Himachal Pradesh, once considered as a backward state in North India, has already achieved near universal enrolment up-to the elementary level in the State, which is the first and foremost goal of Sarv Shiksha Abhiyan and has been able to bring down the drop out rate below 1.5 percent. Various programmes under universalisation of education are being implemented to achieve the objective. An ambitious INR 5320 million Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan is being implemented in the Sate for improving the performance of school system and provide community owned quality elementary education in the mission mode.
Computer literacy programme has been started in 282 schools of the State. Not only the children are being given elementary knowledge of computers in the programme but the teaching of mainstream subject through computers has also been undertaken. The teachers are being provided training for the purpose. Science Labs are being set up at selected cluster levels.
Himachal is the only state in the country to spend INR 1.03 per capita on education, against Kerala's 68 paise and neighbouring Punjab's 58 paise. Significantly, its per capita expenditure on education is almost
Interview: Focus Need to Shift from Excess to Quality
What are the major interventions under the SSA project in the state so far?
Under SSA we have been working under the mission statement that all children should come to school; there should be no gender gap; children with special needs should be covered, and they are brought into mainstream of education as far as possible. We have achieved a mark for out of school children in the state at just 0.5% of the total children in this age group and the drop out rates are just 15 among both boys and girls at primary level and 2-3% at upper primary level. The only concern we have is that the learning level should be improved.
What are the strategies you follow for teachers'- training?
First is, there is compulsory training for every teacher for a period of 10 days. Now the question is on the effectiveness of the training. For that we try getting the needs assessed by the teachers and through the teachers right from school level. After scientifically identifying their problems and issues that needs to be addressed through training and the competencies (that need to be developed), those are discussed at various levels in the state. By doing this we come to a position to form a view as to on which areas we should be focusing on. It's a continuous process, and always keeps on changing. Through that we develop various modules, which are shared by teachers, piloted, and also tested. There is always scope of change and improvement by this.
Do you get any kind of support from Panchayati Raj Institutions in terms of their participation?
In Himachal, their participation in education is quite good. People are coming forward; they are concerned about the education of their children. That is why we have so little gap in gender, and invisible drop out rate. It is all because of peoples participation. The local bodies have been involved in the implementation process. Public participation has been just great in some districts. People have even been contributing in terms of money, time, and their sources to boost education initiatives in the primary as well as upper primary level.
What is the level of integration of information and communication technologies in school education under SSA?
It is an integral part of education in our state. We don't see it as a separate entity or intervention. Various interventions have been planned and implemented under ICT to have it integrated in mainstream education. We have computer education in 280 schools, out of nearly 4000 schools in the state. At the secondary level, we have computer education in all the schools. At primary level we do not have computers though, but we want to focus the upper primary level first. For that we are entering into a MoU with Azim Premji Foundation which is already been done. We are talking to Intel for teacher training programme and orientation. In addition, we are partnering to various government, semi-government, and private organisations to develop various tools, so that we will be in a position to take care of this area.
What are the challenges you come across at all levels of planning and implementing the education programme?
Motivation and participation at community level is the biggest challenge.
Second, the focus now has to shift from excess enrollment retention to quality in learning levels. We in our state have already addressed the excess part, and enrollment part. We have primary schools within every 1- 1.5 km radius. We have a sizeable number of children who are disabled and out of mainstream education system. Though the number is not high, but as a percentage of population, Himachal has a higher disabled population than the national average. We have nearly 2200 children in the focus group (6-14 years).
The other challenge is with a very hard group of children like the migrant labour, very poor and marginalised or scattered in small habitations, who are not going to schools. Last year we had 4301 children who are out of school in the focus group. This year we have 5000 such children who migrate and so remain out of school. So we have a mobile school for them, which keeps on moving. We are also working out other strategies to handle this small but difficult group. twice the national average. The teacher-child ratio is also higher, about twice as high in HP compared to India as a whole. For the year 2006- 07, the Government of India has earmarkedINR 91 crore as its share for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan in Himachal Pradesh.
On Digital Learning magazine-
We have been getting this magazine regularly. This gives us updates on SSA, about school insides. They tell us what is happening inside and outside the country, the various ICT initiatives. We keep on reading those and discuss about what we can implement. In government sector, we have nearly 11,000 primary schools and 4000 upper primary schools. For us this is even quite a high number. Nearly 10 Lakh students are ruled in the schools. Anything to be ruled at the state level requires lot of fund. That is the main constraint. But still, the ray of hope comes from ideas like distance education, e-learning or e-education. These are the areas, which are quite important for us, and we are getting regular inputs on such things through this magazine.
The State Government has introduced IT education in most of the senior secondary schools in the State. The subject of IT education is introduced as an additional optional subject to the students of class IX to Class XII of these schools from the academic year 2001-02. Reputed private training institutions impart the education. Hundreds of middle, high and senior secondary schools have already been computerised and computer aided learning is being provided besides imparting basic skills in operating computers. 50 multimedia centres are also being set up at central locations so as to give benefit to the schools in its catchment area.
The first phase of the computer literacy project in the state under SSA was launched in the remote government high school at Himri in Shimla district. The programme would cover 282 schools for providing free computer education to the students in collaboration with the National Institute of Information and Technology from 6th and 8th standards.
It seems government was keen to maintain high standards of education and computer literacy was a step in this direction. The computer education is provided free of cost to the students, especially in the remote and difficult areas where such facilities were not available. The state had a vast network of over 15,000 educational institutions in the government sector and had made a humble beginning with 331 at the time of formation of the state in 1948. Emphasis seems to be now on consolidation of these institutions, along with need-based opening of the educational institutions.