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September 11, 2021 Saturday 02:09:02 PM IST

High Enrollments , Low Outcomes- Right to Quality Education in India

Cover Story

On the occasion of the 75th Independence Day, the leading newspaper Malayala  Manorama carried an interaction between Shashi Tharoor MP of Thiruvananthapuram and Mohua  Moitra, MP from West Bengal constituency of Krishnanagar. Mohua said that in 96% of the panchayats in her constituency, 99.5% of girls were going to school. There were inter-state variations in education attainment but both of them agreed that India has done well in education by attaining 78% literacy rate compared to 30% in the 1950s.

Despite impressive literacy rates that may be the envy of other nations, India's education system is a story of contrasts.  High enrolment rate in primary and middle schools doesn’t mean the quality of education imparted is high. Therefore, our children are faring poorly in national and international assessments on skills and competencies. Even as the pandemic disrupted learning from pre-school to university levels, many of the state and central boards reported near 100% pass percentage in the secondary and senior secondary examinations.

The New Education Policy (NEP) 2020 has pointed out the need to improve foundational numeracy and literacy at the elementary school level. The ASER Centre report prepared by Pratham, an NGO,  the percentage of Class VIII students in government schools who can read atleast a class II text book is 69% in 2018 but it is still an improvement over 2012 when it was 9.3%.

Insufficient Funds

It is argued that even with good intentions laid out in the policy, the budgetary allocation and fees charged often become an obstacle for inclusive education. According to Protiva Kundu, Associate Co-ordinator-Research at Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA), New Delhi, financial constraint is the major reason for dropouts from school. “Elementary education is free but cost of studies increases at the higher secondary levels where students have to incur Rs 7000 per annum (class XI and XII) as out of pocket expenses. For a family of two children, we can imagine the financial burden.” 

Therefore, increasing budgetary allocation is not just enough. Incentives whether it is monetary like scholarships, stipends or direct transfers, or non-monetary incentives like free bicycles, books, laptops, does work- these are strong enablers for bringing or retaining these disadvantaged children into school.

Protiva Kundu lamented that funds allocated for pre-metric scholarships to prevent dropout for SC/ST students in class IX and X is quite insufficient.  “It depends on budget or revenue flows. It is not demand driven. There is a gap between number of children demanding scholarship and number of children getting these. These scholarships play a very important role for vulnerable sections of society, which we have seen in pandemic but amount disbursed is very low and not inflation-indexed. There is need for an upward revision. In August 2019,the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) had increased the board exam fee for class X and XII. For the general  category it was raised from Rs 750 to Rs 1500, an increase of 100% while for SC/ST category the rates was increased from Rs 50 to Rs 1200 – a hefty hike of 2300%.  Our education policy is making the situation difficult for disadvantaged groups, that is the reason dropouts is increasing with the level of education.”


Towards Quality Education

-To provide quality education, we have to reduce the cost of education. Welfare programs for the poor or havenots in education has to be continued.  Many states follow free lunch programme, many states give free uniform, as well as notebooks, privately run institutions which has to be continued.  We need to educate parents and follow entrepreneurial learning methods. Education technology should be affordable for the poor. - Dr Maria Charles, Secretary for Education and Culture, Catholic Bishops' Conference (CBCI).

-The government is making continuous efforts to equip India's youth with 21st century skills. As envisioned in the National Education Policy (NEP) -2020, the Government is working to create greater synergy between education and skills for making a future-ready workforce. NEP will contribute in creating a robust education ecosystem and eventually facilitating economic growth- Dharmendra Pradhan, Union Minister for Education.

-Samagra Shikhsa Scheme provides upgradation of primary schools to include pre-primary sections in gap areas identified through mapping of existing facilities. Hence, backward linkage in terms of pre-schools and forward in terms of senior secondary education have now been enabled to cover the entire gamut of school education. Foundational learning will be strenghthened through NIPUN Bharat Mission to enable children to gain desired competencies in literacy and numeracy early on-Maneesh Garg, Joint Secretary, Department of School Education and Literacy, Ministry of Education).

Privatisation of Education

In recent years, the Union government is shirking from its responsibility of increasing outlays for school and college education and opens the door to more privatization. “More than 40% of schools are in the private sector. Excessive privatisation will lead to uncontrolled exploitation and profiteering,” according to Dr Maria Charles, CBCI.  However, Prof M Kunhaman, former Professor of Kerala University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), said that one cannot take a negative view of education sector attracting corporate capital.  “We have to take a positive or normative view. Given the centrality of education in economic policy, it is the instrumentality of knowledge that is important,” he said. Education has intrinsic value in our society as an educated person considered superior to an undeducated person. And education is an instrument for an individual to succeed in the labour market.

The knowledge economy will not thrive on cheap labour but productive labour and increasing consumer demand. Productive labour requires quality education that develops the necessary skillsets and attitudes. “The present age is characterised by flexible specialisation and you cannot educate an individual for life time specialization as consumer tastes, demands change, therefore production has to change,” Prof Kunhaman said. Thus the knowledge worker has to be ready for lifelong learning and the NEP 2020 takes note of these changing trends and provides for Academic Bank of Credit.

Since Education is a merit good, government has a major role to play but there are capacities in the private sector as well, according to Sarthak Pradhan, Associate Fellow at Takshashila Institution, Bengaluru.  “Various studies have shown that private schools are cost effective. I am not saying it is cost effective to the student but in terms of efficiency and use of resources. For a given outcome, private schools can achieve the same results at a cheaper price than government schools. We need to find out different, alternate models where the government funds education but the schools might be run by the private managements who are efficient in managing the system." One example is the Chartered School model.  This requires simplification of rules and laws.

Auditing Education Output

Sarthak Pradhan also said that we have to think of a mechanism where school assessment conveys to the labour market about skills acquired by the student. The Scorecard should contain two kinds of measures- absolute credentials and relative credentials.  The absolute credentials convey whether the learner has gain expert level competence or beginner or intermediate level competence in a subject. For the purposes of admission to higher courses relative credentials may be important such as the grades scored in the exam. Imagine a student who has completed Standard VIII but has reading and numerical skills of only Standard II. This gives an incentive for the student to improve upon the weak skills. “We need to have institutions that measure learning outcomes and the positive aspect is that in the last couple of budgets there is focus on output-outcomes,” Sarthak Pradhan said.

Relevance of Samagra Shiksha Scheme

India Government has decided to continue the Samagra Shiksha Scheme for a period of five years until 2025-26 with a financial outlay of Rs 2,94,2823.04 cr. This covers 1.16 million schools, over 156 million students and 5.7 million teachers of government and aided schools (from pre-primary to senior secondary level). The scheme treats school education as a continuum and is in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal for Education (SDG-4). The scheme not only provides support for the implementation of the Right to Education (RTE) Act 2009 but has also been aligned with the recommendations of NEP 2020 to ensure that all children have access to quality education with an equitable and inclusive classroom environment which should take care of their diverse background, multilingual needs, different academic abilities and make them active participants in the learning process.

Government has said that all child centric interventions will be funded through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) on IT based platform over a period of time and provision of upto Rs 500 per child for Teaching Learning Materials (TLM), indigenous toys and games, play based activities per annum for pre-primary sections in government schools.