Frequently Asked Questions
Q1 : Why is school education an urgent priority for India ?
Three out of four Indians live on equivalent of less than two dollars a day. Education is their only path to emancipation from poverty. Although all children enroll at primary school, more than half of them cannot read and write even after five years at school. By middle grades, two out of three children drop out of school. Eventually, less than 20 percent children complete school education. As a result of this dismal state of school education, millions of children are doomed to remain under-educated and therefore poor for life.
Q2 : What has the Government done to improve school education ?
Historically primary education was the responsibility of the state governments with the central government providing only policy directions. After years of neglect under state government mandate, it was brought into focus through several centrally sponsored schemes during 1980s and 1990s – including Operation Blackboard (1987), Teacher Education (1987), Non-Formal Education (1987) and District Primary Education Program (DPEP - 1994). But things started changing only after the introduction of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (Universal Education Campaign) in 2001-02.
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan program which was initiated by the NDA government has been continued and expanded by the UPA government. Since 2004-05, the central government has levied a two percent education cess on all major taxes to raise funds for the program (including mid-day meal scheme). An additional one percent cess has been levied for secondary and higher education since 2007-08. The total spending on education in India is now expected to reach about three percent of GDP. The program was successful in increasing enrollment and attendance at primary schools.
However, the learning outcomes at primary education level remain low despite significant government investments which now stand at more than USD 3 billion per annum. Further, drop-out rates at the middle school level have remained stubbornly unaffected. To address this issue, the government has launched the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyaan – the National Middle Education Campaign.
In August 2009 the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 was passed. The Act which makes education a fundamental right of every child between ages of 6 and 14 years specifies reservation of 25 percent seats in private schools for children from poor families.
Many state governments have also introduced demand side schemes to promote education of children (especially girls) coming from poor families. For example, free cycles are provided to girl students in Karnataka and Haryana, while cash incentives are provided in Delhi under the Ladli scheme.
However, most of the government efforts have been focused on the supply side. Some demand side measures have been taken, but these have not been closely linked with learning outcomes. Despite a wide spectrum of government initiatives, education outcomes in India leave much to be desired.
Q3 : What ails school education in India?
Although India has achieved near complete school enrollment at the entry level, there are significant deficiencies which prevent universal and effective learning outcomes. Systematic surveys have revealed that nearly half of the grade-V children across India cannot read a grade-II text. Nearly two of three children drop-out by middle school, while only one in five actually completes school education. So, why is effective education not happening in India?
Experts point out various factors that affect the quality of education. At Shiksha Sankalp, we find that the following factors have the greatest impact:
- Lack of accountability of schools towards parents and local community: Most schools in India are run by the government – whether local, state or central government. These schools are usually not accountable to the local people or the students’ parents. Further, most poor parents are themselves uneducated and often illiterate. They find themselves incapable of exerting any accountability on the school or the local administration. In a system where education is provided free of cost by the government (whereas private schools charge fees), parents do not have any financial control over the schools. Despite efforts by the government to make schools accountable to the local community organizations, there has been little success on the ground.
- Lack of objective measurement of learning outcomes: School systems in most developed countries conduct systematic assessment of learning achievement at all grades (usually from grade-III onward) using standardized tests. However, there is no systematic assessment of learning achievement in most rural schools in India. This leads to poor accountability for learning outcomes for teachers as well as students. In fact, schools are required not to fail a student until grade-VIII. As a result, students progress from one grade to another without acquiring necessary skills and knowledge.
- High economic cost of school education for low income families: Low income families face a very high economic cost of education. Apart from the direct costs of education (which are often subsidized by the government), poor families have to bear a significant opportunity cost of education, in terms of lost income from menial jobs or support at home. Poor parents are mostly uneducated (and often illiterate) themselves and cannot guide their wards. They are unable to afford the much needed external support in term of tuition, books and uniforms, which are necessary for achieving effective learning outcomes. Benefits of education accrue in distant future whereas the costs are immediate. Finally, unlike other public services, school education requires significant time, effort and resource commitment from the students – which is often not forthcoming.
- Supply side weaknesses - Poor infrastructure and Lack of well-trained teachers: Although the government has embarked on large programs to strengthen supply of school education services across the country, significant deficiencies remain in the availability of school infrastructure and well-trained teachers. Public provision of school infrastructure remains susceptible to official apathy, lack of adequate funding, inferior quality of procurement and poor maintenance of available facilities. Supply side weaknesses can also be traced to near monopoly of government schools and absence of any effective competition among schools, though private provision of education is now increasing.
- Absence of market for supply of auxiliary education services: All children need extensive support from parents and teachers to learn the basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. As they grow older, need for support within and outside the classroom only increases, especially in the middle school. For example, square roots, poetic literature, principles of electricity – concepts that are taught in the middle school are complex and somewhat abstract subjects. Poor students cannot leverage support from parents to understand these concepts. In the absence of appropriate auxiliary educational services such as tuition, used books, solutions books, peer-to-peer guidance etc, poor students find their struggle with education to be a losing battle.
The Shiksha Sankalp model has been designed keeping all the above ailments of the present education system in perspective.