Prof. Sanjoy Roy
Department of Social Work – University of Delhi – New Delhi – INDIA
Nelson Mandela had said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Closer to home, First Prime minister of India, Pandit Nehru emphasized that only through right education can a better order of society be built up. When the Indian constitution was laid down in 1949, it was stated that by 1960 Universal compulsory education must be provided for all children up to the age of 14. The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) was eventually enacted in 2009 making education a fundamental right for the age group of 6 years to 14 years old children, along with specifying minimum norms for elementary schools1. It also lays down provisions for reservation in private schools, surveying of school’s performances and facilities for children with disabilities.
Education is a subject in the concurrent list of the Indian constitution, i.e. both centre and the states can legislate on the issue2. The act lays down responsibilities of centre, states and local bodies in implementing it. By 2010, 8.1 million children3 (6-14 years old) were out of school, and the number has reached 32 million4 as per the 2011 census. Hence, despite the legal safeguards of empowering the education system of India, there are bottlenecks in the implementation and delivery of the provisions.
The present education system in India mainly comprises primary education, secondary education, higher secondary education and higher education. Elementary education consists of eight years of education. Each secondary and higher secondary education consists of two years of education. Included in the secondary education is the pre-vocational education.
Secondary education is the essential bridge between primary and higher education. Previous studies argue that among all levels of education, secondary education has the strongest bearing on economic growth, income inequality reduction and in improving health indicators5 A policy paper published by the UNESCO and Global Education Monitoring claimed that world poverty could be cut in half if all adults completed secondary education6. It is the secondary level which influences a student’s choice on further education.
In India, the authorities face grave challenges in retaining students to complete their full school education cycle, given that the government has fewer resources per child and a larger number of vulnerable children7.
Grim reality of the primary and secondary education India
• Low enrolment ratio
With 21% of its population in the age group of 10 to 19, India has the largest adolescent population in the world8. However, only one third of secondary school age children are currently in school. This impedes the country’s journey to achieve target 4.1 of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) which is universal primary and secondary education9. UDISE reveals that almost 40 percent of the eligible student population is not enrolled in secondary school. Moreover, while initially absent, a gender gap emerges as children get older, with more girls dropping out than boys. This is not surprising given there are only 14 secondary schools for every 100 elementary schools.
Large distances increase the cost of education as well as concerns around safety, especially for girls. The pandemic has prompted a shift to online education and this is likely to further impact these trends. The ASER 2020 report revealed that 5.3 percent of rural children aged 6-10 years have not enrolled in school this year, compared to 1.8 percent in 201810.
•Concern over learning outcomes
As per academic year 2018-1911 Over the last decade, learning outcomes for children in India have steadily declined. This is despite an increase in budgeted expenditure on education, from INR 3.6 lakh crore to INR 4.6 lakh crore over a 10-year period (2006-2016).
Over the last decade, learning outcomes for children in India have steadily declined. This is despite an increase in budgeted expenditure on education, from INR 3.6 lakh crore to INR 4.6 lakh crore over a 10-year period (2006-2016).
Without a very strong foundational knowledge, students are bound to struggle in higher grades. A telling insight from a majority of the reports around school dropout is that most of the students cite ‘lack of interest in studies’ as a major reason for discontinuing their studies12. This is largely because after the completion of their elementary and primary cycle they come out with a very weak foundational knowledge. The National Achievement Survey reports show that in many districts, students in class 8 scored less than 30-40% in Math. This finding is also validated by ASER which reports that even after completion of the full elementary education cycle students struggle to apply basic literacy and numeracy skills to everyday tasks. ASER early year survey reports that only 16 percent of Grade 1 students can read their grade level text book- and of those, a majority are 7-8 years old with the younger children in the class lagging behind.
The 2030 Skills Scorecard by the Global Business Coalition for Education warns that by 2030, India will have the highest number of high school graduates in South Asia but almost half of them will lack the skills to enter the job market13.
• Growth in Private Schools
While the policy framework around bringing a reform in the education sector rests on taking quality education to low income students through the government system, the reality speaks something else. Recent trends suggest that many low and middle income Indian families are seeking private school alternatives. Nearly 50% of all students in India are enrolled today in the 4.5 lakh privately managed schools across the country14. The government schools’ enrolment has come down to 52.2% in 2017 from that of 74.1% in 1978. However, the report suggests that this trend has nothing to do with increasing the learning level of the students. 35% of the rural private school students in class 5 cannot read a basic class 2 level paragraph while only 39.8% class 5 students in private schools can divide a three-digit number by a single unit. The private schools have a long way to go in terms of achieving the desired learning outcome.
Government’s intervention through New Education Policy NEP 202015
In March 2020 the Union cabinet of India cleared the new National Educational Policy (NEP) overhauling school and Higher education system in India. After the National Education policy of 1968 and 1986 this is the third education policy to guide the development of education in the country.
The NEP,1986 advocated for 10+2 structure of education whereas the new NEP has proposed for a ‘5+3+3+4’ design corresponding to the age groups 3-8 years (foundational stage), 8-11 (preparatory), 11-14 (middle), and 14-18 (secondary). This way the early childhood education for children of the ages 3-5 is brought under the ambit of formal schooling in order to make the grade 1 student’s school ready.
Looking at the learning crisis our country is going through for decades, the new NEP is focused to enhance the ability of students to read and write and perform basic operations with numbers. This has taken a form of national mission under the NEW 2020 to achieve universal foundational literacy and numeracy in primary school by 2025.
To build back the credibility of the government schools and minimize the school dropouts particularly at the secondary level, the NEP 2020 aims to provide effective and sufficient infrastructure to all the students, particularly practical conveyances and hotels for the girl children.
The NEP provides for a holistic, multidisciplinary and broad-based undergraduate education with flexible study plans. Now more options will be there in choosing the subjects, including and focusing more on vocational education and more flexibility to enter and exit the course with authorized certification. Undergraduate students will now get the option to choose the number of years as per their requirement ranging from 1-4 years with appropriate certification. Such as, certificate after 1 year, advanced diploma after 2 years, license after 3 years and research license after 4 years.
The focal point of NEP will be now on promoting equality among all. Special concentration will be given to the SEDG (Socially and Economically Disadvantaged) group. This norm of the policy will work on the following:
• Gender Inclusion Fund
• Disadvantaged regions will have Special Education Zones (SEZ).
• Disabled students will be allowed for regular schooling with the help of teachers specialized for disable students and training, accommodations, appropriate technology, etc will be provided to disabled students taking up regular schooling.
• States/districts are advised to set up day-boarding schools – “Bal Bhavans” for participation in extra activities that will be career and play related.
Therefore, the pedagogy of teaching in each subject and the focus shall be upon the transforming as experiential learning shall be the standard assessment based on competency. The purpose of the test shall be to check higher order skills such as clarity, analysis and conceptual clarity.
The recent times have witnessed a trend of Public Private Partnership in the education sector, especially by the state governments, with the objective of overcoming the administrative and management hindrances faced by the sector. Some of notable examples here could be:
• Rajasthan and International Innovation Corps16
The Department of Education (Rajasthan) collaborated with the International Innovation Corps in developing approximately 10,000 model secondary schools with proper infrastructure and emphasis on staffing under the Adarsh Programme17. The programme reduced teachers vacancies from 50% to 19% in 4 years. It resulted in reverse migration of students from private to government schools, defying the national trend. The Board results and the National Achievement Survey showed a resultant improvement in secondary school outcomes.
• Saksham Haryana Programme18 The programme is an initiative of the state’s education department to assess and accordingly improve the learning outcomes of the government school students. Under it, blocks are credited with the “Saksham” tag, where more than 80% students score over 50% marks in the exam conducted by the programme.
The primary and secondary education system in India has come a long way in empowering children with their fundamental right and human rights to education. However, there is a massive scope for improvement by efficiently implementing the relevant laws, applying alternate strategies to overcome hurdles with the performance and running regular assessment to monitor back lags. Between 2011 to 2021, the budget allocation to the education sector has increased at an average rate of 9%19. The need of the hour is to channelize the allocated resources optimally and judiciously, only then the value of education will reach to all. Time will speak.
- Inequality and growth reconsidered: Lessons from east Asia, The World Bank Economic Review
- Adolescents in India: A desk review of existing evidence and behaviours, programmes and policies. (2013). New Delhi: Population Council & UNICEF.