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Elementary Education in Orissa

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“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.

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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.

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