May 2007

India Progressing Towards Universal Elementary Education

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Kerala, the southern Indian state, once again has emerged as the top performing state while Bihar finds itself in the last spot in a recent official survey on the status of elementary education in India in 2005-06. The coefficient of efficiency reveals that the primary education system is efficient to the tune of only 62 percent

The National University of Educational Planning and Administration (NUEPA) has recently developed School Report Cards of more than one million Primary and Upper Primary schools. Covering 11,24,033 schools, the publication updates more than 400 variables for 604 districts across 35 states and union territories on all aspects of universalisation of education, and shows that Kerala, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh are the top five while Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Assam are the five bottom-ranked states.

Whatever may be the reflection through the ranks in education development index, the number  of  children  joining  education  system  and subsequently the number of out-of-school children show a declining trend in the report. The student retention rate is still remained low. With such low retention and high drop-out rates, it seems India is affected by the 'give another decade' syndrome to realise the goal of universal primary education.

Government of India's plans and projections at various points of time says, 'all children complete 5years of education by 2007. All children complete 8 years of education by 2010. In 1950, government claimed to provide free and compulsory education till age of 14 in next 10 years. In 1992, they claimed they would implement the same by 2000. In 2004, the claim is that they will achieve Universal Elementary Education by 2015. The whole syndrome never leaves us in a correct situation of where we are. Are we really getting closer to the target of UEE? What takes the country towards a more time taking syndrome? Less motivation towards enrolment? Schools receiving lesser amount of development grant? Average teachers available per school or high pupil-teacher ratio? Schools having less computer in schools? Or the low retention rate?

The Supreme Court of India in its judgement in 1993 has held that all citizens have a fundamental right to education upto the age of 14 years.

The 86th Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the parliament to make the Right to Elementary Education a fundamental right and a fundamental duty. Education is the primary vehicle for children to drive towards economic and social upliftment. NUEPA, the professional wing of Government of India, with specialisation in policy, planning and management in education, has created a comprehensive database on elementary education in India under one of its flagship project, District Information System of Education (DISE), supported by the Ministry of Human Resources Development and UNICEF. The project covers both primary and upper primary schools of all districts of the country. The survey not only presents the million plus school report cards but also makes a strong case for the state to care about education and to shift our focus from inputs like the money spent upon education, to outputs, that are the real educational outcomes.

There is no doubt that the average drop-out rate in primary classes suggests a consistent decline; but the same is still too high to attain the status of universal retention at the primary level of education. Universalisation comprises four components- universal access, universal enrolment, universal retention and universal quality of education. The flagship  Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme of the Government of India launched in 2001 in this direction has also this objective of universal retention by 2010. The drop-out rate indicates an average rate of 9.96 percent in primary grades. In many states, drop-out rate in Grade I is noticed to be alarmingly high. The very few exceptions, however, are visible in states like Tamil Nadu, where retention rate is 100 %; it is more than 95 per cent in Kerala as well. 

If resources are available, child-tracking is the only way through which drop-out, retention, survival and completion rates should be analysed. A few states have designed their own formats and even developed monitoring software for the purpose

69,353 schools in the country have enrolment less than 25, out of which 94% are located in rural areas. One in three primary schools have enrolment less than 50. The enrolment of students in classes I to VIII in 2005-06 was 168.29 million, an increase of 12.28 million from the previous year, according to the DISE data. However, about 180 of the 581 districts reported decline in primary enrolment. The average of all the districts has shown a consistent improvement in both the gender parity index (GPI) and girls' share in enrolment, but the share, both in primary and upper primary, is found to be slightly lower at rural areas. The report shows the GPI in primary enrolment is a little low in states like Bihar and Rajasthan and goal of universalisation of primary education in such states may not be realised unless all girls are brought under the education system.

The  coefficient  of  efficiency  presented  reveals  that  the  primary education system is efficient to the tune of only 62.40 percent.

The DISE report suggests that if resources are available, child-tracking is the only way through which drop-out, retention, survival and completion rates should be analysed. A few states have designed their own formats and even developed monitoring software for the purpose. Information and Communication Technology (ICT), like in the above instance, plays always a role of a driving tool to gear up the drive towards achieving Universal Elementary Education.

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