- Near universal enrolment at the elementary level:
During the period between 1968 and 2015, India made remarkable progress in creating universal access to education, first by making universal enrolment a central goal in the 1968 and 1986 policies, and then giving this ambition constitutional teeth through the RTE. Data from the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER-2014) as well as latest unified Distance Information System for Education (U-DISE) show that 96.7% children are enrolled in schools at the elementary level, indicating a huge distance covered since the 1968 Policy. The challenge now is keeping children in school and improving the transition rate of elementary education to secondary and higher education.
- Increased public expenditure on education:
Over the years, public investment in education has steadily increased, though still short of the target of 6% of GDP. In the last five years alone, MHRD’s proposed budget has increased from INR 31,906 crores to INR 54,735 crores.1 In 2004, Government of India began levying a 2% education cess towards funding the Prarambhik Shiksha Kosh, an earmarked fund to support primary education. While a substantial portion of this fund remains underutilised year on year, it remains an important indicator of government commitment to Education for All.2 The next step is ensuring economic and social returns to this investment, using learning outcomes as the key metric and setting standards for value-for-money.
- Improved School Infrastructure:
The 1968 and 1986 Policies both stressed on strengthening the school ecosystem in India, increasing the number of government schools and improving school facilities such as infrastructure, with reasonable success on both counts. The number of public schools imparting elementary education has nearly doubled from 845,007 in 2001 to 1,448,712 in 2014. 98% of rural habitations have a school within 1 kilometre. Alongside, Operation Blackboard equipped schools with better hard infrastructure and tools. Norms governing the implementation of RTE also focus on minimum requirements for school infrastructure. As per our analysis nearly 18% of SSA budget (second only after teacher salaries which are 59%) is spent on improving school infrastructure. Recently collected U-DISE data shows that approximately 65% of schools in India comply with RTE norms and the compliance is improving every year in both government and private schools.
- Out-of-School Children and Drop-outs:
MHRD’s Report of 2014 on Education for All suggests 3.2% children are out of school at the elementary level. Among the 3.2% out-of-school children, nearly 50% children have been enrolled in schools at least once and have dropped out much before completing eight years of education. The real challenge is transition to secondary schooling or after class 5, particularly among girls, SCs, STs and minorities. MHRD recently published outcomes of Out-of-School survey which suggest only 12% of total children enrolled at the elementary level actually make it to higher education. The gap between 96.7% enrolment in elementary education to 12% in secondary education is huge.
- Low levels of learning:
ASER-2014, followed by National Achievement Survey-2014 (NAS-2014), report that nearly 45% of children in government schools cannot read, write or solve simple mathematical problems after reaching 5th class. In 2009, Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh (two better performing states) participated in OECD’s international student assessment (PISA). The Indian states ranked 72 and 73 out of 74 countries, well below fellow BRICs and emerging economies. Private schools typically outperform government schools on reading, writing and mathematical abilities, though the margin of difference is bitterly contested. None of our policies have defined ‘quality education’ in clear, specific terms. Better quality education has remained just one of several policy goals, suggesting that this is a ‘good-to-achieve’ goal but not the most critical goal.
- Face-off between Government and Private Schools:
There are few topics as fiercely debated as the role of private schools in India. In enrolments, private schools have outnumbered government schools in states such as Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Where government continues to have more schools and greater enrolments, parental inclination towards private schools is on a steady rise, alongside a steady decline in enrolments at government schools. According to ASER-2014, between 2010 and 2014 government school enrolments decreased by 6.2% whereas private school enrolments increased by 6.5%. This has led to an unnecessary turf battle at the cost of student and parent interest; rather than competing to do better by children and parents, government institutions often focus on rationalising own performance failure.