Both, financial and technical resources would be enhanced by private involvement in education

The Supreme Court of India recently issued an order directing State governments to equip all schools with appropriate facilities such as toilets, drinking water, classrooms and teachers within six months to ensure that schools meet the standards set by the Right to Education Act.

While the government currently spends about one per cent of the GDP in education and is planning to increase it to 1.5 per cent, estimates show that the country requires an investment of over $150 billion in the next 10 years. But more than the money, the need of the hour is to implement education and related infrastructure requirements within a stipulated timeframe.

The future of not just millions of children, but of our nation depends on transforming the idea of universal quality education into practice, and leveraging the private sector to achieve this appears to be one of the most attractive options we have.

PPP DELIVERABLES

The Public Private Partnership (PPP) model can be implemented through five deliverables that have the potential to transform the education landscape of India and empower even the weakest sections of our society.

The first is anganwadis, which are part of the government’s Integrated Child Development Services and are crucial in developing physical, cognitive, emotional, social and linguistic skills of children between ages of three and six.

The Vedanta Group has already implemented a PPP model for the anganwadi programme. This model offers some key learning. Additional training for the anganwadi workers has equipped them better to handle both education and healthcare-related issues. Our effort at providing additional dietary supplements has substantially raised the nutritional levels of the children.

Every child, while visiting an anganwadi, is provided by the government with nutritional supplements which add 300 calories as well as 20 gm of protein to his daily food intake. Vedanta further supplements the government’s efforts by adding another 150 calories worth of supplements and 10 gm of protein to the child’s intake.

And the use of teaching aids has made elementary education fun for the children. Better health and promise of a better life through education can then motivate even illiterate parents in India’s poorest regions to make an informed choice of sending their children to schools.

This is the second deliverable that needs both infrastructure development and equitable access opportunities.

It is often seen that children, despite completing primary education in their village schools, drop out of secondary school education due to infrastructural constraints.

These include inaccessibility to a secondary school in another village, poor conditions of roads and the lack of transport facilities, among others. It, therefore, is important to open schools in the farthest corners of the country.

We have partnered with DAV to open the first English-medium secondary school in the Lanjigarh area of the Kalahandi district of Odisha, which has also benefited children of the tribal communities. This is an important step as it empowers them to gain access to a quality of learning at par with schools in urban India.

In a developing country like India, where nutritional requirements remain a cause of concern, the mid-day meal programme is the third most important deliverable. While the anganwadis can help lay a foundation to a healthy childhood, sustained nutrition is the key to a healthy body and a healthy mind.

The government’s mid-day meal scheme has found many takers. Corporates such as Infosys, Vedanta and Tata are active partners.

At Vedanta, we have taken the initiative of setting up centralised high-tech kitchens and partnered with NGOs such as the Naandi Foundation to run them and provide over 2,50,000 students across 2,710 schools with nutritious meals every day. Not only has this government-corporate-NGO partnership helped in improving the diet of young India, it has also helped push up the attendance levels in schools.

LEARNING TOOLS

Creation of imaginative textbooks and teaching aids, especially e-learning, is the fourth deliverable that can be driven through the PPP model. Foundations, funded by corporates and individuals, such as the Vedanta Foundation and the Azim Premji Foundation, have already taken the lead by devising e-learning curricula modules in the local language and implementing them in State government schools.

This has helped spread computer education and bridged the gap in the quality of teaching that has often come in for heavy criticism over the years.

The fifth deliverable in the PPP for education model relates to providing coaching for higher education technical courses such as medicine and engineering to underprivileged students. Bihar DGP Abhayanand’s pioneering Super 30 concept has found many takers and the private sector has helped set up more such centres across the country. Vedanta Foundation has also joined hands with Super 30 to launch centres in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

This not only enables the students to seek admission in premier institutes but also has a direct bearing on the future workforce of the industry.

In India, where the most obvious failure of the education system has been the lack of resources and low motivation levels, PPP is the only model that can help the country achieve its dream of universal quality education.

There are numerous formats of the PPP model followed across the world. What must be remembered is that for a country as diverse as India, there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Somewhere, the government needs to take the first step; somewhere the private sector will have to step in.

A start has already been made, and it’s imperative that more private forces join hands with the government to give the children of this country the future we owe them.

(The author is CEO, Vedanta Foundation.)

(This article was published on December 6, 2012)
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