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Happy faces - riding to school

Sabooj Sathi (Green Companion) -Wheels of Change

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Government of West Bengal provided 7.0 million bicycles to students of class IX to XII standard in Government run and aided schools as mobility support under “Sabooj Sathi” scheme – a pioneering initiative towards universal access to higher education.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Though universal coverage under primary education was ensured through several interventions, India is still facing the challenge of universal access to high school education. While Primary schools are available in almost every village or within walking distance, high schools are far from the habitations, particularly in rural areas. In rain season, adverse climate coupled with varying road conditions, accessibility becomes difficult in remote rural areas.

Students particularly the girls were found dropping out from schools at the threshold of high school education due to this critical factor. There might be several other social causes, but accessibility was found to be the most critical issue to be addressed to achieve the goal of universal coverage under high school education.

State Government tried a simple intervention providing bi-cycle as a mobility support to girl students of a particular segment in the remotest region where accessibility is critical due to difficult terrain and vast forest areas. Within two years of the experiment it nearly ensured 100% retention. Therefore, State Government decided to replicate the project both for Boys and Girls across the State.

The initiative to increase access to high school education began in the financial year 2015-16 with the commitment to provide bi-cycles as mobility support to all the 4.00 million Boys and Girls of class IX to XII standard in Government run and aided schools and Madrasahs in 18 months. The policy of universal coverage is based on the principles of equity and creating equal opportunities for all, irrespective of class, caste, creed, religion and socio - economic status.

The Honorable Chief Minister of West Bengal christened the scheme as “Sabooj Sathi” and released the insignia and declared “these would be the green companions of the students who are destined to achieve remarkable feats in future”.
Apart from its primary objective of increasing accessibility, Sabooj Sathi is expected to meet additional objectives like:

  • Increasing retention in high schools, encouraging students to take up higher studies,
  • Inculcating confidence especially among the girl students by promoting mobility and promoting environment-friendly and healthy means of transportation.

These objectives are in conformity with four Sustainable Goals of agenda 2030; United Nations which are: SDG3 of Good Health & Well-being, SDG4: Quality Education, SDG5: Gender Equality and SDG13: Climate actions.

Initially Implementation of the scheme implied delivery of 2.50 million bi-cycles in 12,235 Govt. run school locations across length and breadth of the State within a time frame of six months followed by another 1.5 million in next academic year. This unprecedented scale of operation had multifarious challenges like developing a blueprint of operations, Mapping of Schools, Delivery Points, Bi-cycle Fitting areas, aligning implementation machinery, arranging resources, putting in place proper monitoring framework and resolving huge supply chain issues. These apart, accuracy, transparency at every stage of implementation and minimizing operational expenses were other issues of concern.

Implementation was planned through existing human resources available with different Departments of the State Government who were sensitized, trained and digitally empowered to play their defined job-roles. ICT based communication accelerated implementation process. Sabooj Sathi Online (www.wbsaboojsathi.gov.in), the e-Governance mechanism was developed in house. It provides a single window ICT based solution for management of entire processes like capturing students’ record, finalizing bi-cycle requirements (delivery point wise), supply chain from factory to distribution point, updating distribution records online. Particulars of distribution were made available in the public domain. The web site recorded phenomenal 2.1 billion hits during the initial phase.

Some innovative approaches in implementation like adopting e-Tender, defining a unique colour code for bi-cycles, recording unique frame no. of each of the bi-cycles for identification, attaching special reflectors as per riders’ safety norms and standards are mention worthy.

Hon’ble Chief Minister flagged off bi-cycle distribution on 29th October 2015. During 2015-16 to 2017-18, around 7 million students were benefitted. State Government is continuing the scheme. Students are assured mobility support immediately after they are admitted in class IX.

A follow-up study by “Pratichi (India) Trust”, an organisation founded by Nobel Laureate Dr. Amartya Sen, revealed “Apart from its immediate goal of ensuring accessibility to high schools the programme has had a huge societal impact by enhancing the general mobility of the population and that of the girls in particular. The bicycles distributed among the students are not only used for schooling but also for several other Domestic and Social utilities. The bicycle, indeed, is breaking many boundaries.

Innovation Description

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Year: 2015
Level of government: Regional/State government

Status:

  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed

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