Education hiccups in Tripura

satyabrata chakraborty

TRIPURA’S plan to attain cent per cent literacy by the end of February 2011 has come up against a stiff challenge owing to poor scheme management, lack of proper training for those engaged in the “Sarva Siksha Abhiyan” and effective infrastructure for the purpose. In fact, only three out of the state’s 40 blocks can now claim to have attained total literacy.
There is no doubt that the SSA is the biggest ever flagship programme being implemented in the entire country, the objective being to universalise education by bringing all children in the age group of six to 14 years under the ambit of primary schooling, expanding facilities to all inaccessible and unreserved rural habitations, creating new infrastructure and renovating the existing network. Ultimately, this time-bound programme aims at achieving its goal by providing quality education.
In conformity with other states and Union territories, the programme was launched in Tripura in 2001-2002 to attain total literacy by 2010-2011. The SSA framework includes the enrolment of all children in educational institutions, their retention till the upper primary stage by 2010, a bridging of gender and social category gaps during enrolment, retention and learning, and ensuring there is significant enhancement at the primary and upper primary stages.
To be sure, the SSA has gone a long way in bringing about a discernible change in Tripura’s educational profile. A total 133,254 out-of-school children were enrolled between 2001-2002 and 2009-2010. The dropout rate at the primary level has fallen from 50.42 per cent in 2001-2002 to 4.55 per cent in 2009-2010. Some 2,660 teachers were appointed during this period and 2,607 were engaged for upper primary schools. Also, 332 cluster resource centres were set up and a large number of new schools were opened. During 2001-2002 and 2009-2010, the project approval board approved funds worth Rs 562.95 crore for implementing the SSA scheme and there has been no report on major misappropriation of funds so far. As the saying goes, “What gets monitored gets done.” The SSA programme involves well-thought-out policies and decisions are taken by the general governing body, with chief minister Manik Sarkar as chairman. The executive committee, headed by chief secretary SK Panda, reviews and evaluates the pace of progress at different levels of management. The policies adopted by the central body are carried out by the executive committee.
But the all-important question involves sustenance of the infrastructure in the absence of financial allocation from the Centre. In the current financial year, 90 per cent of the SSA allocation has been borne by the Centre, leaving only 10 per cent for the state authorities to bear. To give rural children quality education in the present socio-economic context — which calls for dedication and inspired missionary zeal – is something the SSA programme ostensibly lacks at this stage.
The midday meal scheme covered all government and government-aided primary school children in Tripura. It was launched by the Centre on 15 August 1995 to improve enrolment and reduce the dropout rate at the primary stage. But the absence of basic documents in support of claims raised doubts about the achievement touted by the state education department. The secondary objective of improving the nutritional status of children in the primary classes is yet to be adequately addressed. The reported number of eligible children has shown a decline over the last five years which, together with the absence of credible supporting documents, casts a doubt on the reliability of official data since Tripura has witnessed a population growth.
While there were sufficient unspent funds with different school inspectorates and unutilised foodgrains with the Food Corporation of India, a large number of schools in Tripura’s West, South and Dhalai districts served meals to school children on a credit basis because of the non-availability of foodgrains and funds. Embezzlement of government funds is now a growing trend in the entire North-east so the chances of expecting that projects for child education will be spared are remote.

The writer is The Statesman’s Agartala-based