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Mainstream, VOL LII No 26, June 21, 2014

An Assessment of Girls Education under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan

Saturday 21 June 2014



by Shruti Sharma

The way to empowerment and emancipation is through education. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that education be given to all. The makers of our Constitution realised the need for universal education, but the newly independent state had to include the right to free and compulsory education in the Directive Principles of State Policy (Part IV), which were not justiciable.1 From Independence onwards Commissions have been appointed time and again to achieve the aim of universalising education and raising its standards. From the Radhakrishnan Commission (1949) to Kothari Commission (1966) to the National Policy on Education (NPE 1986, 1992) we have come a long way. The Kothari Commission, also known as the Education Commission, envisioned the eradication of illiteracy in India by 1986 and saw education as an instrument of change.

India is also signatory to many international conventions. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child states that free and compulsory elementary education must be given to every child. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also recognises the right to education of every individual and maintains that primary education shall be compulsory and available free to all. India signed this Covenant in 1979 but could not make much headway in implementing it. National Policy ofEducation 19862 stated that“It shall be ensured that free and compulsory education of satisfactory quality is provided to all children upto 14 years of age before we enter the twenty first century.” The judiciary also showed its commitment towards upholding education and in the Unnikrishan judgement in 1993 delivered that—“Every child / citizen of this country has a right to free education till he completes the age of fourteen years.” Internationally the UN millennium development goal (2000) binds countries to ensure that all children everywhere complete primary schooling by 2015.

But India passed the 93rd Constitution Amendment Act as late as 2005 which makes Education for all children aged 6-14 a fundamental right.

From the decade of the 1980s, strengthening the quality of education at all educational levels, and more so at the primary level, become a part of the global agenda. Forums and Declarations pledged improvements in quality of education. National commitment towards quality edu-cation became significant and visible since the late 1980s. Since then, the government has experimented with a number of initiatives and interventions for improving the quality of education.

At international platforms, the Indian govern-ment ratified education for all (EFA) goals,3 apart from Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) etc. Based on the EFA commitments, the government has devised specific policies like the National Action Plan, National Literacy Mission (NLM) and Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA).

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the first ever nation-wide programme for Universal Elementary Education, was launched to reach every child in every hamlet in the country in a prescribed time frame. The Constitution was amended in 2002 to make education a fundamental right of every child. SSA is an effort to universalize elementary education by community ownership of the school system. It is a response to the demand for quality basic education all over the country.

Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is:

• A programme with a clear time frame for universal elementary education.

• A response to the demand for quality basic education all over the country.

• An opportunity for promoting social justice through basic education.

• An effort at effectively involving the Panchayati Raj Institutions, School Management Committees, Village and Urban Slum-level Education Committees, Parent-Teacher Associ-ations, Mother-Teacher Associations, Tribal Autonomous Councils and other grassroot-level structures in the management of elementary schools.

• An expression of political will for universal elementary education across the country.

• Cooperation among the Central, State and local governments.

• An opportunity for States to develop their own vision of elementary education.

• An effort to bridge social, regional and gender gaps, with the active participation of the community in the management of schools.

The objectives of SSA are:

* All children to be enrolled in school.

* Education Guarantee Centre, Alternative School, ‘Back to School’ camp by 2003.

* All children to complete five years of primary schooling by 2007.

* All children to complete eight years of schooling by 2010.

* Bridge all gender and social category gaps at primary stage by 2007 and at elementary education level by 2010.

* Universal retention by 2010.

* Focus on elementary education of satisfactory quality with emphasis on education for life.

Ssa and Girl Child Education

Since independence the Indian Government has been trying to improve the situation of girls. The National Policy on Education (NPE) says:

Education will be used as an agent of basic change in the status of women. In order to neutralise the accumulated distortions of the past, there will be a well-conceived edge in favour of women. The National Education System will play a positive, interventionist role in the empowerment of women. It will foster the development of new values through redesigned curricula, textbooks, the training and orientation of teachers, decision-makers and administrators, and the active involvement of educational institutions. This will be an act of faith and social engineering .... The removal of women’s illiteracy and obstacles inhibiting their access to and retention in, elementary education will receive overriding priority, through provision of special support services, setting of time targets and effective monitoring .... [NPE 1986]

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) along with the Education For All provided an agreed international framework for achieving gender equality in education.

Although admission of girls in schools has gone up significantly over the past few years (because of SSA), attendance and retention rates are still low. Approximately 2000 Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas (residential schools under the KGBV Scheme) were set up for under-privileged girls in difficult-to-reach areas. The National Programme for Education of Girls at the Elementary Level (NPEGEL), launched in September 2003, provided additional provisions for enhancing the education of underprivileged/disadvantaged girls at the primary level through more intense community mobilisation, the development of model schools in clusters, gender sensitisation of teachers, development of gender-sensitive learning materials, early child care and education facilities and provision of need-based incentives for girls.. All Educationally Backward Blocks have been included under NPEGEL and KGBVS. The latter scheme was merged with Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in the Eleventh Plan with effect from April 1, 2007.

Despite such ambitious plans, the harsh reality is that government-run schools are hardly in a position to act as agents of progressive social transformation—even when most of them have a larger presence of girls than of boys. Government schools suffer from a variety of problems ranging from lack of facilities for girls. What most of schools suffer from is an non-conducive environment for learning, particularly for girls. Most of the time there exists a gender-bias. In some schools, they are denied access to games and sports facilities which the boys enjoy. Some teachers address their lessons exclusively to boys, paying no attention to the girls. In addition, girls alone may be allotted works like sweeping and cleaning the school premises, or sometimes cooking of mid-day meals.

Some of the key issues that effect girls education in rural areas are discussed below.

1. Mid-day Meals 

The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, commonly known as the Mid-day Meals Scheme, was launched to give a boost to universalisation of primary education by increasing enrolment, retention and attendance, and simultaneously improving the nutritional status of students in primary classes. Mid-day meals were started by the Indian Government as a step to promote child development. Undoubtedly school attendance has improved since its inception; however, the programme with all its noble intentions has always faced criticism at the ground level. The reasons vary from state to state. Whether it is the supply, quality, cooking places or storage ,all of it is a problem in government schools. In many schools teachers spent lot of teaching time in distributing mid-day meals, and in some schools girl students are involved in cooking these meals in rural areas.

2. Teacher Absenteeism 

According to a World Bank Report, 25 per cent of teachers in India’s government primary schools absent themselves from work on any given day and only 50 per cent of those present in schools are actually engaged in teaching. Primary school teachers in Bihar’s government schools spend less than two months a year in the classroom, according to a report by the UNICEF. Teacher absenteeism also leads to student absenteeism.

3. Ratio

The framework for the implementation of SSA envisaged providing one teacher for every 40 primary school students and at least two teachers in every primary school. In the 2007 study PRIA5 observed that out of 29 gram panchayat schools in Haryana this requirement was fulfilled only in 11. In seven of the schools the ratio was more than 50 students per teacher. This revealed a considerable gap in the deployment of teachers in schools. According to the CAG report (2006),6 75,884 primary schools in 15 States/Union Territories were operating with only one teacher. Also it has been seen recruitment of less female teachers in schools makes girl child feel less comfortable.

4. Drop-out Rates 

Primary education in even unrecognised private schools is becoming increasingly popular, leading to a decline in enrolment in government schools. This is significant in terms of girls’ enrolment where most of the families who can afford private schools prefer to send at least their male child to those schools, sparing government schools for poor boys and for girls (who may or may not be poor).

 Instances of double enrolment and fake enrolment figures are often witnessed. This is generally due to pressure on the teachers to achieve enrolment targets for the every year. A worrisome fact is that still the proportion of girls who are out of school is much higher than boys.

The pressure to maintain 100 per cent enrolment in primary schools often leads to neglect of the quality aspect of education. A Citizens’ Report (2005-06) by the NGO Pratham reflects upon issues of quality and enrolment, where 40 per cent of school children studying in standard V could not read a story of standard II level, though 93.4 per cent of children in the age group 6-14 were enrolled in school.

5. School Environment/ Infrastructure

Many schools still do not have a building of its own and classrooms are held in all seasons in a temporary shed or in the open ground.

Cleanliness is a matter of concern in most primary schools, especially those in villages in interior areas. Drinking water, sanitation facilities and electricity is a big problem.

Besides, the absence of proper access roads to schools and the long distance students have to travel to reach school means that girls, particularly those at puberty, drop out because of their parents’ concerns about their safety. National data indicates that around 10.21 per cent of habitations or villages do not have a school or an alternative school facility within a one kilometer radius.

6. Incentives

 Although it is claimed each year that free textbooks for girls students are provided yet various reports suggest that in most places the timely supply of an adequate number of books is not achieved. Same is the case with uniforms. SSA has funds for scholarships but they are not generously given.

In UP, in some villages for example, scholar-ships for Muslim girls were being provided by two different departments in 2008. Scholarships for Muslims belonging to general category are given through the Minority Welfare Department, whereas Muslims belonging to the OBC category get the benefit from the Social Welfare Department. So subcategories are being created, leading to confusion and chaos.

7. Outlook towards Girls

The girl child is one of the poorest and most marginalised categories of Indian society, who finds it hard to exercise her rights. There is a lack of understanding and a negative attitude towards girl child education at all levels of society. In India, very few girls have access to primary education.

The SSA framework pays special attention to the education of the girl child, noting that mere changes in the education system are inadequate to ensure that every girl goes to school. It has to be backed up with a transformation in societal norms and attitudes as well. For this, SSA lists several measures such as providing free textbooks to girls till class VIII, organising teacher-sensitisation programmes to promote equitable learning opportunities and mobilising the community in awareness about the importance of education for girls. Even after National Programme for Education of Girls at Elementary Level (NPEGEL), and the Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya Scheme (KGBVS) were launched yet the condition of girls has not improved significantly.

Over the past two decades, much emphasis has been placed by the Indian government on enrolment. As a result, it has indeed increased, but related structures such as schools, class-rooms, trained teachers, books and learning materials—“all things crucial to the delivery of meaningful education “—have not kept up with the numbers registering for school.

Even among those enrolled, many studies and statistics have noted very clearly that there is gender discrepancy in participation—it is heavily biased in favour of boys. Private schools see high numbers of boys coming in, while girls are mostly registered in government schools. This suggests that parents believe that quality education is more important and beneficial to their sons than to their daughters, although the perceived substantive difference in quality between public and private schools may be questionable in reality. Many other cultural and economic constraints also make parents hesistant to send their daughters to school: abject poverty, girls’ security, marriage, percei-ved and real complaints about schooling, and so on.

 Gender sensitivity is not, in many cases, a mainstream area of concern for teachers and others engaged in the area of education. It is not a subject of inquiry that has been given much special attention over more practical issues of pedagogy and method.

At home, girls are expected to do household chores and take care of siblings, important factors that result in their not being enrolled at school or in their frequent absence and eventual dropping out.

It doesn’t help the situation that there’s no qualitative discourse on girl’s education. Far too much attention is focused on numbers, in trying to ensure that as many girls are enrolled as boys, without giving thought to issues such as the quality of education and the practices to be followed to ensure gender equality inside and outside the classroom. How girls are seen and treated in school is another important contributor in their education.


Thus SSA needs to be viewed critically as most its goals remain unaccomplished even after its target years have passed and India still has a very long way to go towards girls education. Sadgopal7 says that after the Jomtien Conference, India unfortunately gave up its progressive policy on women’s education in favour of the international framework that was guided more by the considerations of market than by women’s socio-cultural and political rights.

Similarly Kumar8 mentions that the slogan of autonomy and empowerment is narrowed down to certain decontextualised categories like work participation rate and literacy without considering the multiple variables that constitute the paradigm of empowernment.. Indian education history, which is replete with failures in achieving educational goals, surely requires a deeper understanding of its fractured reality, asserts Sadhna Saxena,9 but this task is beyond the purview of this article.

Thus one can say that girls education must not be seen as an add-on. To achieve both participatory and inclusive growth we need today the Rawlsian approach and Amartya Sen’s discourse on development as an expansion of opportunities.10 While Rawls emphasises equitable distribution of resources, Amartya Sen wants those resources to be converted into actual freedoms by enhancing the capabilities of individuals. The Indian State has to aim at both—increasing resources and capacity-building through education.


1. For a discussion on this see D.D. Basu (2003), Introduction to the Constitution of India, 19th edition, Wadhwa Publications, Nagpur.

2. National Policy on Education, 1986, Government of India.

3.The EFA goals are:

• Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to completely free and compulsory primary education of good quality.

• Achieving a 50 per cent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults.

• Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls full and equal access to and achievements in basic education of good quality.

• Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence so that all recognized and measurable learning outcomes are achieved, especially in literacy, numeracy and essential life skills.

4. For more about SSA see website

5. Participatory research in Asia (Ngo) conducted a study in Haryana.

6. Comptroller and Auditor General Report,2006.

7. Anil Sadgopal (2003), ‘Education for too few’, Frontline, 20, p.99.

8. Ravi kumar (2006), The crises of elementary Education in India, Sage publications,p.27.

9. Sadhana Saxena (1994),Educational Dilemma, Economic and Political Weekly, May 21.

10. For more on this read Bhargava and Acharya, eds. (2002), Political Theory — An Introduction, Pearson Longman, New Delhi


Ahmed, Favez, and Suresh Garg (2007), Forty Years of Kothari Commission — Reforms and Reflections, Viva Books, New Delhi.

Arnot, Madeleine, and Mairtin Mac An Ghaill, eds. (2006), The RoutledgeFalmer Reader inGender and Education, Routledge, London.

ASER (2005), Citizens Report on Status of Education, Pratham, New Delhi.

Atal, Yogesh (2007), On Education and Development, Rawat Publications, Jaipur.

 Chopra, Radhika, and Patricia Jeffery, eds. (2005), Educational Regimes in Contemporary India, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Dreze, J., and A. Goyal (2003), ‘Future of Mid-day Meals’, Economic and Political Weekly, November 1.

Gandhi, M.K. (1962), The Problems of Education: A compilation of Gandhi’s writing and speeches on education, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad.

GOI (1974), Towards Equality: Report of the Committee on the Status of Women in India, September, New Delhi.

GOI (2006b), Performance Audit of SSA, Report Prepared by Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG).

Jha, Jyotsna, and Dhir Jhingran (2005), Elementary Education for the Poorest and Other Deprived Groups, Manohar Publications, New Delhi.

Karlekar, Malavika, ed. (2000), Reading the World: Understanding theLiteracy Campaigns in India, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Mehta, Arun (2006), Elementary Education in India, National Institute of Educational Planning and Administration (NEIPA), New Delhi. Shruti Sharma teaches at Miranda House, University of Delhi.


National Policy on Education,1986, Government of India.

National Policy on Education, 1992, Government of India.

PRIA Report (2002), Workshop on Formal Primary EducationandPanchayats: A Study on Devolution in Haryana, Haryana.

Shukla, S., and Rekha Kaul (1998), Education, Development andUnderdevelopment, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

UNESCO (2004). Gender and Education for All: The Leap to Equality, EFA Global Monitoring Report 2003/4, Paris.

Wazir, Rekha, ed. (2000), The Gender Gap in Basic Education, Sage Publications, New Delhi.

Shruti Sharma teaches at Miranda House, University of Delhi. She can be contacted at e-mail:

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