Education is the most important lever for social, economic, and political transformation. It is well acknowledged that education can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty within the lifetime of one generation by equipping people with relevant knowledge, attitudes, and skills that are essential for economic and social development. In India, Education is also the most potent tool for socio-economic mobility and a key instrument for building an equitable and just society.
India has taken significant strides towards realizing its vision of providing access to education for all its children. In 2001, India launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA or Education for All) to achieve universal elementary universal lower secondary enrollment (grades 9-10) by 2018. The Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates free and compulsory education for all children ages 6-14 years through setting minimum school infrastructure standards (e.g., building, library, toilets), pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs), avenues for private schools, and teacher hours. Since RTE was introduced, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has introduced several schemes and programs to impart education for all.
Reduction of un-enrolled children
SSA has been largely responsible for a dramatic increase in school participation across the country through building a large number of schools, school incentives, food, an increase in the number of teachers in school, to name a few. As the ASER Report 2014 points out, 96.7% of children (in the age group 6- 14 years) were enrolled in rural India in 2014, which was the 6th consecutive year that enrollment rates stood above 96%.
In 2009, the Government launched the RashtriyaMadhyamikShikshaAbhiyan (RMSA or Program for Universalization of Secondary Education) to expand secondary schools to achieve universal lower secondary enrollment (grades 9-10) by 2018.
The Right to Education (RTE) Act mandates free and compulsory education for all children ages 6-14 years through setting minimum school infrastructure standards (e.g., building, library, toilets), pupil-teacher ratios (PTRs), avenues for private schools, and teacher hours. Since RTE was introduced, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has introduced several schemes and programs to impart education for all.
Today, India has around 1.45 million elementary schools in 662 districts with 191.3 million children (94.8 million boys and 99.2 million girls) and 7.96 million teachers. The PTR in Government schools is 24, private-aided schools are 23, and Private Unaided schools are 24. ASER 2014 records that over 70% of the children are actually attending schools on any given day, though this ratio goes anywhere from 90% to 50% based on data from different States.
India has also aimed to align with international policy initiatives to improve education on par with the rest of the world. In 2000, the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) met at the World Education Forum in Dakar. It proposed the “Education for All” (EFA) goals – six strategic targets framed as a movement to be achieved by 2015. By these measures, India had achieved the universalization of primary education in 2014.
The biggest challenge that India’s public education system faces today is that the tremendous success in achieving nearly 100% access to schooling has not translated to quality learning.
In its first comprehensive report on measuring the performance of South Asian education systems on learning, the World Bank South Asian Report 2014 said that poor education quality was the one thing holding India back. “Going to school is not enough. There has to be a significant gain in skills that requires an improvement in the quality of education,” said Philippe Le Houérou, World Bank Vice President for the South Asia Region.
The ASER Reports have consistently pointed to this – the 10th Report released in 2015 shows that every second Class 5 student in rural India cannot read a class three levels below. Basic arithmetic skills continue to be a challenge – only 44.1% of Class 8 students in rural India managed to divide in 2014.
In 2013, India was ranked by the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) as 63 out of 64 countries in terms of education. India has over half of its population under the age of 25, a statistic that has often been touted as its strength in taking on workers across the globe. However, if it has to reap the demographic dividend, India must first stem its learning crisis.
Low learning levels point to several gaps entrenched deeply within the education system – retention rates after primary school are low; children often do not continue till secondary education. Several historically marginalized groups are left without access to quality education. Teachers are often under-trained and overworked. Rote-learning and language barriers lead to schools becoming unattractive places for children to continue. Education awareness programmers do not reach everyone, and the community is left uninformed.
The emerging data about the quality, access, and equity of education in India point towards a crucial space where companies can intercede to create great impact through Corporate Social Responsibility.
Improving school inputs is just the starting point in improving educational quality. A more comprehensive view for building a strong, systemic focus on teacher capacity, improving school leadership/ management, strengthening academic support system, better community and parents’ participation, measuring and improving learning outcomes in a continuous manner is the key towards improving education in India. In this respect, education CSR can play a huge role in speeding up this process. Therefore, efforts must be made by Governments, Industry, civil society organizations, and individuals to create an ecosystem where insights and influence drive broad basing and contextualizing education at all levels – sattva.