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Educating Gujarat

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R P Gupta, Secretary(Primary Education), Gujarat

R P Gupta, Secretary (Primary Education), Gujarat, talks to Anand Agarwal on educational initiatives being undertaken in Gujarat.

Kindly apprise us about the implementation status of Sarva Sikhsa Abhiyaan (SSA) in Gujarat? 
We are one of the leading states as far as the implementation of SSA is concerned, even though we are having access to far less funds than many other states. Making it possible for all the children to have primary education is our main responsibility. Currently we have a success level of about 98.8 percent. We are also trying to ensure that children should be enrolled in school. At times, socioeconomic factors like religious belief, family requirement and migration come in the way of students getting education. But under SSA we are trying to ensure that we do not miss a single child.

Recently, we have enacted the Right to Education. Kindly brief us about what are the obligations of the state under this act. How far has Gujarat been able to meet these obligations?

Under Right to Education the state is obliged to provide education to all. We must understand that this act has been enacted keeping entire country in mind, it has not been enacted for the states that are already doing well in primary education sector. Gujarat is one of the states where we have achieved the goals of Right to Education (RTE) even before the enactment of the act. We already have adequate number of primary schools. The act also mandates that all the schools should have sufficient number of teachers and other staff. That has also been achieved. Infrastructure facilities like separate toilet for boys and girls, and other infrastructure in all the schools is in place. All schools have drinking water facility, and are electrified. Perhaps we are short of classrooms and separate sanitation blocks for boys and girls. This issue will be attended to within one or two years.

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State has not been lagging in providing mid-day meals to children. We provide mid-day meals to about 41 lakh children per day across all our schools, and also in many learning centres

We have been hearing about the GUNOTSAV scheme quite a lot. Could you please give us some idea about how this scheme works? What are its main objectives?

This scheme is mainly designed to improve the quality of primary education. Till 2009, we were mainly focussed on bringing all the children to the school. We have almost achieved that objective. Only some marginal groups are left. GUNOTSAV focuses primarily on improving the quality of education. The quality of education can be improved only if we can provide all the inputs like classrooms, teachers, infrastructure facilities, and all kind of teaching and learning aids. There must also be timely reviews of the training that the teachers are offering. Under GUNOTSAV the government tests all the children and on basis of the results, we provide grades to each teacher and school. Based on that grade, the teacher knows where he/she stands and what the outcome of his /her efforts is. This is how we address the aspect of quality. Measuring the performance of about 70 lakh children studying in 34 thousand schools is a mammoth task.

Has this resulted in some demonstrable improvement in quality of education?

So far no study has been carried out because we started this scheme only in 2009 -2010 and this will only be the third year. As far as the improvement in the education is concerned we first carried out this program in November 2009, after that there were only 4 to 5 months available to the teachers for improving their performance for the next academic year. However, the results that we got during the last year’s Gunotsav were very encouraging. There was about 15 percent improvement as far as the performance of Gunotsav’10 to Gunotsav’09 was concerned. More than anything else, the scheme has led to greater awareness on the issue of quality of education.

There have been some reports from planning commission that state has been lagging in providing mid-day meals to the students. What steps have been taken to address these issues?

State has not been lagging in providing the mid-day meals to the children. We provide mid-day meals to about 41 lakh children per day in all our schools and out of schools learning centres. Roughly 60 percent of the total children are taking advantage of mid-day meal scheme. There are issues concerning the quality of food, but we have taken steps for training our cooks for preparing quality and tasty food. As far as the nutritional part is concerned, we have taken steps like fortification of flour; we are adding soybeans to improve nutritional value of the food. Gujarat unfortunately has been lagging due to its dietary habits. Many people in the state do not take green vegetables in their food. This aspect is worrying for us and we are trying to devise ways and means for addressing this deficiency which arises due to lack of vegetables in diet. It is possible that the kitchen gardens in each school can be used as a resource for mid-day meals. We are also engaging voluntary agencies or non-governmental agencies for providing mid day meal to the children. For example, Akshaypatra is covering quite a few Talukas. They prepare the food centrally and add adequate quantity of vegetables to it.

What has been a better model- doing it yourself or engaging NGOs like Akshaypatra?
We carried out a study by engaging an agency that was tasked to compare the two models. Definitely the NGO model of centralised kitchen and food being sent to the different schools everyday has drawn lot of positive feedback from schools, parents and the students. Quality wise and taste wise food prepared by NGOs is more nutritious and tasty.

Will this model be replicated across the state?
Getting food from NGOs has its own limitations. We don’t have adequate number of NGOs with adequate capabilities. So procuring mid-day meals from NGOs is much better for urban areas. NGOs might not be able to deliver in inaccessible areas. We are trying to engage NGOs to the extent possible.

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