The Worrying Status of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Implementation in Bihar
Historically, Bihar has been a major centre for learning and education. In recent years however, owing potentially to population explosion and poor governance, the status of education in the state has been steadily deteriorating. A symptom of this is Bihar’s low expenditure on the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) -– the centre’s flagship scheme for elementary education and programmatic vehicle for implementing the Right to Education (RTE) Act of 2009; the state spent Rs. 5,229 crore on the program in 2012-13, which fell to Rs. 4,613 crore in 2013-14 before rising to Rs. 5,913 crore in 2014-15; as a proportion of the total funds that had been approved for the program, these figures stood at 51%, 68% and 76% respectively (SSA portal). The question that arises then is how these numbers impact the implementation of the scheme on the ground.
In order to gauge the impact of these fund flows on public service delivery, the Accountability Initiative (AI) regularly conducts PAISA (Planning, Allocations and Expenditures, Institutions Studies in Accountability) surveys, which track government money to the last mile. As part of the survey for SSA, schools are marked on measures of infrastructure, grant receipts, salary flows, presence and functionality of School Management Committees (SMC), delivery of entitlements – all critical indicators of the scheme’s implementation.
The districts of Purnea and Nalanda in Bihar have been covered by the survey since 2011. Unlike the surveys conducted in 2011 and 2013, the most recent one conducted in December 2015 had a small sample size and was not statistically representative. In the following sections, however, comparisons are made across the 3 survey years in order to establish a comparative picture; these numbers must be studied with this caveat in mind.
The most recent survey found schools to be lacking in critical infrastructure; 53 of the 60 schools surveyed in Nalanda and Purnea (30 in each district) did not have sufficient classrooms. On Right to Education (RTE) indicators such as presence of a boundary wall, playground, toilets and library books as well, the districts performed poorly. Of particular concern was the lack of open and usable toilets, given the current government’s emphasis on sanitation as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. Though the presence of toilets in the schools surveyed in 2015 was much higher than the district averages for 2011 and 2013, the districts failed in ensuring usability. In Nalanda in December 2015, only 40% of the schools visited had open and usable girls’ toilets, while for the boys this proportion was even lower at 30%. In Purnea, these numbers stood at 60% and 50% respectively.
Schools also receive grants for day to day operations and general maintenance; the School Management Grant (SMG) is meant to be utilised for infrastructure upkeep, while the School Development Grant (SDG) is for school operation and administration. When questioned on these in the most recent PAISA survey, it was found that a little over 3 months before the end of the financial year, only 3% of the schools visited in Nalanda and 23% of those in Purnea had received both grants.
This low rate of receipt may possibly be indicative of a growing problem; the PAISA survey conducted in 2009-10 had found that a majority of the grants in Nalanda had reached schools by the second quarter. In 2012-13 however, over 80% schools in Nalanda received their grants in November. In Purnea too, timing of grants worsened from 2009-10 to 2012-13, with the latter seeing most grants reaching schools in December-January. When a majority of the funds come in during the final quarter, the schools are hard pressed to spend them before the end of the year. Such situations lead to quick and easy expenditure in areas which may not necessarily be of priority to the schools.
In contrast, the state improved when it came to receipt of textbooks and uniforms, as is visible in the table below. These entitlements are critical, as they are a source of supporting student retention in schools. This is of particular importance in a state like Bihar, where student drop outs are extremely high.
In the case of panchayat shikshaks however, who form an overwhelming majority of the teaching cadre in the state, salary flows were found to be extremely problematic. In FY 2015-16, 80% of the shikshaks in the schools visited in Nalanda, and 95% in Purnea, reported a delay in receiving their salaries. Importantly, over 70% of the teachers in Purnea reported delays of over 3 months.
Community participation too remained extremely poor. Of the multiple ways through which the government interacts with schools, a key channel of communication is the SMC. The SMC, which is comprised of parents, teachers and locally elected representatives, is responsible for preparing a school development plan (SDP), which is meant to assist planning at higher levels of government (block and district). Though the PAISA survey conducted in 2013 found SMCs in nearly all the schools surveyed in both districts, only 30% in Nalanda and 24% in Purnea had reported making SDPs at the time. This number did not vary significantly for 2015 sample for Nalanda, where only 37% schools reported making an SDP. The schools visited in Purnea, however, showed considerable change with over 70% schools reporting SDP formation.
These findings are regularly presented to block and district level government officials with the purpose of highlighting the impact of administrative inefficiencies on schools at the ground level, along with discussing potential avenues for action. Though this is a crucial first step in improving service delivery, the process of change can be extremely slow and difficult. As Lant Pritchett very aptly stated in his paper ‘Is India a Flailing State’ (2009) - “India, with its multitude of reform efforts is struggling on the path to reforms that lead to the effective implementation of rules, but they are far from out of the woods.”
Abhishri Aggarwal works with the Public Finance team at AI. Her expertise is in Public Policy and Data Analysis.