Relevance of the Practice
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is the flagship program of the Government of India for elementary education. It was launched in 2001. It aims to provide universal elementary education to children between the ages of 6 to 14 years. SSA is the main mechanism through which the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) is implemented. RTE was passed in 2009. It has a time bound aim of achieving universalization of elementary education as mandated by the 86th amendment of the Indian Constitution. The Ministry of Human Resources Development looks after the SSA program. It is implemented by the state and central government. The other aims and objectives of SSA are universal access and retention of children in the schools, bridging gender and social category gaps in education and to increase the learning outcomes of children. These goals are aligned in accordance with legally mandated norms and standards and free entitlements stated by the Right to Education Act, 2009. A principle point of functioning for SSA is the interventions of various ministries and the merging of various programs. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and State Health Department are responsible to provide services to Model Cluster Schools and to conduct health checks ups. The Ministry of Human Resource and Development is responsible for providing mid-day meals and ensuring age appropriate admissions. The Ministry of Women and Child Development focuses on pre-school learning and enrolment by extending integrated child development services to the children enrolled. The state public works department looks after the basic infrastructure of the schools
SSA has broadly four approaches: access and retention, infrastructure development, providing quality education and equality. SSA in India has been in operation since 2001. At the level of implementation, SSA has failed to achieve the desired results. Lack of proper infrastructural facilities and appropriate funding has derailed the policy to achieve the desired results. The biggest obstacle to the realization of SSA goals has been the privatization of education. It will be interesting to see how privatization of education has adversely affected the panchayati raj institutions’ function of providing education. In many instances the government supports this step. This has further widened structural and human disparities as privatization of education has hindered the realization of the time-bound goal of universalization of education.
The universalization of education through the SSA program has both rural and urban governments being part of it through a variety of delivery mechanisms. The rural-urban divide, its structural hierarchies and socio-cultural practices get widely clear when it comes to the delivery mechanisms of the educational system in the country. A country with low level of literacy and income distribution along with huge population size, cultural diversity of having to deal with hundreds of languages and dialects, with astonishing poverty continuing throughout the country and the goal of universal education have been difficult objectives to achieve both by central and state governments since independence. Therefore, both the rural and urban bodies at the local governmental levels have continued to struggle with various delivery mechanisms of education over the past several decades.
SSA is a program about the community ownership of the school educational system by involving the Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs), school management committees, village education committees, parents’ teachers’ association, and the tribal autonomous councils. It provides a unique kind of partnership between the central, state and the local government with an opportunity for the states and thus for local governments to devise their own design and vision of school education. Since the primary objective is to increase the school enrolment of children in the age group of 6-14 years, it is imperative for the local governments to include a large number of actors in this task. Apart from the government appointed teachers and employees in the schools, there are a number of non-government organizations, private trusts, educational bodies, community service organizations and individual professionals who have been made part of this mission of providing free and compulsory education to children particularly belonging to poorer strata of the society.
The program includes the midday meal, stipend for girl students, school sanitation and hygiene, modernization of madrasas, panchayat level educational committees, and the residential-schools for girls. Since the target sections are children from poor and disadvantaged sections of the society, particularly Muslims, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and stakeholders are drawn from diverse backgrounds such as the state government including local level government institutions, international non-government and government organizations, local non-government organizations, various focus groups, associations, charitable organizations and social welfare bodies of various kinds. The government constituted committees to manage and distribute funds, to look into the misappropriation of funds, misuse of school premises and facilities and the poor quality of education being imparted in the schools of rural areas and urban areas. Absenteeism of school teachers and education providers is a wide-spread phenomenon throughout the country, even if it seems to be more prominent in rural areas. Lack of competence and adequate training of the school teachers, insufficient staff and personnel in these schools and low level of incomes of the school teachers are other impediments in realizing the objectives of SSA.
Bringing SSA under the ambit of the Right to Education Act as a fundamental right has a huge constitutional mandate associated with it. It is also important to keep in mind how the New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 once again focuses on the need to strengthen and reinforce the objectives of universalization of education. It now covers more than two million primary and one million upper primary schools. The opening of schools in the neighborhood, appointment of additional teachers, free textbooks, free school uniforms, a small stipend, separate toilets for girls, teacher-training manuals and teachers’ sensitization programs are some of the concerns and practices being put in place by the different government agencies.
A major consequence of the program has been the increasing divide between English and non-English medium schools both in the rural and urban level schools. The global value of English language and its marketability has adversely affected the school education imparted in the mother tongues of children. Despite several efforts on the part of the government, the failure rate of school children, their incompetence in subjects being taught in the schools and their lack of interest are primarily due to the cultural and social deficit and vacuum created by this divide between English and Indian languages as media of instruction. Several studies have shown the adverse cognitive effects of this divide among school children. It is more adversely felt in rural areas as the level of exposure to English in everyday life is minimal compared to the children in urban areas. They are at a disadvantage which is further entrenched as in the countryside, the main medium of instruction is Hindi.
—— ‘SSA’ (National Portal of India, 2011) <https://archive.india.gov.in/sectors/education/index.php?id=12>
Department of School Education & Literacy, ‘Samagra Shiksha Abhiyan’ (Ministry of Human Resource Management, 2018) <https://mhrd.gov.in/ssa>
Government of India, ‘Office Memorandum’ (Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, Ministry of Human Resource Management 2013) <https://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/upload_document/20130502_180815.pdf>
The World Bank, ‘Education for All: Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ (The World Bank, 2012) <http://web.worldbank.org/archive/website01291/WEB/0__CO-49.HTM>
Ward M, ‘Aid to Education: The Case ofSarva Shiksha Abhiyan in India and the Role of Development Partners’ (2011) 26 Journal of Education Policy 543
 A madrasa is a college for Islamic education and instruction. The instruction primarily focuses on the study and understanding of religious laws and practices of Islam. The madrasas are normally built inside a Mosque or attached to it.