JK fails to utilise Rs 3.2 cr to get out-of-school children back to classrooms

Despite reprimand by MHRD, school education department enrolls just 600 of 27355 dropouts

Under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) government of India funds all states to bring down number of out-of-school children. Last year J&K government received Rs 3.20 crore under the program and the allocations were seen as a boost to school education departments projected plans to get back the children to classrooms. 

But it has come to fore that entire funding from ministry of human resource development (MHRD) remained unspent, raising questions over the department’s performance. An official said under the SSA scheme Rs 6000 is released for spending on each out of school children annually. The funds are supposed to be utilised in organizing workshops, training programs and other initiatives aimed at enrolling these children back to institutions. 

J&K has around 27355 out-of-school children, as per a survey that was conducted by a non-government organization, TALAASH. Among this total population of children 11174 are in the age group of 6-10 years who have never attended schools and 3618 are those who were enrolled in the school but left mid-way. 

Also, 5980 students in age group of 11-14 years have never attended school and 6583 children of the same age group dropped out of schools. Against total number of 27355 out-of-school children, the school authorities succeeded in getting back only 600 children to schools last year.

 This miniscule number has raised question on approach of the school education authorities towards making the centrally funded program a success in Jammu and Kashmir. As per MHRD guidelines, a child in age group of 6-14 years is considered out of school if he/she has never been enrolled in an elementary school or if after enrolment has been absent from school without prior intimation for reasons of absence for a period of 45 days or more.

 On 20 June, MHRD joint secretary convened an annual project approval board (PAB) meeting of Samarga Shiksha Abhiyan with education department of J&K wherein the state officials were told that the department hadn’t get back any child in 2016-17. The state authorities were reminded about their commitment to take the issue on priority basis and get back 27355 students to schools the next year. 

On their part the state authorities claimed to have taken “various steps” to increase enrolment and arrest dropout rate at elementary level. They claimed having made classroom atmosphere child friendly and providing supplementary material in form of colourful workbooks to children and launching door to door campaign to make parents aware about importance of sending their children especially girl child to school. 

According to the department thousands of dropouts have returned to schools of which 4,317 have been enrolled in non-residential special training (NRST) centres, in the past. 

But non-utilisation of funds for last year and getting back only a small percentage of children back to schools punctures the education department’s claims. The official said the department was supposed to take these out-of-school students in NRSTCs and engage in-service teachers to work during off hours for their counseling. The government had to provide them with facilities like books, school bags and uniform and stationery item to get them attracted towards schools. 

As per the survey a considerable number of out-of-school children are residing in slums in urban and semi urban areas. “These children usually remain unattended as they wander in search of livelihoods. The department could have utilized the funding of Rs 3.20 crore to reach out to these educationally deprived children,” said the official. The department has involved over a dozen NGOs to improve education system and decrease number of out of school children, but there has been no improvement on the ground. This is not for the first time that education department has failed to meet targets under SSA. 

In 2016-17, the MHRD approved Rs 14.37 core to the department under the program. But it fell short of target that year also. A senior official said weak financial condition of families was a main reason for rising number of out of school children. On 20 June, joint secretary school education in MHRD convened another PAB meeting with officials of education department to consider annual work plan and budget (AWP&B) for 2018-19. 

The ministry approved Rs 11.65 crore to J&K to conduct special training for age appropriate admission of out of school children which has grown up to 19428 and Rs 19.86 core was approved to conduct non-residential-special training for 33107 children (Migrant children of nomadic population). “While funding is not a problem the non-utilisation of funds has put a huge question mark on performance of the department,” said the official.