Azim Premji stresses on the importance of school education in budget 2008

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Azim Premji, the chairman of Wipro, has emphasized the importance of school education in budget 2008. Lauding the efforts of the government last year, when ` 23,142 crores was allocated for school education (an increase of 35% over the previous budget), Azim Premji called for similar efforts on the part of the government this year too.

In a review of the condition of school education in India, the Wipro chairman has identified three key areas for the development of school education in India. These are infrastructure, teacher-student ratio and quality of mid-day meals.

Lack of proper infrastructure has been a major concern area for many years. Quality standards of schools in terms of infrastructure, often do not meet the parameters laid down in the Education Bill of the government. Classrooms are often shabby, leaking and not repaired for years in government schools. Almost 85% of Indian children undertake studies in government schools since most of them cannot afford to study in private schools.

Research has shown that effective teacher-student ratio should be between 1:25 to 1:35. The current average ratio in India is 1:42. The high teacher-student ratio has a negative impact on the quality of education in India. Azim Premji has suggested that efforts should be undertaken in budget 2008 to bring down the ratio to 1:35. Moreover, he has advised that no school should have a teacher-student ratio of 1:40.

Mid-day meals in schools have played a significant role in reducing drop-out rates. Moreover, attendance in schools has also increased substantially as a result of mid-day meals. Health of school going children has also been positively impacted. However, as per the current budget, most states have a provision of ` 1.8 to 2.5 per meal which is too insufficient. Azim Premji has suggested that a minimum provision of ` 5 per meal is needed to provide proper healthy food. This would mean doubling the budget allocation on mid-day meals on the part of the government.

The Wipro chairman has attached much importance to the prevention of leakage of funds. Misuse of funds has been one of the impediments to the development of infrastructure in education in India. Azim Premji has proposed that 2% of the budget allocation be set aside for monitoring and auditing expenses. He has also laid stress on private-public partnerships with the objective of attaining transparency and efficiency in education.

The left parties too, have called for higher allocation on education in budget 2008, emphasizing Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Education for all) and mid-day meals. Special initiatives for education of girls are also expected from budget 2008. Separate allocation for education of girls with the objective of improving ratio of enrolment and reducing gender inequalities in school education is expected in budget 2008.

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