Saturday, November 30, 2013
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Enrolment rate has gone up but we still have to negotiate the roadblocks of high dropouts and deficient resources
Students heading towards school at a village in Rajasthan. Source: GOI Monitor

Working as a domestic help, Sunita spends all her day mopping floors and washing utensils at people's houses in Dwarka subcity of Delhi. Meanwhile, her 10-year-old daughter takes care of the home and the two younger siblings, boys aged 5 and 2.

Sunita does not feel like sending the children to school as she says nobody in her neighbourhood does so. The girl will soon start working as domestic help while the boys will be put to some work later on. Such cases are not isolated and this only signifies the long way India has to go to ensure universal elementary education through Sarv Siksha Abhiyan. 

Recently, Unesco's Education For All Global Monitoring Report said the country has progressed the most in the world in sending children to schools. The number of out-of-school children reduced from 20 million in 2000 to around 1.7 million by 2011. Though the enrolment has definitely gone up and that should be lauded, what has been missed is the dropout rate which stands at 40 per cent. 

According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2012 for rural areas, though over 96 per cent of all children in the age group of 6-14 years were enrolled in school, the proportion of out-of-school children also increased slightly from 3.3 per cent in 2011 to 3.5 per cent in 2012. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) envisages constitution of school management committees involving teachers, parents and community leaders which will help promote enrollments and check absence and drop out rate of students. However, it will take some time before these committees are formed and made to function towards their proposed goals.

Girls in the age group of 11 to 14 years were found to be often the hardest to bring to school and keep in school especially in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh where the proportion of girls dropping out increased from 8.9 per cent and 9.7 per cent respectively in 2011 to more than 11 per cent in 2012. One of the major reasons for drop-out of girl students is lack of provision for a separate toilet for them.

Girls in the age group of 11 to 14 years were found to be often the hardest to bring to school and keep in school mainly because of lack of separate toilet facility for them

While around 80 per cent of  rural schools visited for the ASER report had separate girls’ toilets, only about half had them were in useable conditions. In total around 68 per cent schools were found to have girls' toilets in both urban and rural areas according to DISE data.

Infrastructure crunch

The RTE Act makes adequate staff, furniture, playground, library, kitchenshed et al compulsory, but many schools are running without them and understandably so. In areas where even the service of education has arrived recently, how can all these facilities be expected?

According to DISE data, there are 8.31 per cent schools which have only one teacher because of which the enrolment rate in these schools is only 3.77. Power connection is available in just 47 per cent of the schools. Around 64 per cent schools have furniture for students, 95 per cent have them for teachers, playground is available in 56 per cent schools and library in 54 per cent. Kitchenshed meant for cooking of mid-day meal is present in 41 per cent schools while only 20 per cent have computers of which 86 per cent were found to be functional. 

Thankfully, drinking water facility was not an issue at most schools. Around 94 per cent government schools had drinking water facility while 97 per cent private schools had it. However, even 5 per cent schools lagging behind on this essential amenity make up a good number  (more than 70,000) and hence is a cause of great concern.

Also, if we look at schools having all the nine parameters of the RTE not more than 10 per cent are compliant. In terms of four of critical facilities, including. drinking water, girls and boys toilets, and ramps, which are essential for barrier-free access, only 44 per cent schools in the country meet this criteria. Schools, especially those in congested areas, which do not have space for playgrounds, have been asked to link up with available parks or grounds, or with other schools having these facilities.  

According to DISE data, there are 8.31 per cent schools which have only one teacher because of which the enrolment rate in these schools is only 3.77. Power connection is available in just 47 per cent of the schools.

Many states are bridging the gaps of facilities in government schools through funds available for construction of toilets, drinking water facilities, and ramps under SSA and other national programmes, for sanitation, and drinking water supply. But private establishments are meant to improve the infrastructure on their own. 

 

Rise and fall of private sector

Since the quality of education in government schools is lacking, private establishments, both big and small, are trying to fill the gap. The private sector has seen a lot of progress in enrollments as the percentage of 6 to
14 year olds enrolled in private schools rose from 18.7 per cent in 2006 to 28.3 per cent in 2012. Since 2009, private school enrollment in rural areas has been rising at an annual rate of about 10 per cent. If this trend continues, by 2018 India will have 50 per cent children in rural areas enrolled in private schools. However, with the RTE Act coming into force many of the private schools may shut down as they lack slew of facilities made mandatory in the Act. 

Since 2009, private school enrollment in rural areas has been rising at an annual rate of about 10 per cent but many of the private schools may shut down as they lack slew of facilities made mandatory in the RTE Act. 

Many private schools authorities are also claiming that visiting inspection teams are asking for bribes in lieu of approval to their establishments. Since there won't be enough government schools to fill the slots left vacant by small private schools, the enrollment may see a drop in near future.

In such a contrasting scenario where the small private schools are closing down, government schools either don't exist or don't offer quality education, the ambitious plan of universal elementary education sounds too lofty.

Meanwhile, the government is yet to fully exploit the option of distance education through use of technology like video conferencing which may help bring classrooms to students in remote areas at minimal cost. Use of multimedia to enhance learning skills of students is also essential. As the ASER 2012 findings pointed out, more than half the children in standard five could not read standard two level text in government schools. What's worse is that the percentage of such children increased from 43 per cent in 2010 to over 53 per cent in 2012.

However, the learning and arithmetic skills of students were found to be better if they take private tutions. About a quarter of all students were paying for private tutors in rural areas. This underscores the low quality of education being delivered in government schools. 

Missing qualified teachers

With regards to teacher availability, RTE mandates a teacher pupil ratio of 1:30, 1:35, for primary and upper primary respectively. Though the national average is 31 and 29, many states like Bihar, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh, need to improve and more teachers need to be recruited all over as the enrolment rate will rise. Of the present teachers also, there are almost 8 lakh unqualified ones who need to be trained by 2015 as per the RTE provisions.

 

The National Council of Teacher Education made Teacher Eligibility Test as the minimum qualification which the school teachers can clear in five years since the date of enactment of the law. The Justice Verma Committee set up by the Supreme Court to look into the state of affairs of teacher education had found that 85 per cent of such institutions are in the private sector of which only 15 per cent met the criteria of quality education. So, while most of the teacher education institutions need to be shut down, we need teacher educators for about 2 to 3 million teachers in the next 2.5 years to ensure there are sufficient qualified teachers under the RTE Act.

While most of the teacher education institutions need to be shut down for not providing quality training, we need teacher educators for about 2 to 3 million teachers in the next 2.5 years to ensure there are sufficient qualified teachers under the RTE Act. 

The Union government has already approved Rs 6,300 crore for the teacher education project and had  requested UGC to start schools of education in all the central universities. But it will still take some time before these schools start producing educators which can in turn train teachers. 

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