The National Democratic Alliance government launched Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2001 under the Department of Elementary Education and Literacy, Ministry of Human Resources Development, for ensuring free, useful and relevant elementary education to all children between the age of six years and fourteen. The main objectives were:

    (i) all children in school by 2003 (since revised to 2005, in March 2005);
    (ii) all children complete five years of primary schooling by 2007;
    (iii) all children complete eight years of elementary schooling by 2010;
    (iv) focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education for life;
    (v) bridge all gender and social category gaps at primary stage by 2007 and at the elementary stage by 2010; and
    (vi) universal retention by 2010.

Well into the implementation of the SSA programme, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) brought its performance under the scanner in 2004-'05. It's report was placed in Parliament on 20 August 2006. For a much-touted education scheme launched with fanfare, the national auditor’s findings point to a top-heavy programme with local leaks and flawed implementation.

The CAG conducted a performance audit in part by checking records of the relevant departments in the ministry and implementing agencies in 26 states (excluding Jammu and Kashmir and Goa) and 6 Union Territories (except Andaman and Nicobar island). The Social and Rural Research Institute (SRI), a specialist unit of Indian Market Research Bureau International (IMRB), was also commissioned to assess the impact of SSA from the perspective of the beneficiaries and their parents. SRI conducted the survey in all the districts of 26 States and 6 Union Territories from 19 December 2005 to 3 March 2006.

Neither the original goal of all children in school by 2003 nor the revised target of bringing all children in school by 2005 was achieved.

 •  SSA: new indicators needed
 •  Measuring the state of education

The audit examination revealed that the number of out-of-school children in the age group of 6-14 years at the commencement of the scheme on 1 April 2001 was 3.40 crore children. On 31 March 2005, after four years of implementation of the scheme and after having incurred an expenditure of Rs. 11133.57 crore by the Ministry/State Governments, 1.36 crore (40 per cent) children still remained out of school. Thus, neither the original goal of all children in school by 2003 nor the revised target of bringing all children in school by 2005 was achieved. (1 crore = 10 million)

In May 2006, the HRD Ministry defended itself. First it said that the goal of 2003 was quite ambitious and that this was since extended to 2005. The Ministry noted that as per its own reports received from the states/UTs, the number of out-of-school children had declined since 2001-02 when SSA was initiated. From 3.20 crore out-of-school children in 2002, the number had come down to 96 lakh in October 2005 (from 28.50 per cent to 6.94 per cent in 2004-05). It further stated in June 2006 that the goal of bringing all children in school by 2005 was partially achieved!

However, the CAG felt that the reply of the Ministry would need to be viewed also against the findings of the SRI survey which indicated that the number of out of school children as in October 2005 stood at 1.35 crore. In July 2006, the Ministry attributed difference in figures reported by the states and the SRI survey to the fact that while SRI figure was based on a sample study, the states conducted regular house to house survey or updated the Village Education Registers (VERs) based on which the figures were compiled. Also, while the October 2005 report of the Ministry was post-enrolment, the SRI study was conducted when enrolment in some states was going on.

However, since the figures reported by the SRI were based on scientific statistical sampling methods, the large difference in the figures from two sources only points to the need for the Ministry to satisfy itself about the integrity and reliability of the house to house survey conducted by the states as well as the process of updating the VERs.

More in line with the SRI’s findings for the CAG, recently, the National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NIEPA) come out with data on elementary education. The study reported that the percentage of out of school children on account of their having dropped out was higher (54.9 per cent) as compared to those who had never attended the school (45.1 per cent). The main reasons attributed to children not liking to go to school were the teacher beating up students, activities in the school being very boring and not being able to cope with the happenings in school.

As per data published by NIEPA, over the years since 1960-’61, the dropout rates at three levels (primary, elementary and secondary) have come down. However, the dropout rates still remain unduly high. In 2003-'04, out of 100 children enrolled in class 1, almost 63 turned out to be invisible from mainstream school system. Only 37 students could reach class X.

Problems galore

Many of the CAG's findings suggest the flawed nature of centrally assisted programme implemented with top down approach that leaves too much to be desired.

In two districts of Jharkhand, school grant of Rs.47.88 lakh was released to 2369 schools, which were non-existent (i.e. existed nowhere but on paper). No education surveys had been carried out during 2001-2005. There were specific directions to prepare plan for meeting the educational needs of the minorities (tribes). However, no such programme was prepared by the state.

In Gujarat, as much as Rs.4 lakh was diverted to perform a ritual of Bhumipujan (worshiping the land) of the Gujarat Council of Education Research and Training (GCERT).

Preparatory activities in Bihar such habitation level plans were never undertaken. No household surveys were conducted till September 2005.

Teaching Learning Equipment(TLE)/Material grant abuse

In Andhra Pradesh, 7531 colour TV sets were procured at the cost of Rs.11.21 crores for upper primary schools and high schools that had upper primary section. It was found during audit, that in 36 schools these TV sets were remaining idle, as TV sets had been supplied to even schools that had no electricity supply.

In Bihar, 247 computers in four districts were lying unutilised due to non-existence of building and non-availability of computer-trained teachers.

In Uttar Pradesh, out of 105 computers purchased in seven test checked districts, 51 were lying uninstalled for want of electricity connection. District Project Officer, Balia had retained six computers in his office instead of making them available to the concerned schools.

In Haryana, the TLE grant was utilized against the norms on the purchase of dustbins (Rs.25.31 lakhs).

Involvement of NGOs

The CAG audit did not spare NGOs either. In Andhra Pradesh, an amount of Rs.33.95 lakh was paid to M V Foundation, Secunderabad for mainstreaming of 18739 children to regular schools in East Godavari district. M V Foundation is led by Magsasay Award winner Shanta Sinha. The CAG found that only 7,375 children were found to be mainstreamed. In one case, the audit noticed that out of 141 children stated to have been mainstreamed in six schools, only 15 children were actually found to have been mainstreamed. The remaining 126 children did not exist on the rolls of the school mentioned by the NGO.

In December 2006, a report in the Mumbai Mirror quoted Shanta Sinha as saying in response to the CAG report that the Foundation only looked only at identifying out-of-school children and enrolling them. Sinha is reported to have said that the Foundation did not have follow-up support in the particular district in the manner they have been able to do in other regions.

In another case, the CAG observed that none of the 100 children stated to have been mainstreamed by Garthpuri Consumer Council, Guntur district were actually were actually found on the school records.