Britain pours millions into poorest primary schools

15th October 2004 at 01:00

The British government is to plough pound;190 million over four years into India's drive to get every child into school from age six to 14 via the world's and Britain's largest education aid programme, it was announced in Delhi last week.

But Indian education experts said the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme needed better implementation not more money.

Funds from Britain, the World Bank and the European Union will pay for 30 per cent of the programme, which aims to ensure there is a school in every square kilometre and a teacher for every 40 pupils.

Though there has been an increase in the number of schools since the scheme began four years ago, critics say schools in remote areas have neither teachers, blackboards nor books, and only one in six rural schools has toilets. Teacher absenteeism is endemic - 40 per cent in one state.

Anil Sadgopal, professor of education at Delhi university, said: "You may be flushed with funds, but unless you know how to use them properly, you cannot retain children in school."

Gareth Thomas, international development minister, who announced the dramatic scaling up of Britain's funding from pound;20m last year, said criticisms about the quality of education had been fair. "It does need to develop much more quickly," he said. "But I think the new government of India has learned a lot of those lessons and eradicated what hasn't worked."

Safeguards to improve the scheme's effectiveness include an annual review in which non-governmental organisations will go to particular regions and check on whether the textbooks and teachers are there. The Indian government claims to have reduced the numbers out of school from 43m in 2000 to 23m now, but the figures are hotly disputed.

"The key thing in the past five years is that we have seen a stepping up of the investment in education," said Mr Thomas, and a catalyst for that was a change in the Indian constitution to make access to education the right of every child. "The new government has doubled the money it puts into the SSA programme, which is quite a powerful demonstration of commitment."

Britain hopes its funding alone will put a million extra pupils a year into school. It will help provide more on-the-job training through teacher resource centres, books, better salaries and a drive to enlist more women teachers.

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