Staggering education outlay in Tamil Nadu

From free atlases, colour pencils, geometry boxes, identical school bags to avoid neighbour’s envy, four pairs of school uniforms – full pants for boys and salwar kameez for girls, textbooks, free notebooks to even a pair of footwear for each student at different levels of the school education system in Tamil Nadu, its raining freebies for children.

The icing on the cake comes from the Jayalalitha regime having introduced two novel schemes to ensure zero dropout at the Plus Two level. A cash incentive of Rs 1500 for every student who completes his 10th and 11th class, followed by another Rs 2000 on clearing the 12th class, makes each one entitled to a tidy purse of Rs 5000 at the end of Plus Two.

Another brave new world opened up as ‘Amma’ began to implement the free laptops scheme for Plus one and two students in government and state-aided schools, in fulfillment of the AIADMK’s 2011 assembly poll promise. Students of Government Arts and Science colleges, engineering colleges and polytechnics are also to be covered.

Push for quality

On the one hand, the notification of the rules under the Right to Education Act to ensure education for all in the age group of 6-14 years has enlarged the enabling matrix to ensure 100 per cent enrolment of children in schools. Juxtapose this with the mid-day meal scheme in schools launched earlier by MGR, free bicycles to children under the previous Jayalalitha rule and the latest laptops for students from Plus One level and other programmes like ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), it seems an Utopia!

Thus, the budgetary allocation in Tamil Nadu for School Education Department alone this year is a record sum of Rs 14,553 crore, according to State Finance Minister O Panneerselvam. Add to this Rs 912 crore earmarked last year to buy 9.07 lakh laptops, and another Rs 1500 crore to procure 7.84 lakh laptops for students in 2012-13, the State spend is truly staggering to push qualitative outcomes in education.

From the qualitative, educational point of view, the laptops “are to make students more responsive to E-learning” and get used to web-based pedagogy, officials said. The software package for the free laptops includes a ‘Windows 7’ or higher starter edition package.

The Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT), which is sourcing all the laptops through global competitive bidding, will also arrange for uploading the ‘BOSS (Bharat Operating System Solution) Linux’ from the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC), officials said, adding, educational content will be uploaded along with elements of Tamil computing too.

Excitement builds

Boys and girls in rural schools, in particular, are excited about the laptops given to them as their entire syllabus for the year is uploaded into it, besides some moral orientation content like couplets from the ‘Thirukkural’ of classical Tamil poet-Saint Thiruvalluvar. The beneficiaries also get to learn to type on ‘Word’ format and ‘spreadsheet’ and gain in computer literacy.

Though Jayalalitha ambitiously flagged off the free laptops scheme – each one comes with a one-year warranty and other paraphernalia with a 2GB memory - all the hard discs manufacturers being in Thailand came as an unexpected impediment last year. The heavy floods in that country hit production units there and consequently disrupted the supply schedule here.

However, officials plan to clear the entire backlog of laptops to be given to students by December 2012, besides completing this year’s distribution target.   


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