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Andhra Pradesh: Development focus gambit

EducationWorld July 13 | Education News EducationWorld

When Kiran Kumar Reddy (KKR), a low profile member of the legislative assembly was appointed chief minister of the south-eastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh (pop. 84 million) following the sudden resignation of then chief minister K. Rosiah, who had taken charge after the death in an air crash of Congress chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy in 2009, few monitors of the political scene in Hyderabad gave him more than a year’s term in office. Particularly after Y.S.R’s son Y.S. Jaganmohan Reddy broke away from the Congress soon thereafter. But surprising his critics, KKR has skillfully managed the Jagan Reddy camp and the renewed Telangana agitation, and is set to complete three years in office in November.

Surprised monitors of Andhra politics attribute KKR’s durability to his ability to getting on with development projects despite continuous political turmoil in the state. This capability was confirmed on June 22 when the chief minister launched the state government’s Education Fortnight by issuing a record 3,000 appointment letters to teachers recruited for model schools. Simultaneously, the government has embarked on a massive drive under the Right to Education (RTE) Act to increase enrolment, and address the issue of primary school drop-outs. A programme involving an outlay of Rs.5,000 crore for building new schools, and distribution of textbooks and school uniforms, was launched conterminously.

According to Reddy, the programme — divided into two phases — will focus on enrolment of all children into primary schools and provision of drinking water facilities, toilets, ramps and school buildings. “It is retention and not mere enrolment of students which is most important. This can be accomplished if teachers, the school management, panchayat members and parents take responsibility,’’ said KKR, speaking on the occasion.

The chief minister’s focus on public education is being interpreted as a shrewd strategy for the panchayat (local government) elections — overdue for two years — likely to be held this month. Of the 13.4 million students in the state, 7.8 million study in government and government-aided schools. To boost enrolment, 120 Kasturba Gandhi residential schools exclusively for girls, 300 model schools and 8,000 classrooms have been promised by KKR.

A major decision to outsource maintenance of toilets in government schools has also been taken at a high level meeting held by the chief minister. “School Management Committees (SMCs) are the key to development of schools. We want to strengthen them by appointing mothers as heads of SMCs. We plan to felicitate SMCs who ensure 100 percent enrolment and make this programme a success,” says Sake Shailajanath, minister for primary education.

Inevitably, the chief minister’s focus on upgrading and expanding public school education — an election-winning strategy — has drawn criticism from the BJP-affiliated Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) and the Communist Party of India-Marxist affiliated All India Students’ Federation (AISF). Both these youth organisations have called for statewide school and college bandhs in the academic year beginning July/August, to protest the state government’s alleged failure to implement the RTE Act and improve the quality of education in government schools.

According to Marrivemula Srinivas, state vice president of AISF, the state government has failed miserably in improving teaching-learning in government schools while giving a free rein to private institutions in the state. “The government is supporting private institutions because of vested interests. On the other hand it is indifferent to improving standards in government schools,” says Srinivas.

The overdue — and imminent — panchayat elections will determine whether KKR’s development focus is a winning gambit or just another voice in tumultuous Andhra politics.

Aruna Ravikumar (Hyderabad)

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