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World Bank OKs record $1.05 bln for schools in India

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The World Bank on Thursday approved a record $1.05 billion credit line to help get more children into schools in India, the largest ever investment in education by the poverty-fighting institution.

Children study at Gyan Shakti Vidyalaya, an open air school on the occasion of "World Literacy Day" on the outskirts of New Delhi in this September 8, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Parth Sanyal

The loans will help Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government program aimed at boosting education among young children. It is the largest program of its kinds in the world.

While the funding is a major investment by the World Bank in education, it is small for a populous country such as India with large numbers of poor.

Sam Carlson, World Bank education specialist, said the latest funding was the third in a series of loans to support the government’s program.

“This is going to be a game-changer for a number of the poorest households in India, who until now have been out of the system,” Carlson told Reuters.

Since that program’s launch in 2002, school enrollments have increased significantly, although convincing children to stay in school is still a major challenge.

“That is the unfinished agenda. The drop-out rate is too high,” he said in an interview.

Indian government figures show that between 2003 and 2009 the number of children enrolled in elementary education in India increased by 57 million to 192 million. The number of children who left school fell to 8.1 million from 25 million in the same period.

Carlson said it was hard to reach children living in urban slums and remote rural areas and the program focused on getting those children into classrooms.

“This is reaching out the families who have never sent their children to school before; who have traditionally been excluded both socially and economically,” Carlson added.

More than 50 percent of education resources will be allocated over the next three years to activities to improve student learning, such as teacher training, remedial education, free textbooks and for other learning materials.

Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Andre Grenon