While enrollments and school facilities have bettered, some states continued to witness increasing share of out of school children and decline in learning levels says ASER report

With less than two weeks to go for the Union Budget 2017, the Niti Aayog has sought up to three times increase in social sector spending as well as diverting extra revenue to sectors such as health and education, the Economic Times reported last week. The Aayog has made this recommendation in a three-year action plan that it will unveil after the 2017-18 Budget is presented.

That share of government expenditure as share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in India has shown an increase over the last few years but still remains quite low is a given. World Bank data shows government expenditure on education as share of GDP was 3.8% in 2012, up from 3.1% in 2005, but lower than 4.3% in 1999. Clearly the Aayog’s recommendation holds water.

But despite the concern over lack of adequate spending on the health sector, the picture is not all gloomy, the Annual Status of Education Report 2016, shows. The report, released earlier last week, shows that rate of enrollment of children in schools has shown an improvement over the last two years. The ASER survey only looks at statistics for rural India and was carried out in 589 rural districts across the country.

As per the report, enrollment for the age group of 6-14 years increased from 96.7% in 2014 to 96.9% in 2016. Improvement was also seen for the age group of 15-16 years for both boys and girls, increasing from 83.4% in 2014 to 84.7% in 2016. However, private school enrollment declined during the same time period from 30.8% in 2014 to 30.5% in 2016. This is the first time since 2009 that enrollment in private schools has shown a decline.

Over the last decade, private school enrollment for the age group of 14-16 years old has shown an over 12 percentage point increase from 18.7% in 2006, the ASER report shows. Further commendable is the closing  gender gap in terms of school enrollment for this age group. The gap in private school enrollment was 7.6 percentage points in 2014 between boys’ and girls’ enrollment of age 11-14 years. In 2016, this gap has come down to 6.9 percentage points.

girl-student

The gap in private school enrollment between boys’ and girls’ enrollment of age 11-14 years has come down in 2016 compared to 2014.

Uttarakhand (from 37.5% to 41.6%), Arunachal Pradesh (from 24.4% to 29.5%) and Assam (from 17.3% to 22%) showed the highest increase among states in private school enrollment in the elementary school age group of 6-14 years. In the case of government schools, Kerala fared the best with an increase in enrollment in the age group of 11-14 years from 40.6% in 2014 to 49.9% in 2016. Gujarat was the second best performing state with an increase in enrollment ratio from 79.2% in 2014 to 86% in 2016.

Some states, however, witnessed deterioration in enrollment rates with an increase in fraction of the out of school children in the age group of 6-14 years between 2014 and 2016. Madhya Pradesh was one such state with an increase in share of out of school children from 3.4% to 4.4% during this time period. Other such poor performing states were Chattisgarh (from 2% to 2.8%), and Uttar Pradesh (from 4.9% to 5.3%).

Data by the report however shows that an improvement in enrollment rates has not necessarily translated into better learning levels. For instance, the percentage of children in standard V who could read a standard II level text declined from 64.2% to 62.9% between 2010 and 2016 in private schools. This figure was at 62.6% in 2014. The decline was far higher in the case of government schools, from 50.7% in 2010 to 42.2% in 2014 and 41.6% in 2016.

Performance of students in Arithmetic was no better. The percentage of children of standard VIII who could do division declined from 72% in 2010 to 51.2% in 2016. Here too, government schools saw a much higher decline from 67% to 40.2% in the same time period. Overall, the decline was from 68.4% in 2010 to 43.3% in 2016. In standard V, just one out of every four children could read an English sentence.

Among the positives, states such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura, Chattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh showed greater promise in individual indicators. In terms of school facilities, marked improvements were seen in the case of availability and usability of toilets. Another bright spot is that the percentage of schools with no separate provision for girls’ toilet decreased from 31.2% in 2010 to 12.5% in 2016.

While share of schools with no library declined from 37.4% to 24.5% between 2010 and 2016, share of schools with library but no books were used by the children on the day of the survey visit increased from 24.7% to 32.9% during the same period.

school-children

To make sure that learning outcomes improve regular attendance of children in schools need to be ensured

While clearly, a near universal enrollment level in schools in the country is commendable, just increasing rate of enrollment will not ensure improvement in learning levels of the children and will just be equivalent to chasing targets with no desirable outcomes. To make sure that learning outcomes improve regular attendance of children in schools need to be ensured.

Providing adequate number of teachers is another area where schools need to work on. According to a report by IndiaSpend earlier this year, of the six million teaching positions in government schools nationwide, about 900,000 elementary school teaching positions and 100,000 in secondary school are vacant. Bihar alone is short of 37.3% teachers than it needs in elementary schools, the report stated.

Besides, despite high enrolment rates in elementary schools, enrolment rates are not as high in the case of children above 14 years of age. Higher enrolment in higher education is critical for a country like India to ensure proper jobs for youngsters. Even among those who complete secondary level education, enrolment into higher education institutions becomes a challenge especially for the poor students. NSS data reveals that discontinuation of higher education is often because of financial constraints or youngsters taking up a job right after secondary level education. High private tuition fees for entry examination preparation for admission in colleges is another deterrent in the way of higher education.

It can only be hoped that the government announces a slew of measures for uplifting the education sector in the upcoming Union Budget.

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