Rural schools far from ready to cope with impending challengeAug 11th, 2009 | By editor | Category: Education, In News, Nation, Specials
NEW DELHI: The UPA government has a mission at hand in enforcing the proposed law and providing education to every child below the age of 14. It has been, however, missing deadlines in even ensuring safe drinking water and sanitary toilets in schools in rural areas.
While the latest deadline to provide safe drinking water to all government and government-aided schools in rural areas by 2009 means that the Union Ministry of Rural Development has just about five months at hand to come good on the promise, the deadline for the sanitation campaign has already been pushed to 2012.
Once the President gives her consent to the Right to Education Bill, any rush to join these government schools will tell on the deplorable infrastructure currently prevailing in the rural areas.
The Centre had, in 2004, accorded priority to achieve these objectives by 2005-06, well aware that the lack of toilets was one of the major factors for dropout from schools, particularly those of girls. Despite such plans, 1.62 lakh and over 6 lakh government and government-aided schools still lack safe drinking water and toilet facilities respectively. Among the major States, Tamil Nadu has provided all rural government schools with safe drinking water. It had, however, 53,307 schools to take care of unlike States such as Uttar Pradesh with 1.8 lakh government schools, Madhya Pradesh with 1.29 lakh schools, and Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh with over one lakh schools each.
Though the cost of constructing toilets is much less than providing drinking water supply, it seems to remain a bigger issue. The target is to construct 3.4 lakh toilets across the country by the end of this year. The major constraints for the poor performance is lesser priority accorded to sanitation by many States, less monetary allocation by some States, inadequate capacity-building at the grassroots level and that only 80 per cent of the toilets are being used.
An evaluation report stated that schools provided with toilets recorded reduction in dropout rates, improved enrolments and decreased absenteeism. It was found that children played a major role in adoption of toilet facilities at their homes. These children had also played a crucial role in universalising health and hygiene practices in their neighbourhood.
Efforts to put an end to open defecation have been far from satisfactory. At the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan, only 36.14 per cent of the rural schemes had been covered. Though planners expect the target to be achieved latest by 2010, ground realities do not bear out their conviction and it is no surprise that they have added grace time till the end of the Eleventh Plan to achieve the mission.