Helping girls 'ride' the wave of academic success

“It is difficult to quantify the impact of schemes on student enrolment and retention.”

Former chief minister H D Kumaraswamy (Centre) pioneered the free bicycle scheme for girl students in Karnataka.In the 1999-2000 academic year, nearly 13 lakh students were enrolled in high schools (Class 8-10) in Karnataka. In the subsequent academic year, at least 10.53 lakh children, aged between five and 14, dropped out of schools in the State.

Cut to 2011-12. The number of students in high schools stood at 26.04 lakh. And Karnataka had just 65,000 children, aged between five and 14, who did not go to school that year.

The turnaround appears impressive. It indeed is, affirms the State Government. But what brought this about? The government employed a slew of schemes and incentives to attract students to classrooms. Two of them stand out.

The free distribution of bicycles, initially to class 8 students and then to class 9 pupils, is one of the populist schemes aimed at improving high-school enrolment. The scheme was launched by the then Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy in 2006.

In the first year (2006-07), the government spent Rs 85.32 crore on distributing 4,20,323 bicycles to poor girl students across the State, except in Bangalore. The next year, 4.35 lakh bicycles were distributed at a cost of Rs 89.18 crore.

Slur of corruption

Boys began receiving the freebie in 2008-09 when 6,66,222 bicycles were distributed for Rs 159.67 crore. The scheme went well until Congress leader V S Ugrappa alleged, on the floor of the Legislative Council in 2009, large-scale corruption in purchase of the bicycles. He even charged the then Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa’s son B Y Raghavendra with pocketing Rs 20 crore under the scheme.

The government was forced to take the allegation seriously. A House Committee inquiry was ordered, which, in its report on December 31, 2010, absolved Raghavendra of any wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the scheme had been stopped but was restarted in 2011-12.That year, the government distributed 11,27,376 bicycles at a cost of Rs 248.02 crore to wipe out the backlog. Class 9 students also got the bicycles that year. 

The scheme continues in the current academic year (2012-13). A top official in the Department of Primary and Secondary Education confirmed that the entire process, from approval of the technical specifications, release of funds to floating of the tender, is complete. The bicycles will be distributed “very soon”, he said.

But has the scheme yielded the intended results — facilitating girls to ride to school? Or more importantly, has it improved the enrolment of girls in high schools?

Empowerment, the key

G Kumar Naik, Secretary, Primary and Secondary Education, says: “From distribution of free uniforms, textbooks, notebooks to grant of monthly scholarship to improving facilities in government schools, many factors spurred an increase in enrolment. It is very difficult to say which scheme contributed how much. We simply don’t have the luxury to study the exclusive impact of a scheme on enrolment or retention of schoolchildren.”

The government, nonetheless, is evaluating the effectiveness of each scheme meant to attract students to classrooms. But will such a study be able produce accurate results? K P Hanumantharayappa, Director, Secondary Education, is not convinced.

The general perception, however, is that the scheme has helped many girls continue to study. “It’s mainly for their empowerment. Other benefits are secondary,” Naik explained. 

The free distribution of laptops to top three scorers in SSLC examination in each educational district and taluk is another populist scheme. First launched in 2009-10, the scheme was limited to toppers in each district. It was extended to taluk-wise toppers in the 2011-12 academic year.

D Venkateshaiah, Director, Karnataka Secondary Education Examination Board, says at least 708 students will get laptops this year. The process, however, appears long drawn and the students might not get the laptops anytime soon.  


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