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Wages Of Neglect

Wages Of Neglect

We have yet another annual status of education report (ASER) that tells the tale of our education system with logic, data and analysis. Every year, Pratham, a non-government organisation, brings out this report in January. As usual, the media publishes the report and it is followed by a few discussions, articles, editorials and blog updates. Again, as usual, the report is consigned to the shelf and forgotten!

The gruelling exercise the organisation has been doing since 2005 has laid bare the flawed education policy. Till last year, the ASER focussed on enrolment of children in the age group of 6 to 14 years and their learning levels. This year, the focus has been on the teenagers falling in the 14-18 age group. Now, what prompted Pratham to change the focus of its research?

The report says that there has been a considerable increase in the number of students who have completed elementary education. By the time a student completes elementary education, he/she would be 14 years old. And in a matter of four years, the student would become an adult, capable of voting and taking important decisions.

It is a known fact that a large majority of children who pass out of elementary education lack basic skills. But do these students get any value addition in their skills during these four years? Do they continue in the education system as the government withdraws free education? Are they equipped to use what they learnt at school in their day-to-day life? The report seeks to answer these questions.

It starts with the story of 17-year-old Gopa from Jharkhand, who is pursuing History Honours. It takes an hour and a half for her to reach her college. She wants to be a teacher as her uncle suggests that profession. But her “dream job” will come true only in a city. Yes, she knows, she needs to be well-educated to pursue that “dream job”. The story shows the aspiration level of the girl, who comes from a poor family, but has limited resources. She hardly knows what that “dream job” is and what qualification she should have to attain it.

There are many stories that speak a lot about the aspirations of young students. There are girls in Rajasthan, who had to drop out for several reasons, but they study in a dingy centre, so that they can clear their 10th exam. And the teachers in these centres are not graduates but girls who have barely passed their 10th or 12th.

As the ASER team moves from one village to the other, they find that around 86 per cent of the students in the age group of 14 to 18 years are either in school or in college. However, the enrolment gap between boys and girls increases with age. As these students come closer to 18 years, their chances of getting dropped out become higher. While the male drop-out ratio is 28 per cent, 32 per cent of the girls do not pursue any course at 18 years of age.

Only 5 per cent of the youth enrol in some vocational course. A large majority of them prefer to enrol for courses that are shorter than three months. Around 42 per cent of the youth are found to be working, irrespective of the fact, whether they are enrolled in a course or not. And 79 per cent of the youth work in the agriculture sector. Do they aspire to be in the agriculture sector. Only 1.2 per cent want to be farmers.

Worse, since their choices seem to be restricted to agriculture, there is not a single evidence of providing any skilling opportunity in this profession. Only 0.5 per cent of the youth have been found to pursue a course in agriculture or veterinary sector. This shows an urgent need to replace the existing bachelor’s courses with a few foundation-level agricultural courses, which can improve rural livelihoods.

As for skills, only 76 per cent of this age group could count money. Less than two-third of the youth could do simple budgetary exercise like if you have Rs. 50 in your hand, what things you could buy from a given list of items.

Hardly 38 per cent of the youth could calculate discount on a T–shirt that is on sale with 10 per cent discount. And only 22 per cent could calculate the amount that would be required to repay in case they take a loan. In other words, a substantial number of youth, who have gone to school for at least 8 years, do not know how to use what they learnt in school!

As for their professional aspirations, 60 out of 100 youth want to pursue graduation but the number reduces to 35 for those, who lack basic reading and writing skills, equivalent to Class II kids. Career choices are equally gendered as the boys want to be either in the army or police force or an engineer while girls have only two choices – teacher or a nurse.

While The reports says all about our youth, the national achievement survey (NAS) conducted recently by the NCERT reiterates what Pratham has been saying about learning levels of children all these years. In fact, there has been a dip in the learning levels over the past decade. For instance, enrolment in Class VIII has doubled from 11 million in 2005-06 to 22 million in 2015-16 but their learning capabilities have reduced considerably. In 2007-08, 71.7 per cent students enrolled in Class VIII could solve a standard IV division problem, while this percentage reduced to only 44.1 per cent in 2015-16.  

The government takes pride in announcing that almost all the children are now in school. It also assumes that if they are in school, they are learning everyday and one day, these children will add to the demographic dividend of our country.

Subsequent to the increase in enrolment figures, we have also observed that the government has been reducing the education budget consecutively for the last three years, thinking all is done and now little needs to be done. In a way, their perception may also be true, as 99 per cent of the children are now in school, they are getting books, uniform and mid-meal. What else do they need? But does it validate the reason that the budget should be reduced? Both ASER 2017 and NAS speak a lot about it.

This writer belongs to an organisation that has been working for the last four decades in the education sector. As an organisation, we have never seen a situation, when we are constrained to cut our budget. Every year, the graph has shown an increase of a minimum 15 per cent, if the services that a child receives in our learning centers are kept the same. For a formal school, the budget increases manifold as the staff needs to be paid salaries prescribed by the government. Yet we are able to provide better quality services in less than what the government spends per child in a year. And the community that we serve is more or less the same.

Recently, we were given the responsibility of running a local government primary school. Our experience of working for around 10 months in the school speaks a lot about how things function in the government. We have been told that the municipal corporation that has been running these schools spends more than Rs. 50000 per child, yet the students are not at their age-appropriate levels.

A few months of our intervention has not only given a boost to their confidence level but has also helped the children in improving the learning outcomes. And we have spent less than a quarter of what the government spends on each child. Of course, the mid-day meal and uniform cost is not included in this calculation. Even if, the same is added on to this cost, it will increase to another Rs. 5000 to Rs. 6000 per child.

To cut the long story short, around 90 per cent of the money that is spent goes towards the salaries of the government teachers, which are being increased every year, who are employed for doing certain administrative tasks than to teach the students! Rarely, there is an increase in the cost of direct benefits that are being passed on to the students in the form of mid-day meal or uniforms or books. In such a scenario, a budget cut only means no additions in number of schools and no investment for improving the education system.

We want to reap our demographic dividend and we are enhancing our investment in skill India. At the same time, we are also ensuring that our children and our youth are not even equipped with basic functional skills! What kind of a Skill India it is!  

The growth-hungry government should realise that there would be no growth if India’s youth and children are deprived of a good quality education. After all, education is the passport to success.

(The writer, a company secretary, is director communications, Deepalaya and can be reached at

(Published on 05th February 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 06)