The National Policy on Education 1986 envisages that free and compulsory education should be provided to all children up to the age of 14. The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act, 2002 made free and compulsory education a Fundamental Right for all children in the age group of 6-14 years. Recently Indian Parliament has enacted the Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. As a result of the efforts made by central and state governmentS, almost 95% of the country’s rural population now has primary schools within one km and about 85% have upper primary schools within three km. This has resulted in:
- The steady growth of enrolment of children of 6-14 years of age in primary and upper primary schools has gone up steadily.
- Significant improvements have taken place in enrolment of girls and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- There has been a significant increase in the number of primary and upper primary schools. The Central and State governments over a period of time evolved strategies to reduce drop-out rates and improve levels of achievements in schools. The steps taken in this direction are as follows:
- Creating parental awareness and community mobilization;
- Involvement of community and Panchayati Raj Institutions;
- Economic incentives such as free education, free books and free uniforms;
- Improvement in the content and process of schooling; and
- National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (Mid-day Meal Scheme).
- The following programmes are specifically aimed at universalisation of elementary education:
- Sarva Siksha Abhiyan An ambitious programme for achieving the goal of universalisation of elementary education, known as Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) was launched in 2001. The goals of SSA are as follows:
- Enrollment of all 6-14 age group children in school/Education Guarantee Scheme (EGS) Centre/ Bridge Course by 2005;
- 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.
- National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education or Mid-day Meal Scheme: This Programme was started and is still continuing to attain the goal of universalisation of elementary education. The objectives of the Mid-day Meal Scheme are:
- Improving the nutritional status of children in class I-V in Government, Local Body and Government aided schools and EGS and AIE Centers;
- Encouraging poor children by helping disadvantaged sections to attend schools more regularly and help them concentrate on classroom activities;
- Providing nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought-affected areas during summer vacation;