(This article was written in 2001 at the time of launch of SSA. Most of the points raised has become irrelevant today as corrective measures have already been  initiated long back)

The Government of India recently launched an ambitious programme called Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan: An Initiative for Universal Elementary Education. The programme is planned to initiate in low female literacy districts spread over fifteen states to achieve the goal of UEE. It envisages that all the districts of the country will be covered under the programme before the end of the Ninth Plan i.e. March 2002. Unlike the District Primary Education Programme, the SSA envisages to develop district-specific elementary education plans within the framework of decentralized management of education with a focus on Panchayati Raj Institutions. In DPEP, the focus was on primary level only. In these districts, it would be the first attempt to develop educational plans with the involvement of local people in a participatory planning mode. District planning teams in many districts have been formed and training in planning methodology is imparted. A series of programmes were conducted by NIEPA, New Delhi and NSDART, Mussooire in which members of the district planning teams and states representatives were trained. The priority of SSA according to its framework is the low female literacy districts and districts that do not have experience of programmes like DPEP. But in reality, in case of many districts, this was violated.

The 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh has got very rich experience (seven years) of UP Basic Education Project but all of them were not only covered under the SSA but were also approved in the first lot. Many of these districts did not undertake the diagnostic exercise properly, existing information was not adequately utilized and there were a number of other methodological limitations. However, the Government ignored many of these issues and had taken a liberal view in sanctioning district plans despite numerous limitations pointed out by the members of the appraisal teams for unknown reasons. A number of other states, like Meghalaya, Punjab etc. included more districts than the originally planned. SSA envisages a few pre-project activities. Filling-up of the existing positions of teachers, strengthening of DIETs and other state level institutions etc. are the few activities that were to be initiated at the state level. By and large not much attention is paid on these activities by the States, plans of which were approved recently. Constitution of district planning teams, conducting baseline studies, household surveys, micro panning, strengthening of existing MIS, undertaking diagnostic studies etc. are some of the district-specific pre-project activities that are envisaged to provide input to the district plans. To initiate the pre-project activities, a ceiling of Rs. 5 million (upper ceiling) per district is kept but in reality districts were sanctioned much lower amount than the upper ceiling. Of the total 593 districts, DPEP and LJP are currently under implementation in about 285 districts.

The remaining 308 districts will be covered under SSA of which 270 districts spread over 28 States & UTs have submitted pre-project activity proposals and amount is released to the State level registered societies. The total amount sanctioned and released is to the tune of Rs. 925 million. About 38 districts spread over Chhatisgarh, Goa, Rajasthan, Chandigarh, Dadra & Nagra Haveli and Delhi are yet to submit pre-project activity proposals.

In addition, an amount of Rs.55.2 million is also released to DPEP Phase-1 districts spread over 8 states for pre-project activities with emphasis on upper primary level of education. The amount sanctioned for pre-project activities varies between Rs. 0.60 million in Harda (Madhya Pradesh) to 2.93 million in Kamrup (Assam) district. It has been observed that most of the pre-project activities have not been taken-up in the districts, plans of which were submitted recently to the Government of India. It may however be noted that the money for the pre-project activities were released on the basis of proposals submitted by the district planning teams. In a few cases, the money sanctioned was not released to the districts in time and many of the districts do not get the full released amount. On the other hand, in Uttar Pradesh, an amount of Rs. 5 lakh each to 17 (UPBEP) districts was released (by the Government of India) to upgrade the equipments even though the districts teams didnít include it in their proposals. One of the important pre-project activities is the constitution of the District Planning teams but in many districts the same was formed much later. In many districts they are yet to be constituted/activated. For these districts, pre-project activity plans were developed at the State level, which is against the basic spirits of SSA.

That is why in many districts, members of the planning teams found unaware of the pre-project activities that were to be undertaken. Conducting research studies like, Social Assessment and Baseline Assessment Studies is another important pre-project activity. But barring Uttar Pradesh & Tamil Nadu, most of the other states didnít conduct research studies. Uttar Pradesh too could conduct SASs in five out of the seventeen districts even though money was provided to all the 17 districts. The BASs in most of the other states have not at all conducted. Conducting BAS in SSA districts in DPEP states may not be a problem but non-DPEP states do not have experience to conduct such studies. State level institutions, like SCERT in these states should have taken initiatives in this direction for which they need support of the national level institutions, like NCERT. States like Nagaland approached national level institutions in this regard but couldnít receive necessary support. Even the DPEP states are yet to evolve methodology for upper primary level to conduct BAS. However, Tamil Nadu has conducted BAS in case of upper primary level also. The SSA, which is a holistic programme, envisages involving community in a big way. The community ownership is central to the SSA programme. However, it is not clear how SSA will actually become a movement and will be different than other programmes of similar nature implemented in the past. All the existing centrally sponsored schemes have come under one umbrella programme i.e. SSA. This is expected to smoothen the flow of funds from the Central Government to the State level registered societies created for the implementation of the programme. Avoiding delay in release of money from the state government to district was one of the many reasons because of which SSA was initiated. But as it seems that this objective is badly forfeited in almost all the states where money was released to undertake the pre-project activities. In case of a few states, initially funds were released to the State Governments, as these states were yet to create registered societies. In most of the other states money was either not released to the districts in time or it was partially released. In a few states, money from the DPEP funds was released to the non-DPEP districts to initiate pre-project activities.

Most of the DPEP states, barring a few have decided to utilise the existing registered societies for SSA also. However, a few others those who have created separate bodies for SSA, lack of coordination is quite visible. Karnataka and Assam are two such states. In Assam, money was released to the DPEP in September 2000 (Rs. 7.4 million) to initiate pre-project activities in four districts but the same couldnít be transferred to the SSA districts. The state has since registered a separate society for SSA. In case of remaining 10 districts, an amount of Rs. 22.11 million was released to the State Government in August 2001 even though the State has got the registered body for SSA. This money too was not released to the districts till September 2001. Needless to mention that the State decided to develop and submit district plans to the Government of India by November 30, 2001. Is there any magic through which this can be achieved in such a short period? The money to districts was yet to be released and the districts were to initiate the pre-project activities. Without compromising the quality, this was an impossible task to complete in two months especially when the district planning teams were yet to be activated. But the state did this magic and prepared all the plans. But the interesting point is that the plans in Assam were prepared by the State Core Team and not by the district planning teams. In Himachal Pradesh also, the money was released to the State Government but the same even after 7 months couldnít be transferred to the DPEP society that is also the society for the SSA. In anticipation, the DPEP from its own funds released an amount of Rs. 50,000/- to each of the SSA districts to initiate household survey. The State decided to complete the household survey as well as develop district plans in less than two months i.e. by November 30, 2001. Needless to mention that the district planning teams at that time were not even aware of the pre-project activities that were to be initiated, money for which was released by the Government of India. In one of the newly created states, namely Uttaranchal except household survey, as it seems that other pre-project activities were not undertaken and the State Government has yet to release the money to the DPEP society for carrying out SSA activities. In case of Tamil Nadu, money was released to the state government in two installments to carry over pre-project activities in 22 districts.

The money was partially released to the State Government and also to the DPEP. The state government has yet to release the amount to the DPEP. The state is in peculiar situation where it has decided to implement SSA through Directorate of Elementary Education but as of now it has not registered separate society for SSA in the absence of which it withdraw money from the DPEP on time to time basis. Whatever the amount that was released for pre-project activities, the state could spend only one sixth of the total amount (Rs. 3.18 crore) and the rest of the money is lying unutilized with the DPEP and the State Government. Though the money was released partially in case of 17 districts of Uttar Pradesh and a lot of pre-project activities not initiated/completed, the state ensured complete coordination between different agencies involved in promotion of elementary education that is mainly because of its stateís leadership, which lack elsewhere. On the other hand in case of Meghalaya, money to undertake pre-project activities was released but the districts didnít undertake any of the approved activities. Even at the time of appraisal, the household survey was still going on halfway. It may also be noted that most of the districts covered under the SSA across the country have not estimated the funds over time they received and utilized under different Centrally Sponsored Schemes or how much are they spending on elementary education even though plans of all the districts that were submitted are approved and money released. In case of Assam, the State Mission Director very bluntly informed the SSA board that the state has not released the money to the districts and as such no pre-project activity has been under taken in the state, even though all the plans were sanctioned.

However, housed hold survey was conducted in Haryana but only 40 per cent of the total blocks were covered in the survey. The targets under the SSA is that all children will bring to school by 2003 and complete five years of schooling by 2007 and eight years by 2010. Accordingly, all children of age Ď6í year will be enrolled by 2002-03 and retain till 2007 to achieve UPE. All the districts of the country will be covered under SSA before the end of the Ninth Plan i.e. March 2002.

This may not be an easy task to achieve in such a short period. Even, the Dakar Framework for Action to which India is a signatory envisages achieving the goal of UPE by the year 2015. It is also quite possible that a few states and districts may achieve UPE earlier than 2007 and a few others may not achieve even after 2007. Therefore, the national targets should be treated indicative in nature and the districts and blocks within a district should adopt their own targets, which should be based upon the present status of educational development in a district/block. If necessary, separate targets for boys, girls, and SC & ST population should also be fixed. However, most of the plans that were appraised recently blindly adopted the national targets without going into the details whether they will be able to achieve it in a short period of 7 to 10 years. A few districts, those who have adopted district-specific targets didnít follow scientific methods to fix the targets. Whatever the targets they have adopted are entirely based upon their perception and present educational status in the district, demographic and enrolment projection techniques are not considered in fixing the targets. Those who attempted projection techniques also need further refinements. In most of the cases, block-specific targets are not set so as the separate targets for focus/target groups. In almost all the states, first yearís annual plans have been prepared without even preparing the perspective plans. These states are now advised to prepare perspective plans; this is just up side down. In case of Haryana, the appraisal team was sent to appraise perspective plan of eight years duration.

The state initially didnít plan for the current year. It was only after the appraisal, the annual plans for the last two months of the current financial year was prepared and money sanctioned. In Punjab, the members of the appraisal team helped the State Government to develop the State Component plan that is out of the preview of the appraisal team. Across districts, not much attention is paid to upper primary level of education. Neither the districts have separate targets for upper primary level nor the annual targets are fixed even though detailed first years work plan is developed. By and large districts have not considered existing transition from primary to upper primary level and graduation rates that will decide the expansion of upper primary education. Despite all these limitations, district plans of all the states were approved and money sanctioned. SSA envisages habitation as a unit of planning. However, the document is not clear how this would be achieved? Do we have education offices at the habitation level? Or will it be achieved through convergence? Do we have other governmental offices at the habitation level? are some of the important questions, which needs to be addressed.

Therefore, the proposal look ambitious and challenging one especially keeping in view that a large number of persons will be required to involve in this task. Of the total 1,061 thousand habitations in the country, 581 thousand had population 300 & more and were eligible for schooling facilities in 1993. An average of 4-5 persons per habitation would need at least 2-3 million person to be trained and involved in this task. If not available, there will no alternative but to involve teachers too in this activity. Do we have effective infrastructure to build-up capacity of grassroots people? Can DIETs handle this mammoth task? Certainly we are not ready to take up this challenging task at this stage, which is more specifically true in the light of the quality of training facilities that are available at the lower levels. The states that have initiated household surveys, mainly utilized teachers in conducting the survey and involvement of the community was only marginal. However, information generated through HH-survey is not properly and adequately utilised in most of the district plans. To begin with, it would be better to develop district-specific plans with block as the basic unit of planning. Habitation plans may be possible in the districts, which have already initiated a variety of innovative projects.

For example because of the Janshala Programme, many districts of Andhra Pradesh have habitation-specific information, effective community mobilization and elected school committees. In many of these districts, habitation and mandal-specific information on out-of-school & drop out children, facilitates in schools and additional requirements etc. is readily available but because of the limited funds the same couldnít be provided to all the habitations; thus forfeiting the basic objective of developing habitation-specific plans. In Tamil Nadu, household survey and other studies such as, Cohort, Infrastructure and BAS have been conducted in all the 29 SSA districts but utilizing this set of rich information in improving functioning of schools and learners achievement is challenging one.

DPEP is said to be successful in achieving significant increase in both the enrolment and retention and also in creating effective information system, management structures and training centres both at the block and cluster levels. Canít we adopt this model in the SSA? That is what exactly has been tried in the SSA but inputs from other programmes has made it too heavy and over ambitious. It seems that there are too many eggs in the basket. States have different arrangements to look after upper primary education. They have District Elementary/Education Officer to look after Grades I-VIII. But across states, high and higher secondary schools also have upper primary sections. In most of such states, upper primary sections in the high and higher secondary schools is being looked after by a separate DEO (Secondary)/CEO.

In most of the states (like Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu etc.), it has been noticed that DEOs (Secondary) were not at all involved in the SSA (pre-project) activities. This is quite visible both at the state as well as at the district and other lower levels. Without their active involvement and cooperation, a number of activities even cannot be initiated. SSA proposes to provide funds for the renewal of school equipments, which is otherwise not covered in any other programme. In addition, a variety of incentive schemes have also been proposed. During the recent past, a number of primary schools are opened under the Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS). Under the EGS, the government is bound to provide a primary school within a period of 90 days. Para Teachers are appointed in EGS schools that are recommended by the community. The SAS proposes to upgrade 15 per cent of the EGS schools and alternative schooling centres. It also proposes to make available funds for maintenance and repair of the school buildings. Further, the SSA provides for an over a 6 per cent ceiling on the management and 33 per cent on the civil works cost. Unlike DPEP, SSA will have no upper ceiling of the plan and money will be released on the year-to-year basis. However, the plan would be of ten years duration.

In one of the states, namely, Uttar Pradesh, an amount of Rs. 5,000/- crore over a period of ten years was proposed for 17 of its districts. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh proposed a sum of more than Rs. 1,300/- crore for its four districts. In a recently held meeting of the SSA executive board, an amount ranging between Rs. 73.1 and Rs. 144.5 million were released to two districts each of the Andhra Pradesh (East & West Godavari districts) and Uttar Pradesh (Allahbad & Lucknow districts) to carry out first years activities (remaining seven months of the current year). Influential persons represent all these districts in the parliament. Subsequently, district plans of all other states were also approved and money sanctioned and released to undertake the activities during the last few months of the current financial year. All the states whosoever submitted the plans have got the approval. It is only states like Delhi, Manipur, Chhatisgarh, Jammu & Kashmir etc. and a few UTs that their plans are not approved simply because they are yet to submit the plans to the Government of India. The DPEP experience suggests that there is no shortage of the funds but it is the utilization of the available funds, which is crucial. Most of the districts failed to fully utilise funds provided under the DPEP. This would now be a challenge to the SSA district teams to utilize the money. In case if they fail to utilize the funds in the current year, which is most likely, the unutilized money will be utilized in the initial few months of the next financial year by that time the next year plans would also get approval. Ad-hoc approach, which as it seems institutionalized in the SSA, will kill the programme prematurely.

 If such practices continue, the fate of SSA will be similar to the other programmes/projects/schemes implemented in the past and it would have to merge in some other programme in 2010. Finally, a few words about the appraisal process under SSA. It seems that the existing arrangements are perfectly ad-hoc in nature. It may be noted that only Uttar Pradesh has submitted plans for all of its 17 SSA districts. In case of other states, plans were submitted, appraised and approved in installments. Representatives of the national institutions like, NCERT and NIEPA, State representatives, officials of TSG (Ed. CIL) etc. have been the members of the appraisal teams. The appraisal manual has not yet been developed in the absence of which, the members of the appraisal teams appraised plans according to their own experience and understanding. Strengthening the briefing session at the national level will be useful specific to the new members of the appraisal team.

The SSA framework suggests a few state representatives (experts) in the appraisal teams but in Uttar Pradesh, officials those who were involved in the planning and management of the programme (those involved in developing plans) were also made members of the mission. This has adversely affected the outcome of the appraisal. In other states where the state experts were the members of the appraisal teams, their participation was limited to the extant of accompanying the team members during the field trips to the districts only. They could contribute a little to the overall outcome of the mission activities. They were neither present in the initial briefing session nor in the final wrap-up at Delhi. Uttar Pradesh was repeated in case of other states also. In case of one district of Sikkim, the appraisal team consisted of only one person having specialized in the area of the civil works who also looked after other components such as planning, intervention strategies, costing etc. In case of 7 districts of Uttaranchal, 49 members of the district planning teams were trained in the planning methodology at NSDART, Mussooire. One of the key resource persons those who imparted training was made the member of the appraisal mission.

In case of Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, and Orissa and in a number of other states, the SSA board meetings were fixed well in the advance even before the report of the appraisal mission was made available. This shows eagerness of the Government to approve the plans. This has sent wrong signal to the state concerned that the plans will be approved whatever may the recommendations of the appraisal team. The other interesting feature of the appraisal is that in case of a number of states, there was no wrap-up session at the national level and the reports of the appraisal team were directly put up in the board meeting for the approval. In case of Meghalaya, members of appraisal team were not even briefed at the state level and they were directly sent to the field trips. However, there was a wrap-up session at the state level, which was also attended by the MHRD representative. It was perhaps the first time in Gujarat and Meghalaya that a GOI nominee was presented at the state level in the final wrap-up. The MHRD representatives responsible for a state are always keen that the plans are approved by the board whatever may be the limitations and suggestions of the appraisal team. As it seems now that initially the appraisal was a bit serious exercise but it has fast lost its tempo towards approaching the year-end. The other noticeable feature of the appraisal is the number of members that vary from one member in Sikkim to about ten members in Uttar Pradesh. As it looks that the number of members in a mission has no concern with the number of districts (in a state) and also with the components of the plan. To appraise 17 plans of Uttar Pradesh, a strong team of ten members was constituted but a team of only seven members appraised 22 district plans of Tamil Nadu.

In case of Uttaranchal, the team consisted of only three members. Like number of appraisal members, the duration of the mission also vary from the state to state and in many places the duration was too short and it was not linked to the number of district plans. In a few cases, leadership of appraisal team too created problems. The approach followed in this regard was not free from faults. Without fault, NCERT and NIEPA were asked to nominate the faculty members and also to lead the mission. But in case of Jharkhand and Gujarat, no one represented NIEPA in the appraisal team. It is the prerogative of the members of the team to identify the team convener and it should have been left to the members of the team. Even to support the programme at the national level, proposed Operational Support Group has also not yet been established. In the absence of which, appraisal activities are being supported by the TSG on an ad-hoc basis. To improve the district plans, the appraisal teams gave a number of suggestions but in most of the cases they were ignored and plans were approved. In a number of states, states were not given the adequate time to incorporate the suggestions of the appraisal teams and revision of the district plans become only a formality. The hope is not lost. We can expect improvements in the year that follow.


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