Special attention to needs of children: PM

The Congress-led UPA government was paying special attention to the needs of children and had made education mandatory by law, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday.

"Our children are the biggest strength of our country. If our children are provided with good education and are healthy, then our future would be bright," the prime minister said in his Independence Day speech.

"This is the reason why we have paid special attention to the needs of children in our policies and and programmes. The education of children has been made mandatory by law," he said in his address to the nation from Red Fort.

From 2006-07, he said, only 93 percent of children in the 6-14 age group were getting admission in schools. Today, almost all children in this age group are being admitted to schools.

"More than 51,000 new schools have been opened in the country and about seven lakh teachers appointed in them in just the last two years," the prime minister said.
He added that the focus will now be on enhancing the quality of education.

"Now we will focus on improving the quality of education. In the next few months we will put in place a system of continuous assessment of the benefit our children are getting from teaching. Participation of the community and parents would be ensured so that they can be satisfied with the quality of teaching," he said.

The flagship Right to Education programme, which was launched in 2008, makes the state responsible for free education to all children between the ages 6 to 14. It also lays down guidelines for quality of teachers and infrastructure for schools.

Quality continues to be a major problem for schools in India, with a recent survey by NGO
group RTE forum showing that as many as 95 percent schools do not comply with RTE guidelines, with lack of infrastructure being the biggest problem.

Calling malnutrition in children a "big challenge", he said steps were being taken to reduce it.

"We have taken steps in many dimensions to deal with this problem. In the last eight years, the number of mothers and children benefiting from the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) has doubled. The process of making the ICDS more effective is in its last stages and will be completed in the next one or two months," the prime minister said.

ICDS is a programme for providing day care and nutrition to children and pregnant women through Anganwadi centres.

He also said that 12 crore children everyday were being provided nutritious midday meal in schools.

"This is the biggest scheme of its kind in the world."

Manmohan Singh said the amount for post-matric scholarships for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and minority students had been enhanced.
"Our efforts to make these scholarship schemes more effective will continue."

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