Ever since taking over as the chief minister of Andhra Pradesh a month back, YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has announced a slew of sops for different sections of people in a bid to fulfill promises made before the elections.
One such announcement was ‘Amma Vodi’ under which poor mothers sending their children to government-run schools would be paid Rs 15,000 annually. The scheme, meant for families below the poverty line, is to be implemented from January 2020.
Following demands from various sections, Jagan extended the scheme for those sending their wards to private schools. As this triggered a debate by unions and managements, the CM pushed it further to intermediate class (Class 11 and 12) students. And then, again to state-run and private junior colleges.
Scramble for Admissions
The announcement led to a mad scramble for admissions into government schools as soon as the schools re-opened after summer vacation.
Some parents even pulled out their wards from private schools and admitted them in government-run ones.
Many municipal and government schools had to put up ‘no admissions’ or ‘no more seats left’ boards on their gates.
With the scheme extended to private schools, the admission rate went up in Telugu and English medium institutions. Here too, schools had to stop admissions, citing infrastructure shortage.
Officials said for the first time in many years such a large number of students enrolled themselves. They said ‘Amma Vodi’ yielded better results than ‘Badibata’, a special admission campaign run by authorities every year after the reopening of schools in June.
The latest move of extending the scheme to intermediate colleges is expected to lead to a similar situation.
People across the state have hailed the decision, which is expected to provide incentives to poor students to continue their education after matriculation. Some intermediate students also look forward to doing some part-time work in the evenings after school.
The surge in enrollment was witnessed in areas which have substantial number of daily wage labourers and agriculture workers. Though the children of poor families were enrolled in schools, they would skip classes to do odd jobs and earn some extra money for the families or directly assist their parents.
For instance, Krishna district, one of the 13 in the state, has so far seen admission of over 1.5 lakh students in government-run schools alone.
Ambitious Literacy Plans
‘Amma Vodi’ meaning mother’s lap is aimed at improving the literacy rate in the state. It was during his state-wide ‘padyatra’ or walkathon that Jagan had promised to come up with the scheme. It was one of ‘Navaratnalu’ or nine major promises made by Jagan’s YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) during its poll campaign.
When Jagan announced 15 days ago that ‘Amma Vodi’ will be implemented from January, officials said it was mainly to check the dropout rate in state-run schools by helping poor parents send their wards to schools. It was also expected to curb child labour as many parents send their wards for work to help the families.
The main aim of ‘Amma Vodi’ is to improve literacy rate in the state. The Illiteracy rate in Andhra Pradesh is 33%, almost 7% higher than the national average of 27%.
But the CM has set his eyes even higher, and plans to completely revamp the educational system in the state. He wants both the infrastructure and the quality of education to improve in all 40,000 government-run schools.
The 46-year-old has vowed to change the face of government schools and has asked all the 40,000 government schools in the state to get photographed to juxtapose their present state of affairs with their improved condition two years later.
He wants officials to focus on improving basic infrastructure facilities like drinking water, furniture, blackboards, compound walls toilets and teaching equipment.
Confusion and Criticism
“The transformation will be visible in two years,” Jagan told a meeting of officials of education department.
However, given the numerous challenges and the lack of clarity over ‘Amma Vodi’, it is going to be an uphill task for the new government.
The flagship programme has sparked a debate in academic and political circles as to whether it will achieve the desired goals.
Initially, there was confusion even among ministers and top officials whether the scheme will apply only to students studying in government-run schools.
Since only 45 per cent of students go to government-run schools, demands arose from different quarters for extending the benefits to those sending their children to private schools. The powerful lobby of government teachers’ unions opposed the proposal.
Jagan, however, announced that the scheme will be extended to all poor mothers sending their children to government or private schools.
He felt that restricting the scheme to only government school students will be unjustified as he had assured poor parents that he will take up the burden of educating their children.
“I want to see every child goes to school,” said the young chief minister, who led YSRCP to a landslide victory.
However, the move evoked criticism from certain sections, who believe that the private institutions will misuse the scheme to mint money.
“This move will ruin the future of government schools as parents will opt for private and corporate schools,” said A Ravi Chandra, president of Progressive Democratic Students Union (PDSU).
Some critics expressed apprehension that private schools may even force the beneficiaries to part with the financial aid received from the government.
Some fear that the move may hasten the demise of government schools and lead to mushrooming of private schools.
Andhra Pradesh United Teachers’ Federation state councillor KK Jajulu feared that government schools may face closure in 4-5 years.
Funding and Challenges
Doubts have erupted as to whether the government will be able to implement the scheme, given the huge burden it would impose on state exchequer. The state’s finances are already in a precarious condition and the slew of sops announced by Jagan to implement his poll promises require huge funds.
Experts say ‘Amma Vodi’ alone may require over Rs10,000 crore annually. There is no clarity as how the funds would be mobilised.
Identifying beneficiaries will be a tough task for the government. With the modalities of the scheme yet to be worked out, all are keeping their fingers crossed on how it will be implemented.
Human Resources Development Minister Adimulapu Suresh said white ration cards will be the criteria.
White ration cards are issued to families below poverty line. However, the state has a staggering 1.4 crore white ration card holders, almost equivalent to number of families residing in the state.
Teachers of government-run schools are also worried about the cascading effects this may have on the expenditure incurred by the government on free distribution of school uniforms, textbooks, mid-day meals and other factors.
V Balasubramanyam, a member of state Legislative Council, said mere financial assistance to mothers for sending their children to schools will not make any difference. He feels there is a need to improve the quality of education in government schools.
“If this is not done, then the entire money under this scheme will go to private schools,” said Balasubramnyam, who belongs to Progressive Democratic Front (PDF).
According to 2017-18 data, Andhra Pradesh has nearly 70 lakh children in 61,701 schools, both government and private.
It is also not clear if a woman who sends more than one child to school will get Rs 15,000 for every child.