By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Indian children have fundamental right to education and the number of incidences of violation has crossed 12.5 lakhs in the form of out of school students during the education session 2022-23 just ended. Equity and inclusion thus remain important issues, apart from quality and relevance of the India’s education system that is needed to equip our children with education and skills they need to thrive in their life in a fast changing world.
The consolation for the Modi government rests only in a global comparison that some 263 million children and young people are out of school, as it has just been revealed when the issue came under the microscope this week at the latest session of the UN’s Commission on Population and Development (CPD), indicating that achieving quality education for all by 2030 is “seriously off track”.
Nevertheless, over 12.5 lakh students out of school, as revealed in the Parliament of India by the Union Ministry of Education during the just concluded budget session, is a matter of serious concern, especially because it is indicative of the fact that their fundamental right to education remained only of statute book that could not be translated into reality on ground level.
More concerning aspect is that over 9.3 lakh children identified out of school were at elementary level. Out of school boys at both elementary and secondary levels were 6.97 lakhs and girls were 5.55 lakh. Out of school secondary level students were over 3.22 lakh. It is for the elementary level students from the ager 6 to 14 years, we have been implementing Right to Education Act 2009 that entitled they to have free education.
Moreover, the data given by the Union Ministry of Education does not present the clear picture. It should be noted that the National Sample Survey 2017-18 had said that over 30 million children were out of school, and over 30 per cent of such children have never attended an educations institution. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, all the 15 lakh schools remained closed for over a year and half. It impacted 247 million children enrolled in elementary and secondary schools according to UNICEF. In addition, there were over 60 lakh girls and boy were out of school even before the pandemic. How then only a little over 12.5 lakh students were out of school in 2022-23? This data has become a suspect.
India needed huge investment and budget allocation to provide school access to all children. The Union Budget 2022-23 allocated Rs1.04 lakh crore for education but spent only Rs99.8 thousand crore. The allocation for the current year 2023-24 is only Rs1.12 lakh crore at a time when the country needs much more fund to not only implement the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 but also to cover up learning deficit of our children due to the pandemic. Modi government has tried to cover up the frightening ground reality by simply telling the country that they have increased the budget by around 8.2 per cent. It must also be noted that under NEP 2020, the country needs also to implement pre-school and vocational education for which we neither have infrastructure nor have human resources, such as teachers.
Student teacher ratio in primary school in India was 26.3:1 in 2020-21, while on average across OECD countries the ratio in primary education is 15:1 and in lower secondary education it is 13:1. A UNESCO report of 2021 had pointed out that India had a shortage of 10 lakh teachers in schools. In 15 years, 30 per cent of the current teaching workforce will need to be replaced. Around 1.1 lakh schools were single-teacher schools. There were 11.16 lakh vacancies of teachers in school that was about 19 per cent of the total sanctioned posts, while there were 69 per cent of vacancies in the rural areas.
Apart from right to equal access to quality education, there are other issues too, such as quality of education. Even much before the pandemic, the National Achievement Survey of NCERT 2017 had found that half of primary school-going children – which constituted nearly 50 million children – not achieving grade appropriate learning levels. Furthermore, children’s school readiness at age 5 has been far below expected levels.
ASER 2022 report has presented even more alarming situation in the country. The study has found that the reading ability of students have dropped to pre-2012 levels, both in government and private schools. India has largest children population of the world which is around 39 per cent of its total population of 1.4 billion, and hence the education crisis in the country must be taken more seriously.
Both the government and private data indicate that enrolments in schools are on the rise even after the pandemic, and hence the country needs bigger investment in education to enhance its infrastructure and number of qualified teachers to provide quality and relevant education. Special attention is required in case of student from poor and vulnerable households since majority of them are not able to understand even a basic text by age 10, chiefly due to chronic factors such and poverty and malnutrition.
India needs to reimagine and transform its educational system for equal access to universal quality education for all children irrespective of their family backgrounds in the light of technological advances, such as online education. The present crisis in learning and well-being needs to be tackled effectively not only in the schools, but also in later stages of life. We must concentrate on providing quality education without any communal colour for cohesion of our communities, not division or alienation that is being aimed at by the ruling establishment in the country for narrow political considerations. (IPA Service)