. In some cases, it is surplus and government cannot utilize the fund within the required timeframe. In the other side, it is deficit. In every step and in every stage, we extend our hand in front of the Central government, financial institutions for funds. How do you education keep the education aside? The government does not have money for primary education. Well, the fiscal deficit is surely a problem, but that could not be excused during a downturn if it is used for opening up the way to developed nation. The Government of Orissa fully endorses the approach on universalisation of elementary education and the scheme 'Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan' should be given the highest priority. But when we are heading towards success of the programme, we do not have fund to provide the study materials to the students. With the assistance from Central Government, the Orissa Government has been providing the study materials every year. For a state like Orissa, the government needs 3.5 crores books for the students up to VII class.
Generally, the government was sanctioned eight crores every year. In the current year budget, only four crores has sanctioned, whereas approximately 30 crores required for the printing of study materials. Now, It is become routine issue for the government to sanction inadequate fund and demand more money at the neck of the moment when the books should reach at the end user. This is not only creating an obstacle in the time bound programme but also spoil the valuable time of the students for struggling with the course without courseware. Here I have highlighted one issue, which is occurred in every year at the beginning of academic year. Government has been compromising the issue without thinking the future of the small kids.
Though it is a routine issue, then why Government is not considering this issue seriously?
Some other issues like educational infrastructure and appoint good teachers with good salary are also taken into consideration. When we are appointing good teachers for this programme, we should think about the other side of the coin (i.e good remuneration). The state government appointed 40,846 Shiksha Sahayaks under several schemes including District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) and Sarba Siksha Abhijan (SSA). Due to deficit budget the Shiksha Sahayaks are compromising with the situation and ready to work in less salary (i.e. Rs 1500 per month), which is less than the wage of a bonded labour. In spite of that the State Government is unable to provide their share at least in time to the Shiksha Sahayaks. How would we expect quality education from a teacher who is struggling to survive in this expensive society? Recently, the State Government has decided to hike the monthly honorarium of the Siksha Sahayaks from Rs 1500 to Rs 2000. This decision was taken at a high-level meeting presided over by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on October 20. This will cost the State Exchequer an additional Rs 25 crore per year. Obviously, zero percent credit goes to the State Government. Though Central Government is supporting 75 percent of the estimated expenditure, this additional hike will be added to the aided account. If Sarba Siksha Abhijan is become a flop programme, then the credit goes to the state government. The major barrier is deficiency of fund.
We are compromising in every step of our life. How many days will we live with 'compromise'? Let us stop compromising with our future and with our future generation. At least the State Government should give up elementary education. Education makes man a right thinker. It tells man how to think and how to make decision. When the absolute number of literate people in the state is steadily rising year after year, then where are those instincts of a literate person? Where is your voice against the backward step of the government? But moving beyond educational programmes requires much political will and public pressure. Unfortunately, elementary education continues to receive low priority from those in power. While State Assembly discusses trivial issues, issues related to elementary education gathers dust. If government will not take any rigid step then all children of 6-14 years age group in school by 2003, all children to complete 5 years of schooling by 2007and all children to complete 8 years of schooling by 2010 will become a utopian dream for us.