Out­break may hit In­dia’s poor en­rol­ment num­bers

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Htspotligh­t - Vi­j­dan Mo­ham­mad Ka­woosa let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

NEWDELHI: UN sec­re­tary-gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res on Tues­day said get­ting stu­dents safely back to class­rooms must be a top pri­or­ity of the gov­ern­ments once lo­cal trans­mis­sion of Covid-19 pan­demic is un­der con­trol. He said the world is fac­ing a “gen­er­a­tional catas­tro­phe” that could waste un­told hu­man po­ten­tial, un­der­mine decades of progress, and ex­ac­er­bate en­trenched in­equal­i­ties.

In­dia needs to be ex­tra cau­tious in pre­vent­ing its school en­rol­ment rates from fall­ing, par­tic­u­larly be­cause many of those who stop go­ing to school in the coun­try do so be­cause of fi­nan­cial rea­sons. A drop in school en­rol­ment would not only cost the coun­try in terms of up­ward mo­bil­ity in ed­u­ca­tion but also hit the nu­tri­tion lev­els of chil­dren who re­ceive free mid­day meals in schools.

Find­ings from a Na­tional Sta­tis­ti­cal Of­fice (NSO) sur­vey on so­cial con­sump­tion on ed­u­ca­tion, con­ducted in 2017-18, show that In­dia’s gross en­rol­ment ra­tio (GER) was 99.2 be­tween pri­mary and mid­dle school ed­u­ca­tion level.

GER is the ra­tio of the num­ber of stu­dents cur­rently en­rolled in a par­tic­u­lar level of ed­u­ca­tion to the num­ber of per­sons in the cor­re­spond­ing of­fi­cial age-group. For ex­am­ple, the ra­tio of 99.2 in pri­mary to mid­dle school level means for every 100 per­sons in the age group of 6 to 13 years, there are 99.2 stu­dents en­rolled in classes 1st to 8th.

To be sure, this does not mean nearly ev­ery­one in the age group of 6 to 13 is en­rolled in schools be­cause some of the stu­dents in classes 1st to 8th would be stu­dents from other age groups, par­tic­u­larly above the age of 13. The high en­rol­ment ra­tio at pri­mary to mid­dle level is a promis­ing fig­ure, but it drops to only 78.8 at the sec­ondary and higher sec­ondary level.

A fall in GER from pri­mary to higher lev­els of school­ing means that stu­dents drop out. Na­tion­ally, 10% of stu­dents en­rolled in pri­mary school had dropped out, the sur­vey found. A drop-out is de­fined as a per­son who did not com­plete the last level of ed­u­ca­tion the per­son was en­rolled in (for any rea­son other than com­ple­tion of the de­sired level of ed­u­ca­tion). The drop-out rate in­creases to 17.5% in up­per-pri­mary/mid­dle school and to 19.8% in sec­ondary school. This means nearly every fifth stu­dent was drop­ping out of sec­ondary school in In­dia.

Among big states, the over­all dropout rate from ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tions is the high­est in West Bengal, 23.5%. Odisha, As­sam, and Gu­jarat also have high dropout rates.

Why do In­dian stu­dents drop out? Fi­nan­cial con­straints and en­gage­ment in eco­nomic and do­mes­tic ac­tiv­i­ties were the lead­ing rea­sons cited. Only 18.8% of men and 14.8% of women were not at­tend­ing schools


be­cause of not be­ing in­ter­ested in ed­u­ca­tion. As many as 61.2% of men cited fi­nan­cial con­straints or en­gage­ment in eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties as the rea­son for not at­tend­ing schools while 47.9% of women blamed fi­nan­cial con­straints or en­gage­ment in do­mes­tic ac­tiv­i­ties.

As In­dia strug­gles to re­cover from the eco­nomic fall­out of the Covid-19 pan­demic, it would be a chal­lenge to get peo­ple to pri­ori­tise ed­u­ca­tion in times of fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties and a need to en­gage in eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties.

In case there is a drop in school en­rol­ment or an in­crease in the num­ber of stu­dents drop­ping out, it would not only mean that In­dia will suf­fer in terms of up­ward mo­bil­ity in ed­u­ca­tion, but also in terms of health. This is be­cause In­dia has a free mid­day meal scheme for school-go­ing chil­dren.

The NSO sur­vey found that in gov­ern­ment schools, nearly 97% of stu­dents at­tend­ing pri­mary level, nearly 87% at­tend­ing up­per-pri­mary/mid­dle level, and nearly 26% at­tend­ing sec­ondary level were re­ceiv­ing free mid-day meals.

A ma­jor­ity of In­dia’s stu­dents study in gov­ern­ment schools – 74% of all pri­mary school stu­dents, 76% of up­per-pri­mary/ mid­dle stu­dents and 68% of sec­ondary and higher sec­ondary level stu­dents.

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