Development Cooperation Handbook/Stories/Right to Learn
Right to Learn
Project implemented by Kasturba Balika Vidyalaya, Sarnath, under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Program , Government of India
Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh, India, April 2010
project co-financed by the European Union
In 2002, India enacted the historic 86th Indian Constitutional Amendment Act that declared elementary education as a Fundamental Right for all children. With 304 million Indian citizens still non-literate (UNDP 2009), the educational challenge could not be addressed merely with declarations of rights. So, the Government of India launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the 'Education for All' programme. Largely funded by the Indian government, this programme has received around 250m Euros from the World Bank and the European Union.
In 2009, the Indian Parliament took a further step and passed “The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act” and delegated all all Indian States the duty to provide free and compulsory education to all children between 6 and 14 years old. And in order to increase the enrolment of girls in primary schools, the Indian government set up 3600 residential schools across the country for 6 to 14 year old girls from the most marginalized communities.
Our team went to one such school in Sarnath, a town associated with Lord Buddha and located in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Here, besides the academic curricula, girls learn life skills and performing arts. They learn their rights and learn to defend themselves. They understand their role and value in family and society and acquire self-confidence. They learn to be proud of being women.
Today, one can see the wide and substantial impact of India's investment in education over the past decade. 98% of India’s rural population today has access to primary schools within just a few kilometres of their habitation; Primary school enrolment among girls has risen from a mere 16% in 1950 to 48.2% in 2009. Although in 2011, women’s literacy rates were only 65%, while those for men were 82%, the gender gap in the past decade has narrowed with female literacy rates at 11.8% as compared with 6.9% among men.
Although India still has a long way to go, with only 8 million children out of school in 2009, it has started walking on the path towards ensuring the right to education for each Indian child. In fact, most Indians believe that education for all is the best investment that families and Governments can make. The benefits of such investments will be enjoyed by all.
Video clips 
On YouTube ⇒ Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan - playlist
These girls are drop outs from public schools. Their lives would have been wasted but we will transform them into good citizens who will develop the country. Parents tell us that they have changed because of the change in their daughters. They no longer want to get girls married off early and they want to educate their daughters, This gives me great satisfaction,” says a teacher in the school.
The principal of the school informed us that the Kasturba schools are boarding schools for girls, between 6 and 14 years, because the government thought girls here would be able to dedicate full time to studies and receive healthy food rather than stay on in the villages where they would have looked after their younger siblings and ultimately dropped out of school. Staying 24 hours in the school would ensure that they get good nutrition, education and life skills. Education is key to nation building and this does not imply just literacy but a change of attitude and mind sets of people. We can lead out the talent of the girls and make them valuable citizens.”
One of the girls proudly tells us, “My parents now say that they want us to study and complete school, even if this might need selling the family house. They say that girls today are reaching new heights in professional achievements and that is why they want us to study as much as we can. You are like our sons, they say.” “I teach and receive payment like all other teachers do but working with these children, getting their sympathy and creating an emotional bond is something unique to such schools.
The “right to education”. When the constitution was made in 1950, the argument was made that education is not a fundamental right. Because the government then said that we do not have the financial resources to ensure that. So they said, give us 10 years. 1960 came, 1970, 1980, 1990… the same argument “we do not have the financial resources. And at the same time you were seeing that India was becoming a top rate country for higher education (IITs, IIMs). But the neglect of basic education in schooling was unforgivable. An it took civil society years of pushing till it was made a fundamental right in 2003. Only starting in 2010 the government has made the financial allocation. This is the fundamental question: where does India get the financial resources to ensure that all children get quality education, that every Indian has access to health? And what is the answer you give? There are two ways of looking at it. One is to ask the question “can India afford these high level investments in basic health and education?” But a more fundamental way of putting this question today is “can India afford not to invest in basic health, basic education, basic nutrition and these essentials in life.
Danièle Smadja - EU Ambassador to India 
What is the EU contribution towards the SSA?
We are directly putting money in the big envelope of the government. But this is not limited in just signing a cheque to the government. We are a very important party in a number of discussion of the steering committee which is in charged of the implementation of the program. But we are also helping in designing and monitoring the program. Through our presence we can influence, but this does not mean imposing a model but offering our experience, proposing technical assistance, showcasing are lesson learned and also bad experiences from where they can learn and be a source of inspiration.
Why should an EU citizen fund the education of the poor children in India? How would this benefit her?
I think that supporting the education of a child is a wonderful objective, a wonderful approach to defend human rights; because education is a fundamental right of every child. The second element is that the money has been worth spending for. In 2003, there were 25 million children out of school in India. Thanks to the programme of the Government of India and the EU in 2009 there were only 8 million children out of school. The third element is that when a child is educated, when a teenage is going to college and when out with a degree a student is getting a job; i don't think we should think in terms of competitors. We should think in terms of wealth, in terms of world economic growth. The more children are coming to the labor market with a degree, with skills... then you make the world economy run. Today there is so much interdependence between countries; it is important that there is economic growth in India and china for when our countries are lagging behind, and when they are in the middle of a crises it is then important that other countries are the locomotive of the economic growth. Whenever you give money to somebody you have less for you; but you may have less now... but it will bring you more tomorrow. And your child who is going to school in Europe, tomorrow might need the growth that an Indian child is going to produce.
In terms of economic cooperation, today, we always have to look for win win situations.