“I dream of an India that is prosperous, strong and caring, an India that regains a place of honour in the comity of great nations,” Late Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is known to have stated once.
One of the most charismatic leaders of the country in independent India, Vajpayee was a strong proponent of empowering youths in the country.
As a Prime Minister, he always advocated for qualitative and universal education leading to introduction of Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) — one of the biggest educational reforms so far in the country.
Launched in 2000-2001, the Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan aimed to provide free and compulsory education to children aged 6 to 14. The initiative was mandated by the 86th Amendment to the Constitution of India, making education to children a fundamental right.
It is significant to understand that the Vajpayee Government formulated the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan on the line of District Primary Education Programme (DPEP) that was taken during 1993-94 with the objective to improve the condition of primary education system in the country.
Gradually DPEP covered 18 states and 272 districts with 85 percent of the total expenditure provided by the Central government. The programme was also funded by the World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID) and the UNICEF.
The Vajpayee Government involved all the institutes in the country starting from Panchyati Raj Institutions, school management committees, village and urban slum level Education Committees, parent’s Teachers’ Associations, Mother-Teacher Associations, and Tribal Autonomous Councils to other grassroots level structures in the management of elementary schools to participate in the programme.
Due to the presence and success of SSA, the present Government under its aegis launched “Padhe Bharat Badhe Bharat Mission”. The main objective of the mission is to improve the reading and writing skills of children in classes I and II, along with their mathematics skills.
In one of its statements released in 2013, the Central Government revealed that the school dropout has declined from 80 lakh in 2009 to 30 lakh in 2012 due to successful implementation of the SSA. The net enrolment ratio at the primary level also increased to 99.8 per cent since the launch of the scheme.
At present, there is 19.67 crore children enrolled in 14.5 lakh schools in the country, with 66.27 lakh teachers at the elementary level, according to statistics available on SSA’s official website.
He died on 16 August 2018 due to multiple health complications at Delhi’s AIIMS. Hundreds of thousands of people paid their last tribute to him along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi by participating in his last journey up to Smriti Sthal, the memorial site, for about 6 miles despite scorching heat.