The National Education Policy (NEP) 2019, aimed at achieving equitable and inclusive education for every child, with a special focus on under-represented groups (URG), has identified gaps in the education sector mainly due to low-enrolment and high dropout rate. Attempts have been made to address these issues and the mid-day meal scheme is one such, albeit partially successful attempt.
The YSRCP Government, as promised in the Navaratnalu, came up with an alternative mother-centric approach to address these gaps. The Amma Vodi scheme was an initiative involving direct cash transfer of Rs 15,000 directly to the accounts of every mother with a child attending school up to the intermediate level. This scheme was announced during YS Jagan Mohan Reddy’s Praja Sankalpa Yatra. But there are several issues associated with the implementation of the scheme.
People felt betrayed when it was announced that a mother will be paid a total amount of only Rs. 15,000 every year despite having more than one school going child. This essentially deviated from the intended purpose and vision of the scheme. Also, this move has severely dented the efficacy of the scheme. A mother with 2 or more school-going children was compensated with the same amount of money as a mother with 1 child got.
More importantly, initially there was a debate whether the scheme would also be extended to private schools. After much dilly-dallying the Government gave in and announced that the scheme would be applicable to private schools as well. The critics have argued it has the potential to completely reverse and negatively impact the consequences of the scheme.
Given the poor condition of Government schools in Andhra Pradesh, any extra cash in the hands of parents will only be treated as a means to enrol their children in low-cost private schools. This could trigger a migration en masse from Government to low-cost private schools. Due to this the Government schools could be deserted leading to their further decay. Meanwhile, in the medium term (2-3 years), there is no guarantee that the private schools will not hike their fees. If that does indeed happen then the parents will either fall into a debt-trap or revert back their children to an even worse Government school setup, because the amount of Rs 15,000 under the scheme would remain constant.
On the other hand, the Government in its defence claimed that the G.O. MS No. 79 that ratified the Amma Vodi scheme, extended benefits to students upto the intermediate standard. Thus, increasing the policy’s scope. Though a weak defence in itself people continue to feel deceived by Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s vague promises.
This is a classic case of why policy experts stress on targeted policies rather than universal policies. Therefore, the Government could do well by not treating the Amma Vodi scheme as a populist measure merely to woo voters and rather, focus on a rational implementation of the scheme.